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Why Open Source Software is Social Media

religion

I was talking to Hugh Macleod of gapingvoid yesterday – he is one of the world’s foremost practitioners in the art of social object creation and community sustenance. Stormhoek wines. The Blue Monster. The Gaping Void itself: cartoons on the back of business cards (what more social object is there than a non-boring business card? Hugh was MOO before MOO came through.) This morning it struck me – with open source every project, every component, every bug fix is a social object. Open source software is social media. It has rules and connection points, repositories and group norms. Subversive thinking around Subversion. OSS projects are tools for finding like minds. Ohloh is a new service that begins to span the two worlds. When I went to do a quick search on “social object” at Hugh’s place I came across this, which led me to this, which finally led me here, where I could check out these 5 principles of social objects, as put forward by Jaiku founder Jyri Engstrom.

1. You should be able to define the social object your service is built around.
code
2. Define your verbs that your users perform on the objects. For instance, eBay has buy and sell buttons. It’s clear what the site is for.
source code and version control
3. How can people share the objects?
depends on the license
4. Turn invitations into gifts.
this will help you too, can you help me improve it for both of us?
5. Charge the publishers, not the spectators.
not sure how this maps to OSS

This blog is really just a placeholder for discussion. Am I barking or does OSS as social media make sense? It certainly fosters good conversations. I tend to think the reason Hugh got his analysis of OSS so wrong here is that he wasn’t thinking about social objects, but “shareholder value”. Interestingly enough open source software projects don’t obey Hugh’s Law.

bonus thoughts: O’Reilly’s architecture of participation. The incredible power of View Source. And so on…

bonus link: Open source applications…magnets for open source infrastructure.

next update: It seems Tom Coates gets it, points out Leisa. From his presentation Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts, key sources of personal motivation in online social networking, being:

1. Anticipated Reciprocity
2. Reputation
3. ‘Sense of Efficacy’
4. Identification with a group

Like OSS, yes?

Categories: Uncategorized.

Comment Feed

13 Responses

  1. Great post, James, and along the lines of something that seems to be emerging at the moment as well within the area of Knowledge Management or Knowledge Sharing. If you take that social media on its own is one of the areas of focus from knowledge sharing, then I think that open source and KM share a whole bunch of commonalities that not many people have been identifying thus far. However, folks like Knowledge Management Online (KM Online Open Source KM) would certainly provide you with the connection between open source and KM, and with social media, for that matter.
    I just wish more people would realise about how closely connected are open source and knowledge sharing in the working environment and how open source has contributed tremendously in changing some of the main key paradigms behind KM, i.e. collaboration, conntent management, expertise location, social media, etc.
    So, to me, social media and OSS are very much closely related, indeed! Now we need to keep spreading the message about it!

  2. Couple of additions :-

    1. You should be able to define the social object your service is built around.
    code

    + Code and or software (binaries)

    2. Define your verbs that your users perform on the objects. For instance, eBay has buy and sell buttons. It’s clear what the site is for.
    source code and version control

    + source code, version control and downloads

    3. How can people share the objects?
    depends on the license

    + Generally, free access to source and binaries as well as online knowledge base. I would also add peer learning for active participants

    4. Turn invitations into gifts.
    this will help you too, can you help me improve it for both of us?

    + Things like commit access can also be seen as gifts earned

    5. Charge the publishers, not the spectators.
    not sure how this maps to OSS

    + This is applicable only when there is a business model, in open source that often means paid for support licenses, hosting and or services

    Just figured I would add to your great summary of comparison betwixt these to phenomenas.

    I would also add that OpenSource was probably one of the earliest benefactors of the internet, and certainly the first of the social media applications, they in many ways blazed the trail.

    regards
    Al

  3. I would put forth the point that Open Source Software is primarily about the social aspects of creation. A great project is great because of *both* the code behind the project and the people within it. It’s the sharing (or lack) of knowledge and information in the community of the project that draws in or repeals people to/from the project.

    Rarely do I hear of a project being great purely because of the code, it’s always because of the people.

  4. Not sure if my trackback worked, so here’s a manual one:

    By Pat Patterson : Superpatterns: Open Source builds communities, not software on 31 July at 10:30 AM PDT

    James Governor of Redmonk (I might jeopardize our ranking in the next magic quadrant if I say that he’s the best software analyst on the planet. D’oh!) reckons that Open Source Software is Social Media. I agree wholeheartedly [...]

  5. Pat and Deb – thanks very much for taking the time to blog on the notion.

    jgovernorAugust 1, 2007 @ 12:57 pmReply
  6. I realize I’m a bit late to this discussion but oh well. This has been one of the more enjoyable things I’ve read today and on your blog, James. Thinking about points 1 and 5 reminded me of a quote from Steven Weber’s “The Success of Open Source” page 151. Perhaps it will contribute to the dialog here:
    “The problem is, computing power is simply not the key resource in this ecosystem…Meaning and value depend on human mind space and the commitment of time and energy by very smart people to a creative enterprise.”

    Isn’t that the key to 5? Social Media seems to be exactly the sort of thing that would be spoken about in terms of attention economics. Substitute producers and consumers for publishers and spectators though and you’re back to an economic framework of scarcity in which case the cost falls on the producers in the form of mind space and the consumers get freelibre software. That’s the discontinuity. Social media is using attention economics terms…and I think if you had to force open source users into those categories then the developers are the publishers and the users are the spectators. Just a thought.

  7. Steven Weber’s ‘The Success of Open Source’ covers much of this from the perspective of a political scientist rather than a technologist. Written in a pre-social media age, it’s surprising how much of the community and social aspects parallel social media.

    I think any discussion of parallels between social media and FLOSS must include notions of property rights. Free software philosophy centers on giving rights to users, while many (all?) current social media platforms actually claim exclusive rights to the generated activity and contributions.

    That is a fundamental difference – giving code to a GPL licensed project is not the same as giving a picture to Facebook.

    Mike PittaroSeptember 2, 2010 @ 2:53 pmReply
    • you are right. bear in mind i wrote the piece a while back. ;-) that said, clearly GPL is only one license. many others are not reciprocal…

      James GovernorSeptember 2, 2010 @ 3:10 pmReply



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