O'Reilly Open Source Convention

2000-07-21

Here are some thoughts inspired by attending the O'Reilly Open Source Software Convention. Other than all the fun Jabber stuff, I enjoyed some of the talks I was able to attend. From a talk by ESR I got the message that "if the source is closed, only the bad guys will know the bugs" (similar to "if guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns"). I liked Russell Pavlicek's point (in his talk "Welcome to the Insane Asylum") that the attraction of free software "as in free beer" is not to get drunk but to loosen tongues for the purpose of talking and learning from one another.

To me, the most radical session was "Mob Software", presented by Richard Gabriel & Ron Goldman of jini.org. I was especially impressed with Richard Gabriel and his literary -- almost mythological -- approach to the ideas he was presenting. These gentlemen really challenged those in the room to think of a world beyond open source and current models of software. As they put it, even open source software developers are building cathedrals, just in a different way. Yet current software is inbred -- it is decidedly not diverse -- and what diversity exists in software is more like the artificial diversity of dog breeds than true biological diversity in all its manifold forms. They argued that to move beyond open source, we need:

What happens, they asked, when we move from dozens or hundreds (or in the case of Linux thousands) of developers to many thousands or even millions of developers -- to the world in which every user is a developer in some way? To handle this scale of development, we will need "mob software" that is not hierarchical but is held together by what they call "crazy organization", or what I and people in the bionomics world would call self-organization. Self-organizing systems are perenially popular in biology and some schools of economics, and I wonder how insights from those fields can enhanced the software development process.

Something to think about, anyway. More reflections on open source to come.


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