A buddy of mine mentioned some commentary by Alex Castellanos on CNN that I had missed. Castellanos mentioned Obama telling the public that he needs their help. He made a leap to an important essay of the open source software movement entitled the Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond.
The gist of the essay in terms of software was that Microsoft was out there building cathedrals — big, cumbersome, often very elaborate software with a central architect. In the meantime, open source software, notably Linux, was being developed in more of a bazaar style. People came and went, the development could be slapdash and disorganized at times, but it was vibrant and the product evolved organically.
Castellanos is suggesting that Obama’s governing style might look a little more like Linux than like Microsoft. We will see. Certainly there is a better chance of an active feedback loop between Obama and the citizenry than there was with Bush/Cheney. Bush and Cheney make Bill Gates look like Linus Torvalds.
Right now it’s easy to project all kinds of hopes and dreams on an Obama Presidency. And this is one of them. But there is reason for optimism on this score with the way he operated his campaign. It was organized, of course, but it also depended a great deal on initiative in the lower echelons of the organization. One of the great disappointments of the Bush administration came after 9/11. The country was united and ready for direction. I got the sense that we were ready to work together if someone would point the way in which we could be most useful. About all we got was a recommendation that we all go shopping or go to Disney World. I get the feeling that President Obama will enlist our aid in more substantial ways.
Some quotes from the Cathedral & the Bazaar that strike me as relevant:
When you start community-building, what you need to be able to present is a plausible promise. Your program doesn’t have to work particularly well. It can be crude, buggy, incomplete, and poorly documented. What it must not fail to do is (a) run, and (b) convince potential co-developers that it can be evolved into something really neat in the foreseeable future.
. . .
I think it is not critical that the coordinator be able to originate designs of exceptional brilliance, but it is absolutely critical that the coordinator be able to recognize good design ideas from others.
. . .
Fred Brooks observed that programmer time is not fungible; adding developers to a late software project makes it later. As we’ve seen previously, he argued that the complexity and communication costs of a project rise with the square of the number of developers, while work done only rises linearly. Brooks’s Law has been widely regarded as a truism. . . . [However,] the bazaar method, by harnessing the full power of the “egoless programming” effect, strongly mitigates the effect of Brooks’s Law. The principle behind Brooks’s Law is not repealed, but given a large developer population and cheap communications its effects can be swamped by competing nonlinearities that are not otherwise visible. This resembles the relationship between Newtonian and Einsteinian physicsâ€”the older system is still valid at low energies, but if you push mass and velocity high enough you get surprises like nuclear explosions or Linux.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Obama’s governing style looks like.