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Obama: An Open-Source President?

Posted by terrencebarr on November 11, 2008 at 7:21 AM PST

slide11.png I was just reading Simon Phipps' blog (Phase 3 of the Sun Model) and stumbled over his link "Obama: Open Source President" which points to a YouTube video with comments by Republican consultant Alex Castellanos on U.S. election night. Alex describes how Obama is driving a bottom-up approach to presidential and U.S. politics and how that compares to the principles of the open source movement. Fascinating to hear that from a political pundit - on the republican side nonetheless.

It is a the point I've been making for a while now, for example in my JavaOne 2008 talk "TS-5006: Flooring the Accelerator: How Open Source is Reshaping an Industry". We are witnessing that the principles underlying the open source movement and the push for open standards are an embodiment of an ongoing change in society. Here's slide 11 from my talk:

  • Open source and open standards are the manifestation of a shift in values and expectations
  • The underlying principles are a powerful force that is permeating technology, business, and society:
  • Participation and openness
  • Empowerment, removal of barriers, reduction of friction
  • Local decision-making and fast execution
  • Choice
  • Control of your own destiny

If the reach and staying power of the open source movement is any indication then we should be in for some interesting (and different) times in U.S. politics.


-- Terrence



I'd be happy to. Consider the case where you as a company is involved in some open source project.

If you've founded the project and contributed most of the code you can "control" the project by driving the direction and giving the community limited, if any, influence. That might benefit you initially because you can shape the project exactly the way you need it but you will loose out on the benefits of community participation and eventually your community will loose interest. So that is not a good long-term model.

You can also simply participate in a project and follow along. But this likely means you won't influence the project and make it really successful for your purposes. Also not the best long-term model.

The most successful model is to lead a project or at least some aspect of a project - with full participation and support from the community. That way you harness all the benefits, get buy-in and usage by the community, and with your expertise and leadership you're able to derive value-add and sustain your involvement in the long term.

So the bottom line is: For a given project you can lead, control, or follow - and just one of these at a time (e.g. you can't lead and control at the same time). Leadership based on active participation and recognized expertize is the ticket to long-term successful open source.

-- Terrence

Terrence, I've read your 2008 JavaOne talk and was wondering if you could expand on what it means to "lead, control, or follow" in an open source world.