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Dustin J. Mitchell

Building an 'Organic' open-source community

11 May 2008

I just stumbled on Ted T’so’s Organic vs. Non-Organic Open Source, Revisited. The distinction is that an organic open source community has a diverse development community, in terms of motivations or, more concretely, employers. Conversely, a non-organic community is dominated by developers from a single company.

This has put words to a question I’ve been wrestling with for a long time. In any community, those who do the most work have the strongest voices and the most power. As someone who knows his way around the Amanda codebase, I hold the fate of a user’s feature request in my hands: if I like it, I can implement it, and if I don’t, it will be relegated to the dusty archives of the amanda-users list. Similarly, when I make a proposal, non-developers must respond in a subordinate voice: “well, I won’t be writing it, but I think ..” This is not due to any malice on my part, but simply a fact of the relationship of consumer to producer.

The bulk of Amanda development is currently performed by Zmanda employees. That’s a simple fact that Ohloh can verify for you. That makes the Amanda development community non-organic, in Ted’s terminology. In Raymond’s terms, we’re all cathedral and no bazaar. As Ted points out, this can be a good thing – I think that we do great work, and that we go out of our way to listen and respond to the user community’s ideas and requests. A tight group of developers can move quickly, and consensus decisions are easier and less time-consuming. However, power corrupts, and I would like to have other developers out there to tell me, “no,” or, “I have a better way,” occasionally.

But how?