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Cell phones and open source March 13, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Smart Mobs, The Cathedral and the Bazaar.
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If the word that best summarizes the themes of We the Media and Naked Conversations is “conversation,” then the word that encapsulates the readings from this week is “community.” The revolution of digital media is the result of two-way communication and peer-to-peer interaction. Smart Mobs and the selected reading from The Cathedral and the Bazaar show what happens when peers of interested individuals ban together to form communities.

Smart Mobs

Smart Mobs is a play-on-words — it describes both the intelligence of small mobile devices to serve as instant, hand-held connectors (a “mobile device”), as well as the groups of networked individuals joined together by this technology (A “mob”). Although the book was written in the earlier part of the decade, his observations and the philosophy behind them ring true today.

The notion of the commons is an interesting one, and author Rheingold is right: cooperation is what makes this technology interesting.

What was most fascinating to me is thinking about what has happened even in America alone since the book was first published to impact our mobile society. First, the explosion of the BlackBerry as a communications device nearly negates an observation made by Rheingold in chapter one. While when he was writing, texting was not seen as an appropriate business activity in America while it was used in places like Japan. Today, the BlackBerry has become a status symbol among professionals who want to show that they are connected to their work, their colleagues and their clients.

The second interesting development has happened even more recently — the takeoff of Twitter. Twitter blends blogging with mobile technology, allowing users to use the Web, instant message software and their mobile devices to send short “life updates,” revealing to their friends what they are doing and thinking in real time.

Sending messages through mobile networks truly accomplishes the goal of community, connecting people to one another across untold distance virtually any time.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

If the commons is an important concept to Rheingold, it is essential to Raymond. The Cathedral and the Bazaar is a treatise on the virtues of open-source development. Rather than locking development of new technologies behind the walls of a single company or inventor, the best work can be accomplished by cooperation among the collective. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The open source model of software development allows each person willing to contribute to the whole (based on their level of interest and expertise), ultimately yielding a product that meets real users’ needs.

Perhaps the most illuminating section came when Raymond compared open source development to project management. It was especially resonant to me because the other course I am taking this semester is Digital Media Project Management. Raymond summarizes the five necessary tasks of traditional project managers as defining goals, monitoring progress, motivating staff, organizing activities and marshaling resources. Raymond says that in the context of open source, each of these needs is irrelevant. Marshaling resources is unneeded because resources are only limited by a willingness to participate. Participants don’t need to be monitored or motivated because the group is self regulating and participants self-select to participate.