Why all Open Source projects matter

0s and 1s of open source - Photo Credit: ninako via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ninako via Compfight cc

Before the internet, access to vast information and innovation was not always straightforward. Worldwide information infrastructure was built atop physical volumes of fragile paper text, and transmitted at rates that make a 14.4k modem seem lightning fast. Some say times were simpler then, but searching through a medical or legal journal is much easier now than ten years ago. Open Source technologies like web servers, database engines, and programming languages power our information systems. Innovations ignited by Open Source literally save lives.

Why we defend our Open Source projects

Just as lives have been saved, livelihoods have been built on Open Source projects. Parents have put their kids through college and new families have purchased their first home on the backs of the financial gains they’ve made using Open Source software to build websites. It’s awesome in the most literal sense of the word.

These great personal achievements are rooted at the intersection of Open Source and grit, so it’s totally understandable that we, who’ve work tirelessly to benefit from these technologies and innovations, vehemently defend them. It’s human nature to defend that which we care about from that which we perceive as a threat for time, resources, attention, praise, or value. Other Open Source projects are not the threat.

There is no greater threat to the global Open Source community than lack of connection, open communication, collaboration, and respect.

We’ve accomplished great things together

Just as attention to new verticals are created by competition (cloud storage, domain industry, health tech), attention to Open Source as an alternative to commercial software is garnered through the success of projects within the global Open Source community. It was only a short while ago that Open Source solutions were banned from use (and in some cases, still are) in most enterprises and educational institutions.

Greatness comes from joining forces

Something we’re successfully tackling at work, is bridging organizational silos. In many strong organizations, each department has unique objectives that work towards a common company vision. For years, departments worked separately to tackle interesting problems, and often did so successfully and independently.  The fascinating part was that many departments were solving for the exact same things, but didn’t partner regularly to create powerful, elegant, and efficient solutions that could be used across multiple teams. The power of joining forces across teams with a clear focus on doing what’s right for the user, product, and organization is explosive. Since we’ve been focused on joining forces with other teams, productivity, efficiency, and elegant solutions have become a regular part of our universe.

It’s time to think of Open Source as a community organization, and our individual Open Source projects as silos (to be bridged). Whether you’re a contributor to a content management system, core technology, library, or server technology, you’re contributing to a global community that’s open, giving, and collaborative at its core.

We all benefit by promoting each other’s accomplishments to the rest of humanity. We all benefit by celebrating enterprise adoption of Open Source technologies and community contributions.

It’s true that each project we work on is constantly strapped for resources and time. There’s no doubt that users of Open Source projects demand quick and thoughtful innovation. That’s precisely why it’s important to bridge the project-based silos we’ve created within the global Open Source community. I’m not suggesting that core developers for PHP work on Drupal full-time or that WordPress and Linux contributors work interchangeably. Specialty and passion are two things that make each project strong. However, the serendipitous performance or security gains (among many things) that could be achieved by collaborating and communicating more, will make us better as an Open Source community organization.

Take action to bridge community projects

Lets make 2015 the year of getting to know other people in our Open Source community organization. I challenge everyone from those involved with the most obscure projects to the most prominent, to do the following three things this year:

  • Each month, decide on an Open Source (open source web applications) project that provides value to the world, and give props to that project on Twitter or Facebook. Heck, include the founder or core contributors on the message, and say thanks. Tag your post with #opensourcelove
  • When you discover or hear about a vulnerability or performance issue, jump on a message board, forum, or Twitter to give a shout to other project developers and let them know about the issue.
  • One time this year, attend a meetup or conference for a technology you’ve never thought you’d find interesting, or maybe one your project has historically had a rivalry with. Write about your experience, and share it with your followers.

If you agree with this article, share it with your friends and networks, or snip pieces and write your own posts and share them. Get the message out however you see fit.

We as users and developers of Open Source projects have a distinct advantage— the advantage that comes with collaboration and community. Make 2015 the year of using that advantage to its fullest.

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