The Philosophy Behind Open Source Software [3 Pillars]

I’m currently in the middle of reading the The Facebook Story by Sarah Lacy (a highly recommended book btw) and came across this quote on Open Source Software (OSS):

“Call it the last bastion of romanticism in the maturing, increasingly cutthroat world of the business software”. 

The book goes on to argue that Social Media might not have existed -as we know it today- without the help of Open Source Software (Linux and MySql) which lowered the costs of starting a web business by as much as 90%. I agree.  In Sarah’s book, Facebook and Digg are given as examples of  Web2.0 properties that benefited from free OSS in the early (pre-VC) days.

This inspired me to post about the philosophy behind Open Source Software and why it’s so crucial to the development of the next stage of the web.


You may have heard of “open source” software (oss) , but for many, especially those who’ve been raised in a consumerist and corporate world, it can be difficult to understand the beliefs and philosophy behind it. Why would anyone want to give away their hard work for free?  Here are three of the main principles (pillars) to help explain the philosophy behind OSS.

1. A firm belief in freedom

The open source community believes strongly that freedom is power.  OSS is not just about giving away software for free, there is a catch. By providing the freedom to download the code, pick it apart and re-code it, everyone benefits. It benefits the customer who customises it, the developer whose bugs are quickly pointed out and fixed,  and the end users who then go on to benefit from and enjoy software with  fewer bugs. Everyone’s empowered, everybody wins.

2. The importance of collaboration

The definition of teamwork has a whole new meaning  in open source projects. In the corporate world, while teamwork does exist,  its often overshadowed by corporate ladder climbing and career progression aspirations . In corporate environments, team members are more tempted to take credit for ideas and projects often get undermined.  In the open source world, teamwork is all about a collective goal of making the finished product as advanced and stable as possible. Developers may not be fully recognised for their contributions, but they do get the satisfaction of knowing that thousands of users go on to use and benefit fro the software that they’ve contributed to.

3. Accountability and flexibility

OSS contributors are recognised and applauded  by the community for positive contributions and criticised and even blocked if they abuse the trust and cause harm to the overall project.  All developers are rewarded for their participation in an OSS project. Larger companies that develop  commercial software rarely list individual contributors making it impossible to thank individual developers for tweaking a particular setting or hold anyone accountable for problems with the software. In open source software communities, one can make a suggestion and -if others agree- watch a group of developers code the next version of the software, meaning that protests of “fix this!” are recognised and addressed immediately.

OSS is Critical for the Future Development of the Web

The above philosophy behind OSS is crucial to the future development of the web.  Web 1.0 started the wave of OSS with ground breaking projects such as Netscape and Firefox.  Web 2.0 brought us game-changing companies like Facebook and Digg that also benefited from OSS and went on to revolutionize the way we communicate and share information with one another.  Web 3.0 while still in its infancy, will also most certainly require the above OSS philosophy to take the web to the next level.

Have you contributed to the development of an Open Source software project?  Have you used OSS in any of  your own projects?  Share your experiences below…

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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