While female developers make up about 25% of the total developer population, only 2% of open source developers are women. The open source community and culture has historically been almost entirely male, but a few vocal people within the open source community are trying to get more women involved. Danese Cooper is one of the leading evangelists for women in open source. This is becoming a hot topic at conferences with recent sessions at OSCON, EuroOscon, ApacheCon, and others.
During the time that the community of women in open source have begun to pull together to help support other women involved in open source, the men have begun to get involved as well. Danese referred to this blog from Piers Cawley with an entry in her blog titled ‘Men Who “Get” Women’.
The real question that we need to ask is, “why are there so few women in open source?” followed by, “And what should we do about it?” Is the open source culture really so different from other software communities? Maybe, maybe not. The open source culture is built on a system of meritocracy where any person can become successful based on the merits of the contribution rather than who they are or who they know. Theoretically, women should be on equal footing, but for some reason, women seem to choose not to join open source communities. It will be fascinating to see what kind of success will result from these efforts to get more women involved in open source software.
To get involved, you can join the women in open source mailing list (instructions here).
Open source innovation is often based on user innovations. In Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel describes innovation from a user perspective rather than a corporate perspective. He suggests that many innovations are actually developed by users, freely shared with other interested users, and sometimes picked up later by a company that eventually turns the idea into a business. For those of us working with open source software, this should sound very familiar. In fact, he uses open source software as an example of innovation throughout this book. Firefox is a great example of this phenomenon (see previous blog entry).
Another good example is Linux. Linus Torvalds started Linux in 1991 with an unassuming newsgroup post that mentioned a new operating system that he was creating and solicited input from others. Linux was created not out of any commercial need or ambition, but to satisify Linus’ desire to have a better Unix-like operating system that ran on less expensive (Intel 386) hardware. This was a user innovation that Linus freely revealed to others with a similar interest. As everyone knows, Linux has grown from this unassuming start into a robust operating system used in most corporations. Without Linus’ continued contributions combined with contributions from thousands of other interested users, Linux may never have progressed past a hobby operating system started by a college student. Open source community contributions and user innovations provided the momentum necessary for Linux to quickly become an important technology.
I would encourage people to read Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel. For anyone without time to read the entire book, the majority of the open source content is in chapter 7; however, I recommend reading chapter 1 and chapter 2 to get familiar with the concepts first.
Over the years, I have worked with open source software and have been fascinated by the cultural elements that run in parallel with the technical aspects. Open source software fosters a strong sense of community and a culture of freely shared innovation. Mozilla Firefox, which just celebrated its first birthday, is a great example of this phenomenon. A community of enthusiastic people got together to develop the Firefox browser, and with a focused, but grassroots Spread Firefox campaign, they have reached 100 million downloads and are getting close to 10% of the worldwide browser market. In addition to the many user contributions to the primary Firefox product, user innovations are encouraged through the use of user developed extensions and themes that are freely shared with other users.