Evolving the term “open source”

Let’s try this again.

The most frustrating thing that can happen to a writer is realizing your words didn’t convey the idea you wanted.

In the case of last week’s post, I found myself embroiled in conversation around the value of licenses and the state of unlicensed projects on GitHub. After a week of that, I realized that I had had little to no conversation about the parts I actually wanted to discuss.

That was my fault, not yours. I should have edited my writing more carefully.

I write to get feedback and prompt conversation with those who take the time to read, which then helps me learn more about a certain topic. And I didn’t feel like I learned what I wanted to learn from my last post. So I’m writing another one to ask the question more explicitly.

Fundamentally, the question I wanted to pose was: what is the working definition of open source today, and how does that compare to the official definition?

Today, many people associate open source with its workflow and process: collaboration, transparency, accessibility, and sharing of resources. Open source, to many, is about creating tools that are easy to use and contribute back to.

Yet collaboration is not part of the official open source definition. Should it be? (Note that this is an additive, not exclusive question — not “Should we replace the current definition”, but “What else is open source about these days?”)

Why do these things matter? Because when we don’t talk about the people who make things and the work that goes into supporting open source projects, governance, healthy culture and ultimately sustainability take a back seat to politics.

What does “open source” mean to you today? Let me know what you think.

EDIT (5/31/16): I wrote a short followup with my takeaways on the original post. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful discussion!

I’m currently exploring better ways to support open source infrastructure. If you want to stay involved, you can sign up here to get updates when I post something new, or follow me on Twitter.