Software and community

Someone asked at OSCon why Open Source people are so obsessed about community. I answered with my standard answer – that it’s really that community-oriented people are attracted to Open Source – that software is really just a vehicle to get to community, and it is really much more about the community than about the software.

Andy disagreed with me, but then we got distracted, and the conversation died there. I’m really interested in continuing the conversation. So here’s my bit of it.

I joined the Apache project for the software. I stayed for the community. Likewise Perl. The software is interesting, but the people are more interesting. So now that I’m really not even writing much Perl, I’m still involved with the community, to some degree, because they are cool people.

Is there a PhotoShop Community? Well, sort of, but they don’t really have any ownership of their community. They are at the mercy of some large organization of which they are not a part. The Apache Community, on the other hand, has their hands in the thing that drew them together, and can remake it into something cool.

It’s very cool that I’ve had lunch with Larry Wall on a couple different occasions – not that he’d remember me particularly. It is very cool that I’ve chatted with Bradley Kuhn, Eric Raymond, Eric Allman, Tim O’Reilly, and a variety of other people – again, not that any of them would particularly remember me. But all of this is to say that it’s the opportunity to meet interesting people that has been one of the most valuable things about getting involved with Open Source Software. But what’s way cooler than that is the people that I’ve actually gotten to know in all of this – people that I would have *never* run into without OSS, because they live a world away. Folks like Mads Toftum, Greg Stein, Kevin Hemenway, Jesse Vincent, and the list goes on and on. There is no chance I would have ever met these folks in “the real world.”

So it appears, as I think about this, that I’ve often expressed these thoughts, but never really unpacked them completely, as Brother Bourbon would say. I’m very interested in hearing other views, or whatever.

So, why am I involved in Apache? Well, there’s a few reasons. I’m good at something (which happens to be writing about things in terms that beginners can understand) and this makes peoples’ lives easier. Doing something that potentially millions of people will benefit from is very cool, both from the perspective of helping people, but also from the sheer hubris of all of those people thinking I’m cool. And then there’s the community of people that it puts me in touch with. I care a great deal about the Apache Software Foundation and what it does, but I’m not so sure that the Apache HTTP Server is the primary part of what I care about. Presumably, if we had to, we could create that from scratch again. But the community is less replaceable. (Tirade about people destroying community ommitted for your reading pleasure.)