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October 21, 2005 || 8:32 am
Open source in theory and practice

I am all for open-source. Blogs, the power of millions of people sharing, a decentralised knowledge base, f*** Microsoft, let's all hack around with Linux and GoogleMaps. It's so much easier and more fun not to have to know everything and then try to guard it - all you need is a great network of other people who know stuff, and then we can all share!

But when it come to my everyday work, I get very inconsistent. A large part of my work involves research into a very new and constantly shifting field of practice, which is globally scattered, and involves a network of fantastic practitioners who are, in effect, our 'open-source' collaborators. Which is all fine, but this 'creative capital' - our in-house knowledge, expertise, and our social and professional networks - are what we need to make money from. We're not after pots of gold, but we would like to keep ourselves in shoes and stockings. In addition, a lot of other people (in our view) don't really understand what's important and might easily hijack these great ideas, methods and people and turn it into some awful bland mess (for an example, look how almost every great thinker's ideas have been dumbed down and therefore turned into the opposite of what was intended).

So, we become minor control freaks. We're writing a book, which will be all about this exciting new world, featuring a whole bunch of projects that we have gone out and found, which have often not been published anywhere else before. We get touchy about letting too many of these discoveries out of the bag too soon, because we want to be the first to publish them and the leading authorities on the subject. When people want to do a great project, we want them to collaborate with us, not to run off with our ideas.

I feel the wrongness of this, and yet...I've somehow managed to almost never blog about these projects, despite the fact that I would really like many more people to take inspiration from them and apply their lessons more widely (hence the book). I've got to get over it, because all my hesitations are completely irrational. But applying the open-source philosophy takes a big heartbeat, a big dollop of trust that it really will pay off, and its interesting to find myself in the position of either having to practice what I preach, or fundamentally reconsidering what I believe.

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