Ok, so I see it now. It’s not like I didn’t have some notion of it before, but now it’s really obvious.
It would seem as though I’ve become one of those mean and despised open source nut-case curmudgeons with nothing nice to say.
How soon we forget the lessons our mothers taught us.
While constructive criticism is essential for keeping in context the various actions and decisions of industry players, consistently taking on the role of the negative creep just doesn’t jive with the more powerful approach of positive reinforcement. Just because I’m personally disappointed or disagree with someone’s decision doesn’t mean that my way is right, nor does it mean I’ve got all the facts that I need in order to deliver a credible critique. Worse, all this negativity just gets people’s backs up — reinforcing the very walls that I’ve been trying to tear down!
Case in point?
Writing for CNET, Open Road columnist Matt Asay cites my post on Adobe’s Open Source Media Framework to demonstrate how open source advocates (acolytes?) are potentially doing more harm than good with their vitriolic complaints:
Sigh. In open source, no good deed goes unpunished. There is no greater enemy to open source than itself.
…why would anyone expect Microsoft and its ilk to continue to court a community that ridicules and second-guesses its every attempt at perestroika? I know from conversations with several companies that they’re actually scared to engage the open-source community because the responses have been so intemperate and ideological.
I’m convinced that this element of the open-source community, vocal and sometimes vicious, is a minority. I’m equally convinced that we’d better off if this enemy within would spend more time analyzing its own behavior rather than shouting down the supposed “mudbloods” of open source.
But it’s not just Matt that made this point. In personal conversations and on Twitter… it’s clear that my rhetoric, though well-intentioned (in my mind), is perhaps missing the mark and needs an attitudinal adjustment. Furthermore — to Matt’s point — other people in open source that I respect have called me out on it — people like Alex Russell:
Reading your post makes me grumpy as someone who’s spent nearly all of his career building Open Source products. It makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that everyone else who choses a set of licensing terms *does so for the same reasons that you do*. It’s human nature to assume that others can and do share your perspective, but it’s as often wrong in software as it tends to be in other aspects of life.
“open washing”? “anti-community”? WTF?
The good arguments for OSS are economic…and your critique doesn’t begin to address Adobe (or anyone else’s) moves in that context. The code is MPL. The community process is likely not 100%, and together those things will define who *else* invests in this code. MPL is a fine license. That investment will determine if (and for whom) this announcement is good. Trying to tar Adobe for not being sufficiently slavish in their devotion to a cause that they can’t *ever* get on board with (economically speaking) seems…strange. Why bother?
And he’s right. Why bother ranting on for 1100+ words when the intended target is going to end up feeling bruised and angry, if they don’t just walk away altogether?
A much more civil tone could perchance reach the intended audience as well as a wider audience — and be replayed across many contexts beyond this blog’s readership: a wider, and therefore more valuable, contribution.
Though it’s no consolation, I am at least an equal-opportunity curmudgeon. I’ve poked Mozilla in the eye just as I have Microsoft. Adobe and Opera were only the most recent in a long line of targets that I’ve besmirched. When I write these tirades, in my head my intention is to inform and elucidate — trying to achieve contrast, if not through provocation. But without counterbalancing my complaints with some positivity from time to time, it just ends up sounding grating and unhelpful. And that’s something that I clearly need to work on.
So Matt, Alex, Ryan — others — message received. Perhaps this little personal intervention will lead to a more constructive approach to the challenge of evangelizing open source, while promoting and highlighting the aspects of it that I think are being forgotten as it becomes a more mainstream concept.
Of course there has been great progress made recently by the most unlikely of industry players — and for that, they should be praised and acknowledged. Never one to be satisfied (especially in my own endeavors), maybe I’ve just assumed that I need to stay up on the offensive, even as things have shifted. I mean, perhaps we have made so much progress that this new narrative that I keep talking about is necessary — and that continuing to fight when the battle’s been won risks alienation and undoing much of the progress that’s been made!
If I really believe that “this can all be made better”, perhaps I should recognize when it finally has?