What to read to wrap your head around free and open source software

After having a chat with some people, I realised it may be useful to compile a list of reading material about free and open source software. Texts that can help designers make sense of what this movement is, how it works and what it does.

Here are a few things that helped me:

Add yours to the list! :slight_smile:


Here a collection of academic research, books and essays which I consider relevant for understanding the open source movement and “hackers”.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture:

Turner, Fred. 2006. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism . 1 edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Describes the relations of 60s counterculture and the tech industry and the visions of the future brought by this:
“[the] sphere would not be ruled through the work of agonistic politics, but rather by turning away from it, toward the technologically mediated empowerment of the individual and the establishment of peer-to-peer agoras.”

“The Californian Ideology.”

Barbrook, Richard, and Andy Cameron. 1996. “The Californian Ideology.” Science as Culture 6 (1): 44–72.

“[the culture] simultaneously reflects the disciplines of market economics and the freedoms of hippie artisanship. This bizarre hybrid is only made possible hrough a nearly universal belief in technological determinism.”
Critical essay on tech culture. Discusses: Technological determinism aka ‘this technology will change the world’, libertarian ideas of self sufficient creators, rejection of representative politics in favor of self organization (see Freeman; Turner; Faulkner)

“The Tyranny of Structurelessness.”

Freeman, Jo. 2013. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 41 (3/4): 231–46.

“Structure is inevitable. The “structureless” idea becomes a smokescreen, like “laissez faire”: It hides the informal power structure. It also makes formal structure impossible, it runs counter the idea.”
Relevant as Open Source communities often self describe as being without hierarchy.

The Power of Gifts:

Bergquist, Magnus, and Jan Ljungberg. “The Power of Gifts: Organizing Social Relationships in Open Source Communities.” Information Systems Journal 11 (4): 305–20. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2575.2001.00111.x.

“One could understand this culture as a kind of amalgamation of collectivism and individualism: giving to the community is what makes the individual a hero in the eyes of others.”
Gifts are also dangerous: Getting a gift implies that one needs to give something back and that one is, if one takes the gift, socially bound to the giver… (See Mauss, The Gift)

Having It Both Ways

Stevenson, Michael. 2018. “Having It Both Ways: Larry Wall, Perl and the Technology and Culture of the Early Web.” Internet Histories 2 (3–4): 264–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/24701475.2018.1495810.

The programming language perl as a prototypical hacker-tool: Expressive, with many ways to solve problems and to show one’s mastery of the language (which did not lead to easy-to-maintain code in many ways)

I enjoyed this piece and how it references The Cathedral and the Bazaar to talk about the specific history of the Jupyter Notebook (i.e. open source vs. its proprietary predecessor the Mathematica notebook by Wolfram).

Somers, J. (2018) ‘The Scientific Paper Is Obsolete’, The Atlantic, 5 April. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/the-scientific-paper-is-obsolete/556676/