Few conferences range as wide as the Open Source Open Society 2015 event held in Wellington last week. The material was surprisingly accessible to non-specialists considering this was a two-day event that filled the Michael Fowler Centre with software developers.
You can read more in-depth stories about #OSOS2015 sessions elsewhere, here are ten lessons that don’t fit into the conventional story structure:
1. Modern tech innovation follows the same path as the textile industry at the start of the industrial revolution in Britain
In a talk explaining why the idea of a commons exists, Craig Ambrose from Enspiral Craftworks traced the history of the weaving industry. He says the inventors used patents as instruments of control as well as a way to earn money.
Things didn’t go too well for society in the wake of the industrial revolution. The message from Ambrose is that if you want to understand what a lack of openness might mean today, take a look at the consequences two hundred years ago. He did this with mentioning the word Dickensian, so I’ll just leave it here for you.
Craig Ambrose: A patent is a reward for contributing to society. Allows holder to licence it, but also to control (can be abused) #OSOS2015
— Mr DC (@staplegun) April 16, 2015
2. Good open source is like a marae
Chris Cormack draws parallels between the ideas of open source and his Māori culture. He says negotiations take a long time in that culture because Māori believe listening to what others say is as important as telling them what you want. He says you don’t have to agree with what they say, but you do have to respect it.
3. “When we nurture the commons together we all win”
Billy Meinke from Hawaii says there’s power in the idea of a commons, but it’s increasingly hard to get the gains because of patents and copyright laws. He says that needs changing.
4. Moving away from patents put the US motor on its growth trajectory
GitHub’s Brandon Keepers calls it the auto-industry, but we know what he meant. Things didn’t take off until car makers ignored existing patents, once that happened there was no stopping the likes of Henry Ford.
It’s a powerful argument against software patents and other brakes on innovation. Keepers’ says Henry Ford and others built the giant US car industry on openness. The same idea could see technology reach even greater heights.
5. As is so often the case at a conference, some of the best sessions weren’t scheduled sessions.
Open Source Open Society 2015 did a great job of recognising participant interaction and discussion can be every bit as powerful as speakers on a stage. The messages painted on the walls were part of this, so was the innovative idea of embedding Massey University students to listen and report conversations, comments and so on in the #overheard at #OSOS2015 by @cocamassey thread.
6. The word open doesn’t necessarily make participation easy
Lillian Grace from Wiki New Zealand stood on stage to point out something many feel: The open source world is intimidation to many people on the outside. She poses a challenge to make it more understandable and to learn to talk in the language of ordinary people.
“I find open source intimidating” says Lillian Grace of Wiki New Zealand. She’s not alone … #OSOS2015
— Scott Nesbitt (@ScottWNesbitt) April 15, 2015
7. New Zealand’s government is one of the most open
Keitha Booth from the NZ Open Government Data Programme says we often hear that closed is the default position for government data, but she says that’s not right: it’s open. New Zealand rates as number four out of 86 countries when measured on openness.
8. “If open source is for everyone, it should look like anyone”
Kick ass github-Jessica told on plane she doesn’t “look like a programmer”:for open source to be for everyone it looks like anyone #OSOS2015
— Emma Bassett (@emmabassett) April 16, 2015
9. Open source culture isn’t all sweetness and light
There’s a dark underside to open source culture. Chris Kelly from GitHub says because anyone can take part in open source, the door is open to assholes (he’s American, I’d prefer to say arseholes). That includes bullying white men with a sense of entitlement. Things often end up argumentative.
He says this culture can frighten off outsiders, only a few women coders work in open source and the movement is missing out on the benefits of diversity. There’s a clear need to deal with this and to improve communications between people working in open source.
10. People need help finding their way
A powerful metaphor about open source and the way knowledge passes between people came from Michelle Williams who wrapped up the conference. She says when she first went to Wellington she heard the city was full of great bars and cafes, but when she wandered around the places she found were average. “It wasn’t until someone showed me that I realised the had great coffee and beer”.