Analyzing the Work of Open Source

This post covers the role and purpose (and utility!) of analysts and spectators in the software development world. Particularly in the open source subset of that. My inspirations and for this post come from:


In the video Coté says (basically,) open source projects need to be able to justify the "business case" for their project, to explain what's the innovation that this project seeks to provide the world. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and I think we should probably all be able to explore and clearly explain and even justify the projects we care about and work on in terms of their external worth.

Project leaders and developers should be able to explain and justify the greater utility of their software clearly. Without question. At the same time, problems arise when all we focus on is the worth. People become oblivious to how things work, and become unable to successfully participate in informed decisions about the technology that they use. Users, without an understanding of how a piece of technology functions are less able to take full advantage of that technology.

As an aside: One of the things that took me forever to get used to about working with developers is the terms that they describe their future projects. They use the imperative case with much more ease than I would ever consider: "the product will have this feature" and "It will be architected in such a way." From the outside this kind of talk seems to be unrealistic and grandiose, but I've learned that programmers tend to see their projects evolving in real time, and so this kind of language is really more representative of their current state of mind than their intentions or lack of communications skills.

Returning for a moment to the importance of being able to communicate the business case of the projects and technology that we create. As we force the developers of technology to focus on the business cases for the technology they develop we also make it so that the only people who are capable of understanding how software works, or how software is created, are the people who develop software. And while I'm all in favor of specialization, I do think that the returns diminish quickly.

And beyond the fact that this leads to technology that simply isn't as good or as useful, in the long run, it also strongly limits the ability of observers and outsiders ("analysts") to be able to provide a service for the developers of the technology beyond simply communicating their business case to outside world. It restricts all understanding of technology to journalism rather than the sort of "rich and chewy" (anthropological?) understanding that might be possible if we worked to understand the technology itself.

I clearly need to work a bit more to develop this idea, but I think it connects with a couple of previous arguments that I've put forth in these pages one regarding Whorfism in Programming, and also in constructing rich arguments.

I look forward to your input as I develop this project. Onward and Upward!

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