Open Source Undefined

Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child.
Nature, Emerson

Open source can be any number of things, depending on who you’re asking. To the hacker it’s about teamwork, comradery, IRC, CVS or SVN and great flamewars. To the CEO it’s risky, and often times very dependent on highly-skilled staff who may or may not be here tomorrow. To Wall Street it’s a non-commodity with high risk and low returns. To mom and dad it’s a mysterious concept you’ve asked about many times but never quite understood. To my cats, it’s what makes me sit at the glowing rectangles for hours on end.

To all of us, though, it’s the future. Most of us agree on that much.

In my time here at OSU in Central Web Services and the Open Source Lab I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about open source, because I’ve been in the middle of it. Working with the Mozilla community has also taught me a lot about the masses and community development. I learned over the past three years that it’s less about the masses and more about individuals who care a great deal about where we’re all going.

So the #1 question people ask me is, “What is open source?” To be honest, I’ve stopped worrying about defining open source. Instead I’ve tried to appreciate it.

Does it really matter what open source is? If it’s an ideal, a business model, communication style, natural progression, another step in our evolution — I’ve stopped caring about trying to outline it and present it in a bulleted list.

To me it’s just chaos, and it’s wondrous. I’m so caught up in it. It’s intoxicating and pulls me in some undefined direction. Like riding in an airplane with an unknown destination. You don’t know the pilots or where you’re going but you’re still excited about the possibilities. Like stepping forward onto a stage, lights blinding, and having an act but still not being entirely sure about how the show is going to turn out.

Or maybe it’s an emotion. You can’t quantify sadness or jubilation. How do you explain the color yellow to a 5-year-old? You can’t. How do you explain happiness to a rock? You can’t.

So I’m done trying to draw blueprints for the stage, or profiling the pilots and passengers. I’ve given up and put down the pen.

Because no matter how many times I fill a whiteboard or flowchart, I leave the audience thirsty. They are given a little sip of an idea — ephemeral and slight as something like the American Dream. It’s something we all whisper about and pull for but can’t really define. It’s something driving us that seems so strong and powerful yet at times, in its tiny fissures and failures, it all seems so fragile and brittle.

It is what it is — whitewash pitted with valleys and riddled with amazing plateaus. It’s us reflected in code which is scary and unpredictable but it’s alright if we remember we’re in it together.

It’s life, and you can’t define life — you just live it.

Something doesn’t have to be intricately defined to have meaning.

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