Bradley Horowitz from Yahoo! posts about the ratios of people who create content to those who consume. Despite this great contra-argument, I end up agreeing with Horowitz. It’d be great if everyone produced, but they just don’t–most people who visit a blog don’t leave comments, let alone run a blog of their own. This meshes in perfectly with my experience in open source: the source might be hanging out there for a million eyeballs to work on, but it can be a hell of a job to get a dozen hands working on your source. Each of those people needs motivation, skills, and time. It’s your job as figurehead of an open source project or creator of web app code to align with their motivation (by meeting the emotional and technical needs they have) and hope you can keep the skill-time barrier low enough that you’ll get people working on it. The biggest part is the motivation, meeting the emotional needs of developers.
Most open source project leaders have online charisma, an online persona that inspires others to work by being an inspirational leader: someone who is smarter, harder working, better in some way than the drone. Occasionally there are some projects where the ideology is the inspiration, a cause worth sacrificing oneself for (or if not oneself, then one’s social life). In a lucky some (e.g., FSF) there are both: an energetic articulate charismatic (online) leader and an inspirational message. Those companies who would launch an open source project by firing sourcecode over the enterprise firewall with a Sourceforge trebuchet need to take heed: finding someone technical, engaging, and inspirational to lead that open source project is just as much a necessary and sufficient condition for open source success as making the source code available.
This interesting recording by Nate Harrison in Winter 2004 on The Amen Break, a heavily reused piece of music. Hearing Nate recount the history of the break, its commercialization and the subsequent lock-down on sampling, gave new depth to Creative Commons and the current business boom around open source.
Phil Windley’s notes on Alan Kay’s keynote are inspirational reading. “Cathedrals have 1 millionth the mass of pyramids. The difference was the arch. Architecture demands arches.” It’s just full of quotable chunks. My favourite: “Making computing into a science means that we have to understand what to do about our beliefs. When we talk, we do nothing but tell stories that people will find interesting. There’s danger in that because stories can create resonance without being scientific”.