I’m thinking about our obsession with “open”.
People work in “open plan” offices. If not then maybe their manager has an “open door policy” and offers an “open mind”. Maybe they conduct negotiations with “open palm”.
Then there’s open source software, now pretty familiar and widely used. Of which OpenOffice is an example (as well as Firefox). And there are examples of “open source” hardware and machines too. Check out Arduino.
Online we use web services that offer OpenSocial, as well as OpenID login. And OAuth – where the open is baked right in.
We’re familiar with Open University of course. They were well ahead of the current trend. Elsewhere, “open society” and “open government” are discussed. In the UK we have Open Rights Group, our counterpart to the EFF.
“Open” is becoming a byword for positive and good and progressive. “Open” is a hot word of now. Will it always be this way? Or will it be remembered as a passing enthusiasm – either superseded or perhaps absorbed everywhere to the extent that it becomes transparent?
I’m particularly interested in open source. I’ve benefitted a huge amount from open source software. Some great work has been done and some very successful companies of many kinds exist – all thanks to open source software.
How far can this approach be extended to non-software projects?
Creative Commons and approaches to copyright reform represent a form of openness, outside of software. Some (but not all) Creative Commons licences allow derivative works and adaptation.
Can you run a country using open source principles? (What’s going to happen when Tim Berners-Lee opens up government data in his new role? Will he enable us to spot and fix the bugs in Brown’s Britain?)
What about human relations? What about sharing? (And “over-sharing”?)
What about “proprietary” – the opposite of open, at least in a software context? At times, proprietary can be pretty good if you’re the proprietor. But you also miss opportunities.
I figured the best way to explore these questions would be to start documenting bits and snippets I find along the way. For this purpose I’ve started another blog called Open Season. I’ve just realised the term comes from hunting, that wasn’t deliberate. But it does capture some of the ambiguity of open. If you’re in the firing line, you’d prefer closed season. Open letters are similar – you don’t always want to receive them, especially if you’re a politician with responsibilities being identified.
Initially Open Season will resemble a scrapbook with the odd comment from me. I’ve chosen Tumblr as it’s ultra-quick blogging for anthologists and snippers and plagiarists. With the Firefox plugin, I can drag items to the bottom-right corner of my browser and they’re on. Then in the longterm I can turn them into properly thought-out posts here. Open Season is a pile of bits. Even more of a pile of bits I mean.
My aim is not to explore the benefits of open source in software. Those are pretty well documented and discussed. I’m looking at that, but I’m trying to grasp the wider issues of the open philosophy.
Usually computer software runs as object code – which is compiled from source code.
But any other creative work doesn’t have source code. This blog post doesn’t have source code. A car doesn’t have source code. A government doesn’t have source code. Your brain doesn’t have source code. Your body doesn’t have source code. (Don’t tell me DNA is source code! It isn’t.)
Any reference to “open source” outside of software is an analogy. Remember when we had to re-adapt everyday terms to describe what happened in and around computers? We would boot and store files, then at the advent of the graphical user interface came the window, paint, wallpaper, menu and the like. Now it’s the other way round – open source works for software, now we’re applying the term to other things.
All this has the potential for awesome results. But taking a software engineering methodology – that can clearly work – and thinking it could be applied to ANYTHING is possibly a bit rash. Let’s see.
Comment if you like. I’m “open sourcing” my thought processes on this one. Can’t get away from it.