Writing about Open Source Development HOWTO

April 25th, 2004

I’m getting very tired of these the problem with open source development articles. This First Monday article is just the most recent in series by people who seem to feel wronged by “open source” development, and are therefore entitled to write scolding, condescending articles about the problems with programmers.

The great thing about the web is it is easy to create hyperlinks to existing content, so I propose the next time someone sets out to the write the 500th version of “programmers suck at user interface design, programmers suck at documentation, programmers hate the end user”, they just link to one of the existing articles (preferably not one by ESR) Save us all so much time, what do you say?

If however, you’d like to write something original, interesting, engaging, powerful useful, or relevant, I’ve got a few suggestions.

A Few Suggestions

An interesting article on this topic might examine one, or a few of the following topics:

  1. Style differences between different communities of open source developers including, but not limited to:

    • kernel/server/daemon work
    • Linux desktop work
    • Web-app/CMS/PHP developers
    • niche developers
    • niche language developers (programming)
    • niche language developers (spoken)
    • lone wolf development model
    • strong team development model
    • developers who identify as “free software” developers
    • programming projects by non-programmers
    • non-programming but open source inspired projects

  2. Historiography of successful and unsuccessful projects.

    Would require initially defining the terms, and what constitutes the narrative of software development. Who are the participants?

  3. Motivation, exchange and compensation in open source development.

    Many people decry the lack of user-centric work being done in open source development, Michelle discuss this lack as “programming for self”. Fair enough. If you’re not programming for yourself who are you programming for, and what are you getting out of it?

    People hear “it’s free”, and they never stop to take off their capitalist blinders about what that means. Very few people are working on open source as some sort of updated monastic, altruistic spiritual calling. We work on projects because we get value out of it. In commercial software the value is obvious, you get paid. Turns out that isn’t a very useful or scalable model for a large number of projects.

    What constitutes value is different for everyone, some people will find extensive usability critiques useful, others won’t, some people will appreciate redesigns, others won’t, some people will find the donation of time to writing document a godsend, others won’t care. Its a barter system, with a wide array of non-material forms of compensation (including recognition, a sense of community, changing the world, and having fun).

    An interesting article might address a few of the following points:

    • examine prevalent forms of compensation
    • explain to communities with a stake in open source how to best engage this economy
    • examine functional and dysfunctional models of compensation
    • propose new models that can be used to tackle problems which the development community is currently finding difficult to solve.

  4. Combining topics 1 and 3, what are the style differences in open source development teams who are:

    • unfunded, self-funded, or hobby projects
    • corporate funded (usually through employment)
    • NGO/grant funded
    • community funded
    • some other model

  5. Why programmers are overwhelmingly more likely to give away the products of their labor then almost any other profession.

    Material to cover might include:

    • Is the initial statement actually true?
    • What are the key historical, cultural and economic factors behind this?
    • What effect, if any, has this had on the capitalist uber-dialogue?
    • examination of the interaction between open source/free software idealogies, and the culture wars regarding production of content.
    • proposals to effect similarly cultural shifts in other professions

So next time you’re feeling like taking an “academics for academics” approach to writing an article, considering writing something really original that will have an actual effect on the world. (not to imply that there aren’t already people, like Biella in the academy addressing a number of these issues)

This has been “Writing an interesting article about open source development HOWTO.” The latest release of this document can be found at: http://laughingmeme.org/archives/001974.html

Comments are closed.