I often wonder how to best measure and communicate Open Source value. The collective focus of the industry goes into quantifying dependencies; that is, how one software relies on other software in order to complete its primary function. The vocabulary to measure dependency usually includes words like “imports,” “licenses,” “bugs fixed to bugs open,” and other machine-oriented terms. Yet the unique value proposition of innovative Open Source involves a community of people around a software. This led me on to the next question: why do we bias towards machine-oriented terms instead of human-oriented or community-oriented terms to describe Open Source communities and division of labor?

However, this question only led to more questions. Much of the existing Open Source discourse on sustainability centers on defining, tracking, and understanding “dependencies.” Yet when we say dependencies, people typically mean source code, software packages, and license compatibility. So, how do we describe the value proposition of people and the impact of cross-pollinated communities?

So, what if Open Source dependencies weren’t just software? Furthermore, what if Open Source dependencies could mean people… or simply, human beings? In this blog post, we’ll walk through this thought experiment.

Open Source dependencies are people.

My purpose is to augment the idea of “dependencies” from exclusively source code to be more inclusive of its authors as well. We typically center software in our Open Source conversations, so I want to deliberately center people. There are many ways to cover this, but I will offer three ways we could think of Open Source dependencies as more than source code:

  1. Community inheritance
  2. Legacies
  3. Love

Dependencies: Community inheritance

New, smaller projects sometimes form up underneath or within an existing larger project. Sometimes a new project is created to support the existing project. Sometimes it is a passion project led by a few that aligns with the motivations and values of a wider community. But these new projects begin with an added advantage of inheriting the collaborative ecosystem surrounding the existing project, instead of being tasked to create this from scratch themselves.

Why measure this?

Ask anyone responsible for building an Open Source community from scratch. The approach at this stage is experimental:

  • Will using this feature encourage new contributors to participate?
  • Does someone in a related field discover our project on a casual whim looking at GitHub?
  • How do we make our project more accessible for contributors we do not yet have?

Many times, it is about forming a hypothesis and then testing it.

However…

If you exist within the dynamic of an existing community, you benefit from resources, people, and infrastructure that would be unavailable if you started independently. Finding communities with compatible values and motives exposes you to a wider network, and thus more visibility in a world where there is already too much information. Working within an existing community can cut light-years off of time-to-market or improving product sustainability and community resiliency (in the context of other variables).

Example of community inheritance

The Fedora Project produces Fedora Linux. Fedora Linux is a Free and Open Source operating system derived from the open source Linux kernel. The Fedora Project also creates other software in order to facilitate the production, creation, and updates of Fedora Linux. Examples of this are asynchronous meeting minute note managers, community calendars, gamified badges, software package distribution tools, and more.

While none of these smaller software projects are the ultimate purpose and goal of the Fedora Project, they are supplementary to the overall goal of producing Fedora Linux. The sustainability of these smaller parts ensure a healthier ecosystem around the larger project.

Another way to see this is as a planet with several orbiting moons, where the planet is an existing project and each moon represents another smaller project orbiting around the existing one. Each moon is different, yet each is still connected to the gravitational force and motions of the planet.

Dependencies: Legacies

Open Source projects are more than source code. Human beings are social creatures, and Open Source is a social activity. An individual or groups of individuals may influence the hearts and minds of others in the movement. To win hearts and minds is to merge the intentions of the individual with the intentions of the wider community. The power to change minds is the power to move mountains.

Why measure this?

Open Source is a social activity. It has both a written and oral story-telling tradition. There is a rich history from the movement that first took root in the 1980s. We use stories to expand our imagination, or to see a perspective in a way we might not have before. So, it is important to note the value these historical stories play in shaping our movement and creating leaders.

Legacies of kindness and love result in thriving communities where contributors look out for each other. People are not motivated by the will to survive; they are motivated by the will to thrive with a community. Legacies of discrimination and hate result in divided, splintered communities who are focused on counting their differences instead of seeing how alike we are.

Example of legacies

Seth Vidal wrote the Yellowdog Update Manager (Y.U.M.), and he contributed to Fedora. Matthew Williams helped others learn about Linux and Open Source, and he contributed to Fedora. Thomas Gilliaird helped me with using Fedora Linux in IRC as a teenager, and he contributed to Fedora. The ways we help other humans while on our own journey is how we create a legacy with wider wings. The impact of a few kind people is enough to inspire more to follow.

To ignore the impact of legacies in social activities surrounding Open Source is to deny the impact of charismatic leaders who lead in styles of either unity or division.

Dependencies: Love

Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The act of existence can be political. We cannot escape the sociopolitical environment of our world, no matter how much we wish to push it aside. If we choose to ignore it, there are others who choose to manipulate common ignorance, to the exploit of their own unbounded wealth. We must embrace and acknowledge the political atmosphere permeates our world; it does not disappear and hide away when it makes us uncomfortable.

Why measure this?

Open Source does not get a “get out of jail free” card.

Open Source is political. Its roots in the Free Software movement were firmly rooted in politics, even if they were narrowly confined to a few key issues. The real question is, how do we wield our own political agency and expediency? We should act from our hearts and move to inspired action to correct everything that stands against love.

Example of love

This blog post. These words are a radical act of love. Acknowledging it and choosing to embrace it is the first step in using our Open Source power responsibly.


Featured image arranged by Justin W. Flory. Original photograph by Ian Schneider on Unsplash.