I usually write about open source from a theoretical rather than a practical perspective. This is partially because I am still a student, and do not want to give the impression that I have more experience than I actually do. In some ways, this is a form of humility which conveys my recognition that I am relatively ignorant of the world. However, it is often the case that this humility may be construed as ignorance – not that I’m holding back, but more that I simply do not know the subject matter at hand. I want to jot down (while it’s still fresh in my mind) some thoughts on the practical aspects of transparency, access, and participation – the core foundations of open sourcing.
Transparency is professing, expressing what is in our heads and giving others a look. This requires a relatively thick skin, and an honest recognition that we know very little. For myself, I frequent share everything I can about science and reveal all within my power and the power of those listening. Naturally, there are limits, but they are the exception not the rule: to posses and not share is to horde, and I am no horder.
Access refers to allowance, permission – a lack of limitations. I have found that access depends on personal understanding (scientific knowledge, philosophical grasp, language, etc) and your specific skillset. For example, though the open source programming movement is open to anyone (transparency) I do not yet have full access to contribution in Firefox because I do not possess the skillset necessary to do so. Were the requirement and English or Chinese language requirement, I’d have little difficulty. Access, in this sense depends on a combination of personal effort and legal freedoms – the counter example being Windows, were a competent programmer has the language skills necessary, but lacks the legal access to contribute.
Participation is my favorite part, and seems to be dependent on one’s social connections. It really means getting outside yourself, getting to know others and doing things that help others (perhaps in addition to oneself). Participation/service is ennobling, and whether the effect is neurological (limbic stimulation) or something more, it helps people be better. I love collaboration in the laboratory because every researcher possess different skills and everyone’s contribution helps in discovery of the new. Collaboration in and out of the classroom also collectively boosts the group’s performance and understanding of key concepts.
I know that I don’t have much experience outside of my training in molecular biology, genetics, Chinese, and service, nevertheless I have had experience with the principles of open sourcing of ideas and it’s opposite. I believe that the former is superior in every way – democratization can only serve to continue to promote itself and the end result, in my opinion, will be a culture of shared vision and shared responsibility.