os//os impressions

April 20, 2015
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Last week I attended an interesting conference called open source//open society that brought together an interesting cross section of geekdom that I have not seen at a conference before. I had discussions ranging from editor flame wars via “the open source model” to tiny houses and earthships. The most interesting in my view was the high diversity of skills in the room that made for extremely interesting discussions.

It also helped me spell out and phrase what for me open source really means and what the essence of the open source movement is in my view so I wanted to share it and write it down for future reference.

open source

is in my view the process of sharing and a way for others to comment on it so that I can learn from them and they can learn from me. The sharing and reviewing and the giving feedback on the thing that has been shared is the central thing, the what is in my view only a way to engage over a topic. Going with this definition also makes it obvious that open source for me is far from limited to code. It is a general concept that is applicable to many situations and a general concept of discussion. If we discuss abstract things we often base most of the discussion on abstract ideas that are hard to communicate and hard to give feedback on. Once we have something that shows what we are talking about, it makes giving constructive feedback so much easier and therefor the discussion way more topical and useful.

giving feedback

and receiving feedback is a skill that well run open source projects try to hone. They try to make their community really good at providing good feedback as it generates a more welcoming environment that more people like to contribute to. So, if I look at those projects, the pattern I see is listening, asking questions, trying to understand where that person is coming from and then give them support in contributing and helping them to grow personally by empowering them. If a contributer can express her or his point of view by contributing what they think is the right way of doing something and then having a discussion about that contribution the discussion is most likely focussed on that contribution. If the contribution can’t be made without jumping through hoops the likelihood of someone new to the project contributing is dramatically lowered which leads to lower diversity and smaller relevance of the project.

Distributed version control really helped us coders to give qualified feedback on specific pull requests. I would love to carry that idea into other parts of life to make sure feedback on anything is more about the actual contribution and not about who I am or what I believe in.

Feedback on contributions rather than vague concepts and accepting feedback and giving feedback in a way that it is positive will cut out many non-topical aspects of discussions that many of us dislike so much. Discussions held in a way that stop us contributing in environments that are based on status, heritage and well honed language rather than actual contributions.