Where's the value in open source?

The true value of open source is people

Posted 27 May 2014 by 

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Open source is valuable. Very few people would argue that point. There is most definitely a sense of intrinsic worth. But where does this value exist? Is it in the code produced or in something else?

By the very nature of open source (read more about the standard four freedoms here), the ability to view and access the source code is a powerful, driving factor. Because the code is so freely accessible and a prominent focus of open source it can easily be considered to be the value of open source.

Lines of code

This assumption in the value of open source being the code corresponds to the influx of available services to measure and quantify this code. Take for example the social code-sharing website, GitHub. This overwhelmingly popular service provides all types of stats on code and changes made. In fact, GitHub recently released a new feature called "pulse" and it provided all manner of new assessments of the code. How many people and how many commits over a specific time period and the total number of lines of code touched. Do you see the focus? The code. All the value is implied to be held within the code.

Often times in a community we continue with this idea of placing the value of open source and the community in the code, or the product. This belief perpetuates a problem. Is the value of open source truly in a product which can be freely replicated, forked, and changed at will?

The real value of open source is not in the product. Open source is more than the code. It's a community surrounding a shared set of goals. And when this community works together to develop code it costs time. Lots of time is spent creating this product. In fact, another website, Ohloh.net, begins to touch on this when it mentions how many hours are estimated to create a particular project. But it doesn't really capture the heart of it. It's a great start, but still there's something missing.

Something more

Sure open source is about code, and yes, it's about community, and it's about the time spent, but there's something even more. Open source is about the people involved. Code can be replaced, re-written, even removed completely, and the project will continue to move forward. The open source community is made up of people who have dedicated their time and their life to see its success.

Herein is where the true value lies: the people who give their time to create this amazing open source community. These people give their lives to see a project grow. And this is valuable. Open source communities must be careful to place their focus correctly. When the people are neglected, the value of the project is lost, the community will suffer, and the code will fail.

The hidden treasure

If we realize that the people which make up a community are the truly valuable part of an open source project, then it's important to look at how this wealth should be handled, so it can be nurtured properly and grown. Obviously we want to grow the most valuable part of our community. We want to strengthen the bonds which bring the community together to create something bigger than itself. That's the secret of a strong and growing community. The relationships. When the relationships between the people making up a community are strong, then the project will thrive. The culture of a community matters.

People matter

The next time you see a thriving open source project, take a minute to examine the community. Check out how the volunteers are viewed and appreciated. Remember, a community is only as strong as the people which make it up. And remember that relationships matter. The people and the relationships are the true treasure of an open source community.

Originally posted on David Hurley's blog. Reposted under Creative Commons.


Open Source Evangelist

The people and the attitudes with which they are infused and which they effuse into their social environment. Collaboration is, fortunately, contagious.

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Open Minded

Fundamental legal and technological devices have made possible a commons-based peer production model and its ever-growing achievements. The output of such a model are several cultural products (not only code) which, among other things, have made knowledge accessible to everyone, besides lowering business costs. Focus is usually on the product and whenever the process gets attention, it is mostly on the community as an effective productive engine. But, as David rightly stated, the true value of the whole lies in people and the relationships they establish. Yet going deeper, I would argue that the core value lies in the willingness to share in every single individual involved. That common attribute, empowered by a non-authoritarian, decentralized, inclusive community practice is, above all, the source of our open success. Thank you, David, for letting us remember what we should never forget. Mother was right: sharing is what counts.

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David is the founder of Mautic, an open source marketing automation platform, and an open source evangelist. He has also worked as the community manager for Joomla and a member of the Production Leadership Team. David writes frequently about open source and spends his time helping businesses find success with open source solutions.