The Cathedral & the Bazaar (Book review)

The Cathedral & the Bazaar (Book review)

A study of the codes and values of the open source movement

John Allsopp
💡
Note: If you haven’t read our introductory piece, "hu.bb is a guild", it might help to go there first. Book reviews are part of what we'll be doing, from a number of authors that have something to offer towards what we are trying to achieve. So this is not a general purpose review, but specifically framed through that lens.
hu.bb is a guild (part 1)
We are building hu.bb to democratise spatial practices - to connect, empower & facilitate.

Initiation

Imagine a religious order with adherents all over the world, with an unusual but infectious belief system. Imagine then an anthropological-style study of their codes and values. The Cathedral and the Bazaar is such a study. It happens to direct its gaze at the open source/hacker (not cracker) software community. Therefore, even though the subject is technology, it is primarily a book about culture.

Gift culture

Here we have a collection of landmark essays by Eric Raymond together with post-publication reflections. The essays were published over twenty years ago. Technology moves fast, but since the book focuses on fundamental issues of culture, it has stood the test of time.

Raymond’s principal contention is that the open source/hacker community is an example of a gift culture in which reputation is currency and earned through acts of giving away (sharing) your knowledge and the fruits of your labour among your peers. It is contrasted with exchange culture, which is typical of closed source projects and organisations.

“Perhaps … the reputation-game gift culture is the globally optimal way to cooperate for generating (and checking!) high-quality creative work”.

Values

Raymond touches on how and why our evolutionary instincts contribute to these value systems. He makes an enlightening analogy between the customs of common-law Anglo-American land tenure (Lockean theory of property), and the emergent, unconscious value systems of open source.

Looking at Raymond’s various predictions, 20+ years on, he was correct to foresee that open source would come to dominate the infrastructure of the Internet, but he also realised or at least acknowledged its limitations. It was not all gung ho, though at one stage he did suggest that scarcity (capitalist) software team structures “are doomed”, which of course has not happened.

Community

In this now highly technophilic age, we are reminded that great innovation comes out of communities, not just obsessions over the newness and novelty of tech itself. Raymond waves an ultimately revolutionary flag here in support of the open source/hacker way.


Author: Eric S. Raymond
Year of Publication: 1999

Insights from The Cathedral & the Bazaar

Comments

Please share your thoughts, tips or critiques. If you see a login request below, click this link.