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This chapter is from the book

The Necessity of Community

Any group that grows rapidly faces the possibility that it might lose its identity. As more and more people come in from the outside, there is always a risk that the people on the outside will affect the people inside the group more than the people inside the group will affect those coming in from outside. When this happens, a group can sometimes lose its moorings. It no longer remembers its charter. Its priorities shift. And, before long, it is in danger of death from distraction.

In the late 1990s, some analysts were suggesting that the Open Source world needed to "grow up." This meant that the Open Source structures needed to begin to resemble those of the corporate world. What were needed, it was said, were things like business plans, development schedules, and big-picture presentations about the future of Open Source. Much of this freewheeling attitude needed to be curtailed. Development had to follow plans like the rest of the software industry. And this childish concept of "community" needed to give way to more corporate thinking.

This was then, and is now, total nonsense.

Yes, the Open Source community needed to learn how to "do business." The variety of Open Source–related businesses that have appeared since 1998 or so indicates that the community is addressing that issue. There have been bugs in the business plans that sometimes need fixing, but, in characteristic style, they are dealt with rapidly. I would be surprised if many of the Open Source businesses do not have to make more adjustments to their business models in the future because many of them need to invent the rules as they play the game.

However, the notion that the community must stop being a community and act more like a corporation is absurd. As this chapter has been striving to explain, the community is essential for the well-being of Open Source. To expect the Open Source world to survive without the community is like expecting a flower to survive without its roots. And to suggest that a flower will look much better without "those dirty roots" hanging from the bottom is the pinnacle of shortsightedness.

The community is the life of the Open Source movement, nourishing its developers and creating an environment where life and the fruit of labor can come forth. It sustains the people.

Is it ugly at times? Yes. Squabbles sometimes occur between team members. And, as communication needs to be done in the open most of the time, these squabbles sometimes receive undue visibility. Unlike corporations, the Open Source community has no locked doors behind which key players may argue and bang their fists on the table.

But the real truth is this: If the way of business is so vastly superior to the ways of the Open Source world, why are businesses now lining up to use Open Source solutions? If standard means of software production are so good, why are so many closed-source companies struggling to move at Internet speed? Open Source solutions work precisely because the Open Source community works. And, although ways of bettering the community should always be entertained, killing off the community to fit someone else's notion of how Open Source should operate is absolute folly.

To suggest that the Open Source world should shed itself of the Open Source community is to suggest suicide. Nothing less.

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