WebRef Update: Featured Article: Scholars Discuss Open Code Benefits | 2 | WebReference

WebRef Update: Featured Article: Scholars Discuss Open Code Benefits | 2

Scholars Discuss Open Code Benefits

Michael Cohen, Professor of Information at the U-M, then spoke. "Openness - open code is a thing that instructs us when viewed from different angles. Wallace Stevens wrote about Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, we'll give you three:

  1. Inspectability of regulation
  2. Consequences of imposing these regulations
  3. Appreciation of the commons

For the last two, generally, we have become like the world, characterizations of ourselves. There are deep political issues about our Constitution. The open source movement promotes a lot of thinking. It allows peripheral participation, quintessential learning, and fosters communities.

What are the conditions of success for open software? Various aspects of communities are seen to be important. Communities need:

  1. A common language of acting/patches - which allows them (read programmers) to orient each other to facilitate communications
  2. Dispute resolution - there has to be a way of standardizing
  3. Social acceptance and rejection

To succeed at openness you need community, open code creates a community. A nice kind of virtual circle. Open code has some other characteristics:

  1. The sufficiency of eyeballs principle - when a lot of people look at something it's much easier to fix problems.
  2. The ability to test in a uniform way - most successful projects have depended on the informal monopoly of Intel. The wide availability of this standardized environment makes decentralization of testing possible.
  3. Criteria for performance are easy, if it's faster, smaller, and doesn't crash my system it's better. For the user interface, however, defining better becomes more difficult."

Dr. Cohen said he has studied other fields like architecture, and found that architects "design open work spaces to foster collaboration. Something as simple as lowering partitions in cubicles can foster better collaboration. Throughout history there's been an alternation between open and close design. A tension between learning and control."

John Seely Brown spoke last - "Larry is interested in how to balance physical and digital commons. The tragedy of the overuse of the comments is the physical commons. You need a balance between structure and spontaneity."

The floor was then opened for questions from the audience, and a live discussion ensued. It was quite an opportunity to hear these scholars discuss the issues involved in Open Source software, and I hope you enjoyed this summary. The gist seems to be don't move too fast with legislation, as we're still in the Net's infancy. Also, we need to strike a balance between complete openness of code, and the rights of copyright holders. A delicate balance indeed.

For more details on this event see:


John Seely Brown Symposium on Technology and Society

This article originally appeared in the September 14, 2000 edition of the WebReference Update Newsletter.


Comments are welcome
Written by Andrew King and

Revised: Sept 15, 2000

URL: http://webreference.com/new/opencode2.html