Don’t Call It “Open Source” Unless You Mean It

Christian Heilmann | | October 22, 2012

In terms of releasing code into the wild we live in terribly exciting times. Products like GitHub, Dropbox, online collaboration tools like JSFiddle, JSBin, Codepen and Dabblet make it very easy to show our code to the outside world. Furthermore, a lot of products are build in a modular manner which means you can simply participate by writing a plugin or add-on instead of coming up with your own solutions. jQuery and WordPress are living proof of that.

One of the biggest dangers of a very simple infrastructure is the one of inflation. When it is easy to release something, a lot will be released. This means it becomes much harder to find good quality content and we are tempted to release more rather than releasing a few things we really care about and are ready to also care for in the future. Much like we write shorter, and less thought-out emails than letters we tend to get into a frenzy of releasing smaller, shorter and less documented products.

This is where we run a current danger of cheapening the term “open source”. Releasing an open source product is much more than making it available for free. It is a process, an ongoing commitment to nurturing something by sharing it with the world. Open source and its merits can actually be a blueprint of a much more democratic world to come as Clay Shirky explains in How the Internet will (one day) transform government...