The architecture of participation

Jon Udell writes:

>> Discussions about open source and innovation tend to cluster around two opposing memes. One says that open source can’t innovate; the other that only open source can innovate. Both are wrong. Sometimes large, well-funded R&D programs can achieve breakthroughs that lone geniuses can’t. And sometimes the reverse is true. Either way, the real innovation of the open source movement is the architecture of participation. It can help turn a good idea — wherever it came from — into a best-quality implementation. [Full story at [](]

>The term ‘open source’ presumes that the essence of software is source code, and that participation means hacking it. And that’s true. But the emergence of the services model creates modes of participation that don’t require access to source. Back in 2000, Rael Dornfest introduced the term open services in order to make that distinction.

>Of course, participation needn’t involve programming at all. Much of software’s value is created by the community that surrounds it. Such communities can flourish, or not, independently of whether source code is open or closed.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! This is an eloquent phrasing of an incredibly important distinction. The “nonprofit open source” community should be focusing at least as much on developing open communities as it is on writing code. Both take resources, and open code cannot succeed without strong user communities.

One thought on “The architecture of participation”

  1. Jon — as ususal you and I have had similar obsessions. I have been mulling the concept of an “architecture of participation,” a term coined by Tom O’Reilly, for a while. In fact, I’d argue that it becoming Aspiration’s organizing principle for software innovation. I like your brief take on this — it highlights the connection to ‘innovation’ (a new way of looking at things, in literal translation) nicely.

    Tim O’Reilly who coined the term talks about this eloquently (I’ll dig up the link_ I also just had a conversation with Tom Munneke, who is taking this even further in relation to organizational infrastructure in the nonprofit sector in particular.

    He writes: “This is a lot like the transition from the mini computer to the micro computer industry a few decades back. In the mini era, each company had its own vertical stack of activities, from making CPUs, disks, Operating systems, etc. The microcomputer came along and the industry became “layered” with Intel and AMD doing CPUs, Dell and Gateway doing boxes, Microsoft doing OS, etc.

    This same “flip” could happen in philanthropy and social enterprise. Instead of creating 1 million+ “vertically integrated” non-profits (i.e. for which we need capacity building) there would be layers of services, into which service providers could seek their greatest value-added, in accordance with their vision. These layers, much like a protocol stack in communications networks, would be able to evolve independently. Maybe this is the third generation of social enterprise.”

    I would argue that this is also a prerequisite for innovation in the npo sector…. speaking rather selfishly as an intermediary 🙂

    Always enjoy a conversation with you!

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