Open Source, Vegans, and Tomatoes (AKA Thursday at OSCON)

R0ml’s presentation was the highlight of the keynotes today. I will try to capture the gist of it; however, for those of you who have seen him present, his presentation style is so dynamic that it can be difficult to really capture the essence in just a short paragraph. I will give it try. “Open source is like a tomato”, but how much is healthy? According to Stallman, everything should be open source, which R0ml compared to vegans in the world of food (just for full disclosure, I am a vegan). He believes that both the Stallman and vegan approaches are a little extreme and that fanaticism is not good on either side. We should be striving for a balanced approach with open source; some open source is great, but both can coexist. I agree with R0ml on this one; open source is great, but we do not need to exclude proprietary software from the mix.

Danese Cooper led a panel with Mitchell Baker, Tim O’Reilly, Geir Magnusson. David Recordon, and Susan Wu talking about what happens when money enters the picture in an open source project. OSS projects have a free agent model where the project contributors / leader positions are not held by the company. When Mitchell left AOL, AOL did not seem to grok that she would continue to lead the Mozilla projects and that they could not just usurp her title / responsibilities. Open source projects make it more difficult for management to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the project because of the transparency inherent in the open source model. They also discussed how the lack of money is not necessarily a nirvana. Lack of funds reduces monetary corruption, but it also prevents scale. Tim worried that the worse thing he ever did for open source was to hire Larry Wall to work full-time on Perl. Some people thought that Perl 6 was a piece of performance art. Perl was originally rooted in Larry’s ability to resolve real world problems; however money may have removed Larry too far from the real problems and into more theoretical and academic concerns. Too much money can have as big an impact as too little. When developers are sponsored by a corporation do you lose the grassroots feel and the people coding for the joy of it rather than because they are being paid (Apache is seeing this now, especially since most of the incubator projects are being submitted by people being paid to do it). My key takeaway from this session is that money changes the dynamics of an open source community both to an advantage and disadvantage.

We also held our Art of Community Session today at OSCON. I thought that it went very well. The speakers were interesting, the session moved at a rapid pace, and we had a fairly large audience of engaged listeners. The notes from my portion of this session are posted on my Trends in Web 2.0 blog.