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Open Technology

  • Confessions of an open source advocate August 8, 2012


    The not-so-scary ghost of Sharing Your Stuff (ghost picture from The Noun Project)

    The other day I was talking to a friend who does more open source hardware and technology projects than almost anyone I know.  After some discussion about a very cool project he's been working really hard on lately, he apologetically admitted that he was afraid of putting the project out into the world.  The fear was so internalized that he could only provided guesses at its exact cause.

    I've had this conversation a few times before, and I also have fears when putting a project out into the world that I've been working hard on.  But building a thriving open source community for hardware, science and technology is going to take some intrepid folks who follow their passion instead of following their fear.  Here's the big fears I've seen and some thoughts on pushing through them:

    Fear of failure.  Once you put your project out there you may find no one is interested and all those hours you spent coiling wire for your Ven der Graaf generator went completely unappreciated.

    Do what you do because YOU want to (not because you think others will find it cool), and set expectations low from the start so all you can do is exceed them.

    Fear of repeating others' work.  You upload your last 5 months hard work and then someone makes an offhand comment like "oh, this is just like website X", which you never saw but now realize that you spent the last year replicating what website X already did.

    Do your homework and realize the value in gaining personal experience, even if it's already been done.

    Fear of losing control.  This might happen.  Your great idea/concept/toy/software/hardware may get scooped up by others and taken in a completely different direction.  Unless you have all day to devote to it, you may not be able to keep up.

    This really only happens if your successful, so consider loss of control a sign of success and start on your next project that you can lose control of!

    Fear of loss of income.  You designed a simple, cheap machine for turning a Pomegranite into a well organized stack of little juicy balls in 5 seconds flat with no mess?  Wow, you're amazing!  Surely you can sell it and make a boatload of money, but you want to open source the design too.

    Get you ducks in a row with a distributor and manufacturer so you're first in the market with the best price, or maybe even crowd fund the initial run (kickstarter, indiegogo, rockethub or scifund challenge, pietridish, etc.).  Make sure people know who made it, and leverage that fame to do other awesome stuff that you want to do.

    Fear of ambiguity.  Where, exactly, do I post my 5 pages of notes, 21 drawings, and 2 CAD files?  Most sites (Instructables, Make Projects, and others) are for finished projects, but you want yours to continue to live on with changes and additions from the community.  GitHub is really cool, but it's for software geeks who speak gibberish that you don't understand.  Plus, it doesn't have good tools for uploading big files.  There's a forum which is really relevant to my project, but forums are like bedroom closets - if I didn't actually watch it get thrown in, you'll probably never be able to find it again.

    Hmmm... tough one...  There's two sites I know of, Initiatr and opendesignengine which are light-weight project management sites for groups working on open source projects.  Try them out, see how it goes.

    Fear of responsibility.  When your open source widget breaks, they will come emailing you to fix it.  Welcome to the wonderful world of customer service.

    Be EXTREMELY clear about your willingness of provide support from the beginning, and help progress the project to a solid, working design that doesn't need much additional support.

    In writing this post I had both the Fear of Failure and the Fear of Repeating others' work (I'm sure this list has been made many times).  But I think it's still useful, so I'm posting it, and I hope you post too!

  • Awesome New World July 14, 2012

    From I haven't read it but love the title

    Emily Puckett Rodgers and I are working on a program to help connect technically minded folks in Ann Arbor, through A2Geeks.  It's forced me to think a lot about who geeks are, why they are important, and how they connect with the Awesome New World which is the future.  I have a strong perspective, but had a hard to expressing it, so I sat down today to give it a shot.  This is what I came up with:

    Geeks are people who believe that the world is fundamentally good

    What do I mean when I say Geeks?  Geeks are people who believe that the world is fundamentally good, even if parts of it are not yet.  People who share first and ask questions later.  People who believe that technical details matter.  People who never outsource their responsibility for the actions they take or take part in.  People who see money as a means to an end, not a means in of itself.  People who want to spend most of their waking hours doing something meaningful and then can't help but shout their results from the rooftops.  People who are incapable of being disingenuous.  To sum it up, geeks live in a world of abundance because they are connected and understand the means of production, creativity, and innovation - these things are known variables.  They can control the physical world around them.  They derive happiness from the creative process and its results.

    Right now it seems that Geeks are generally both underappreciated and often taken advantage of by people willing to see money as an end (and people as the means), who check their morality at the door of their office, and who hide first and share only when forced.  To sum up the difference, these people live in a world of scarcity.  They see production, creativity, and innovation as a wild beast to tame and extract value from.  They cannot control the physical world around them, so they control the world of human beings.  They derive happiness from extracting value.

    I would like more people to believe in the vision of the Geeks, because the more people who do, the more real that world will be.  Does everyone who shares this vision need to be a technical person?  No, definitely not.  But I do think first-hand experience in achieving technical expertise is the foundation for understanding the world around us, and therefore of really groking this vision.  Lacking that knowledge makes the vision more frail and easily lost.

    The idea of humans "managing" humans will be as quaint in the future as the idea of renting a movie from the Rent-a-Flick

    What is technical expertise?  Any expertise which directly produces goods or services or develops skills which result in that production.  That is the heart of the value human beings provide.  Soon, everything outside of that will be done by computers, algorithms, search engines, and other automated systems.  The idea of humans "managing" humans will be as quaint in the future as the idea of renting a movie from the Rent-a-Flick.  As automation overtakes immense swaths management, accounting, book-keeping, taxes, marketing, etc., the work that will remain will be highly creative and technical in nature.  It is the reverse of what happened during the Industrial Revolution - instead of the workers being replaced, now the managers are being replaced.  Are we there yet?  Nope.  Do we still need managers, accountants, lawyers, and everyone else?  Yep.  But that's quickly changing.

    As we roll into the future, the Geeks will learn how to become decision makers while today's Decision Makers will learn more technical expertise.  From the outside these two populations will begin look the same: all technically minded decision makers.  But there is one key difference - one will have a mentality of scarcity, while the other will have a mentality of abundance.

    My vote is for abundance.

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