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Kit Plummer
Software Engineer :: Techitect :: Evangelist
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People before Projects FTW

The Open Source phenomenom that has evolved into a full-on commercial arena tends to get lost in noise. There’s no doubt that the commercialization of Open Source is a good thing for both sides. However, up for discussion is where the real innovation happens, and is fostered. I belief the correct answer is both; innovation is found at the individual as well within the careful boundaries provided by strategic constraints of an organization. I don’t want to get too hung up on this thinking, at this point. So, If you’ll bite on my definition of Innovation then we can continue to propose that innovation actually happens first at the individual.

Traditionally, Open Source Software (OSS) projects are maintained under an “umbrella” infrastructure with typical pieces (e.g. wikis, mailing lists, issue tracking, and SCM). This was generally required to maintain the hierarchical structure of role-based access. However, recently, there’s been a slight rearrangement of this structure, with the subtle movement of the SCM piece out – decoupled from the projects. These types of changes were highly influenced by Linux’s requirements to better manage its codebase. Linus Torvalds, the inventor of Linux, himself designed a new system for version control (after attempts at using alternative SCM systems). This new model was based on a fully distributed model, rather than the typical client-server/hosted model that is commonly deployed today for both proprietary and Open projects. Git, Linus’ implementation, is now used by Linux as well as many other prominent projects – known for their innovation.

The key attribute (avoiding the nitty-gritty details here) of Git, and other distributed code management systems, is the ability to distribute the potential for innovation out to individuals. Considering that the same licensing apparatus exists for current OSS projects – the ability to give an individual an opportunity for improving or compounding on already “in-progress” innovation is extremely powerful. Distributed version control systems allow for developers to focus on their piece of interest, and the ability to stay “in tune” with where the origin project (and all other “forks”). Sure, everyone benefits if improvements/enhancements roll up, but they don’t have to.

[Tools like GitHub, BitBucket, and Launchpad are pushing the social aspect of individuals collaborating, based on distributed source management.]

Sure, projects are made up of individuals. The delta here is just the priority to focus on the individual first and the relationships. It is still very possible to maintain a “project” using tools like GitHub, and enforce a structured access list (as well as centralize the code). But, where problems are small, and solutions are simple it really only makes sense to provide the ecosystem for collaboration and innovation. And, if you follow the logic here you’ll understand how individual collaboration is really the path to evolving simple solutions into projects.

Imagine if every individual in your organization was a potential solution provider. Now, imagine the potential innovation that could occur by empowering them with the infrastructure, training and support to solve problems.

RubyOnRails is a great example of a ecosystem – people first, project is the output. There are many others without a doubt.

Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds.

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