As a professional programmer, my main experience of sharing is a strongly positive one that causes me to believe that, as long as we all have a vested interest in the resources to which they are contributed, the sharing of ideas and effort can radically improve the quality of those resources. So, please allow me to rant about Open Source and how the principle might be applied to our everyday life.
Open Source projects (in computing terms) are projects where the supporting code for a piece of software or utility has been released in a publicly accessible form such that anyone with the required skillset can download that project’s code and edit it as they wish. It is very usual for people, once having made changes to an Open Source project, to then submit their changes back to the project and for those changes to have a positive effect on the software’s quality - people will contribute back for different reasons but those reasons are universally a balance between altruism and having a vested interest; sometimes it will lean to the former, usually it will lean to the latter.
Now, a lot of people are aware of what Open Source software projects are but hold them to be a kind of distant thing that don’t affect the way that they use computers all that much. It’s common to think, for instance, that the only frequent users of Open Source projects are people that are hardcore power-users with a Linux operating system, who use computers half for dreadfully convoluted software research purposes and half for World of Warcaft; who go to sleep each morning to dream, under the glow of a green-on-black terminal window, about liquid-nitrogen cooled processors and terrabyte broadband connections, bidding their mothers to wake them again when next lunchtime rolls around.
In reality though, Open Source projects are ubiquitous in computing and they affect every computer users life in a massive way. In direct terms, a lot of commonly used software is Open Source - Mozilla Firefox being a prime example. The more important thing though is the effect that Open Source projects have on your computing experience indirectly - most Open Source projects are not about creating software for the end-user but are instead about creating pools of resources for other programmers to use as a part of their non-Open software. Some Open Source projects are virtually omnipresent (gcc, zlib, openssl, etc.) but largely invisible to the end-user.
Because the entire, global programming community depends upon and uses such Open Source projects and because there are so many of them, us programmers are in an enviable position - we share between use a truly massive pool of resources and we share it freely. We share it eagerly even, as we are all aware that the mere act of sharing improves the quality of code by many, many orders of magnitude. The more people that use an Open Source project, the higher quality that project is.
The success and ubiquity of Open Source projects has influenced some people to start ‘real world’ projects with an Open philosophy: For examples, see the collaborative design projects described here: http://osliving.com/sourced/real-world-open-source/remarkable-real-world-open-source-projects/
The great thing about these projects is that it pulls from the experience and knowledge of the many. Unlike commercial-closed projects which aim to anticipate or set the needs of the many, Open projects are necessarily guided by the needs that already exist in the collaborators. I don’t see why the truly massive benefits which programmers enjoy from the application of the Open Source philosophy - which is, at its base, about sharing ideas and taking collaborative action - can’t be similarly applied to our real world lives.
What I wonder is whether the open design philosophy can be utilised more directly in day-to-day life?
For a very typical example - perhaps the next time that the town council is deciding on the layout and location of a children’s play-area, they could source their ideas directly from the public by allowing a web-accessible location where people could actively contribute to the design and development of that area - not just through allowing comment, but allowing actual direct collaboration? An online blueprint with an interface that allows annotation, or from which items can be removed, added, upvoted or downvoted?
Or for something simple - a map of the town, for road planning, to which citizens could visit and add markers where they have seen potholes that have developed? Or areas where they think a new crossing would be useful? Or places where they have seen dangerous driving - from being collected over a long span of time, this could be very useful information indeed!
Again, upvoting and downvoting could be useful for gauging interest and urgency.
Anyone have any other ideas how the collaboration and interests of the many can be captured and used for such ‘civil design and maintenance’?