June 2nd, 2010 5:33 pm | by Ron Knox News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Business

Open Source Bridge: Community Builders Can Learn From Open Source Folks—Vice Versa

Karsten Wade

[We asked local tech and culture writer Ron Knox to check out Portland's Open Source Bridge, "the conference for open source citizens" this week. Here's his latest blog dispatch. —WW]

In Karsten Wade's world, the community comes above all. He thinks that your world is probably much the same.

Wade, a self-described "senior community gardener" for groundbreaking open source operating system community Fedora, told an audience at the Open Source Bridge conference today that the gap between the sometimes esoteric world of "open source" technologies and your local community group is narrow at worst. The message of open source technology, he says, should be familiar to anyone who's ever been a part of an organized community—the more voices, and the more equal the footing, the better.

"Open source is really just a brand for an old way of doing things," he says.

There are some obvious connections between the world of community organizing and the world of open source developing. Community organizing is, of course, built around communities. Proper communities share a common interest—skateboarding, let's say, or poetry—but their members are as diverse as the cities and neighborhoods they grow from. These groups come together for a common cause, something greater than themselves, and learn to incorporate new ideas and members as organically and seamlessly as possible. And people have been doing it for years.

Look: A lot of what goes on at a conference such as Open Source Bridge is inside baseball. Ideas are communicated in a language the vast majority of folks can't and don't care to understand. In here, for a layman, getting through the jargon to understand even basic ideas is like digging through a bag of nails for a peanut. The discomfort outweighs the reward—at least for most of us.

But Wade's philosophy is something with which a lot of folks can relate. To build a functioning community capable of producing a real, tangible result, its components—the people, real flesh and blood—have to be given the tools and the motivation to build something for the benefit of everyone involved.

And Wade isn't alone. The philosophy behind open source requires the involvement of the masses, and that philosophy is circular. Many of its tenants come from community builders before it, and, in return, Wade hopes, its tenants can spread well beyond the world of software and programming. In a way, open source isn't just about those who can comprehend the jargon. It's about all of us.

Image: Karsten Wade of Fedora at Portland's Open Source Bridge conference.

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