Open Source Knitting: Particpation

The "wiki" is defined by the ease of editing: the software makes it very easy for people (with editing privileges) to make changes to pages through some sort of web interface. They also create very useable content management systems that keep all "files" in order--usually stored in some sort of database--and allow for some sort of more "human readable" markup, like Textile, or my favorite markdown. This doesn't sound very different from, say the WordPress site that powers this site, and indeed some really great wiki programs can output blog formats. What has made wikis so popular, and noteworthy is that often "those with editor privileges" is everyone who reads the site, rather than a group of editors; although the technology would allow for this model as well. While I think it's too simplistic to just say "it's a wiki: everyone can edit it," to a large extent thats true.

The fact of the matter is, though, that not everyone does participate in these projects. Lets take Wikipedia for a moment: while lots of people have accounts with wikipedia, and may make an edit every now and then (I'll include myself in this category; I usually just fix quibble-y things if I come across them, which I don't often, but I mainly just comment on the "talk pages"), but wikipedia has a core editor-base of only a couple of (several) thousand. Which in comparison to the millions that use wikipedia is really a fairly small proportion. The same with projects like Firefox or even GNU and Linux, I'd assume. In fact if we consider wikipedia an open-source project (and we should,) in terms of adoption and contribution rates, I'm sure that it's probably among the most successful.

What's more, I think it's important to note that just because open-source projects are, well, open to everyone and lots of people use them, many fewer people contribute to the projects, and projects have a fairly centralized and hierarchical organizational structures, which was surprising (and heartening) when I first figured it out. Now before any hippy types [1] get their undies in a twist about how such structures impinge upon freedom "freedom," this is where the Share-Alike and propagating qualities of the "free" licenses come in handy. If the "central" project falls behind a group of users expectations or a group of users want to develop the project in a different direction, they can take a "fork" of the program/project in that direction. Also, I think it's worth noting that a lot of open source software projects are developed to a large extent by large software companies that may or may not produce proprietary project as well. But I digress, I think that the hierarchical and structured quality of an open source (software/knitting) development community is a good thing: these are the kind of conditions that allow work to get done on a project: unstructured projects aren't easily productive.

So what does this mean for a knitting project? I think that it means that, community needs to come before infrastructure. It means that while the barriers to entry need to be low, there needs to be framework for different kinds of contributions and tasks carved out so that when people come to the project they can tackle any kind small granular task rather than an impossible whole. Also it means that there needs to be a core group of people in regular contact with each-other who are responsible for maintaining some of the logistics/framework, and setting agendas that the larger community can address. You cannot, by contrast, just say "ok, have at" and assume that the community will know what to do, and be able to organize around a loose framework. And this really goes for any kind of project, software, knitting, or fiction. It's a problem that I'm forever working on, as I'm sure longtime readers of the site will recognize.

If it isn't clear by now, I'd like to start some sort of OSK (open source knitting) project, and I'm starting to work out a few of the details, but if I think we're a ways off of this. If you would like to participate in this, I'd love to hear from you (email:, and although it might be putting the horse before the cart, but I think next time I'm going to start drafting out some plans and structure (mostly in terms of the content), so that I at least can conceptualize how this would go.

I look forward to hearing from you, and as always, I remain, tycho

[1]I kid, of course, however just to continue the pun, I'll point out that the examples given to define the various types of "free" are beer/speech, not beer/speech/love.
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