Boaz Sender

Principal at Bocoup, Processing Foundation Board of Advisors, and Design Justice Volunteer.

What happened to open source in 2016

January 16th 2017

(Written for the unpublished Internet Review of 2016, and posted here with the editor's permission.)

Post hope computer ethics

2016 was the year that Brendan Eich called Microsoft the new Mozilla,’s React became a first-choice developer tool, Nadia Ehgbal called out an open source funding problem, and John Maeda left venture capital to work on WordPress, calling open source a "revolutionary movement". This was also the year that Y Combinator started funding open source research, “InnerSource” gained traction in highly-regulated industries, tech billionaires developed new corporate forms for unregulated techno-solutionist charity, and the Ford Foundation called for the treatment of open source as public infrastructure like “roads and bridges”. In 2016, open source became the new normal.

The open source movement of the late 90s took its distributed, autonomous, and public commercial ethics from the collectivist free software morality of the 80s, but never planned for its eventual entrance into popular culture. Now that our markets are pushing for "open source" behavior, engineers are revisiting the free software moral imperative and updating it for a new post-open source computer ethics.

Progressives believe this update should be constructed from an intersectional and sociotechnical critique; ”let’s make our production environments more diverse and not forget that technologies are imbued with the bias of their makers”. Technocrats believe this update should be constructed from a libertarian critique; “let’s automate society with technology to reduce the role of government”.

2016 was the last year of open source. The computer civics that follows will either invert historic structures of power, or reencode them into our post Internet society.


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