Non-software open source projects

Despite the fact that many believe FLOSS of interest mainly for developers, I strongly believe that we are simply starting to see a rush of different projects that extend the collaborative development approach to non-software areas.

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During the research activity in the OpenTTT project, we tried to find non-software projects that are developed or extended in a collaborative way, similar to the “bazaar” or moderated bazaar typical of most FLOSS projects; having restricted this to 65 examples, we have found many interesting facts:

  • many large scale software projects are really mixed media projects, as exemplified by the map created by Matthias Mueller-Prove, that shows that the number of people participating in “ancillary” areas like documentation, promotion and such is as large as that devoted to development. KDE and GNOME has similar proportion of non-code participation.
  • whenever the software allows for mixed participation, such participation happens. It is relatively easy to see that simple Wiki-based tools seems capable to attract a large participation base, while cooperative schemes for music or artwork are less present. In fact, most non-textual forms are more oriented towards “remixing”, that is the leveraging of a digital artifact for integration into some other work, and not modification and improvement of it directly. I suspect that as more complete and complex “packaged” file formats (like those used by proprietary video editing suites, for example) become used by open source tools, we will begin to see a more interesting approach not only towards remixing but towards “reinvention” as well. A wonderful example is NineInchNails’ open source remix project.
  • the sheer scope if the phenomenon is amazing- collaboratively created prayer books? (see the open source judaism project, or the Open source Haggadah). The Multimachine tool is also amazing (an accurate all-purpose machine tool that can be used as a metal or wood lathe, end mill, horizontal mill, drill press, wood or metal saw or sander, surface grinder and sheet metal “spinner”. It can be built by a semi-skilled mechanic using just common hand tools; for machine construction, electricity can be replaced with “elbow grease” and all the necessary material can come from discarded vehicle parts)

I believe that as FLOSS demonstrated that software can be created with good quality and innovation in collaborative modes, this will show in many other areas as well.

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