This week’s readings, “Failure is Free” by Clay Shirky and “Code is Speech” by Gabriella Coleman, discuss the importance and the success of the open source system in current society. First I will review the logic behind an open source system and why/how it has become such an integral part of how we manage and structure our organizations. I will then go over the issues that surround this rising system.
In chapter 10 of Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky discusses the logic of publish-then-filter than has emerged from the evolution of the open source system. This new method has been enabled by the idea of “failure for free”. Shirky explains this using the success of Stay At Home Moms (in chapter 8 of his book). Like any group formed on the Web, every Meetup group faces the problem of balancing specificity and size. In other words, each group wants to create a sense of local community and shared interest without being too general or too specific. An ideal group would exist right in between the generic and the specific—something achieved by the Stay At Home Moms (which can be demonstrated by the success of the group). How was this achieved? Did Meetup know that this would be such a big hit? The process of such group formation is actually quite ironic. Meetup uses an untraditional methodology in which they “do best not by trying to do things on behalf of its users, but by providing a platform for them to do things for one another (Shirky, 235). This seems to be reversed customer service—doing the least possible to serve the users, and instead leaving it up to the users/consumers to communicated and serve themselves. This leaves much room for failure as one may predict. Most groups fail due to a lack of interest by users (too generic, too specific, too boring). The user’s judgement is highly valued because the rise of groups is not a business decision, but a by-product of user behavior. As Shirky writes, “Meetup is succeeding not in spite of the failed groups, but because of the failed groups” (236). This is simply because failure is free. Through trial-and-error systems such as Meetup, successful groups such as Stay At Home Mom are born.
Code is Speech – Gabriella Coleman
In an effort to examine the ways in which Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS) developers are reconfiguring what source code and speech mean ethically, legally and culturally, Gabriella Coleman subsequently divulges that the broader political consequences of these redefinitions on for understanding the connections between code and speech.
At the beginning of her essay, Coleman utilizes a long haiku written by software developed Seth Schoen to begin to outline her arguments abut freedom of speech in the software developing world. The source code is a transcoded bit of Free Software called DeCSS that “could be used to decrypt access controls on DVDs in violation of current copyright laws” (pg. 421). By utilizing this example of Schoen, Coleman is attempting to highlight how such developments that challenge the meanings of both freedom and speech concurrently tinker with technology and the law using skills that transform and consolidate ethical precepts among developers” (pg. 449). The legal action surrounding Schoen’s haiku of protest that source code is speech sets up Coleman to better explain the legal pedology and the subsequent battles over intellectual property, speech and software and in particular, the arrests of two programmers (Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov) and the manner in which their actions both provoked protest, questioned the value of source code and speech and how they made social processes a publicized, media frenzied event. Continue reading