Open or Closed? On the future of democracy

Recent years have witnessed a move away from a form of software called Proprietary, towards one that is Open to all for consultation and alteration. Here is a recap of Civic Lab Barcelona’s take on open source software.

The open source software revolution can be closely linked with demands for more transparency and openness from political and social institutions. Further than the technical qualities of the model, Civic Lab Barcelona seeks to investigate the set of values that lie behind the open source model, and can be applied beyond software.

To begin with, one has to consider the source code, the computing instructions manipulated by the programmers, and to which most users do not have access. In regards to the source code, there are two models.

Closed source, or proprietary software refers to programs which source code is the exclusive property of the creating entity. It is guarded by the software vendors who hold exclusive rights over manipulating it, and in turn demand money for the finished product. It is notably tied with threats to privacy, and communications are thereby encrypted.

On the other hand, open source offers a different paradigm whereby authors of the source code give public access to their work (notably through the platform GitHub). Seeing as the program instructions are published online, they are open to collaboration, and the resulting software is shared instead of being sold. Although open source softwares can be used for free, the programmers can still make money out of it, helping out in terms of service and support rather than charging for the actual software.

Open source is associated with open access to information, shared knowledge, participation and transparency. Added value is thus created in an open fashion akin to collective intelligence, allowing learning and sharing in terms of software development. It both helps people become better programmers, and is meant to be reliable and rapidly upgradable, seeing as it can be modified and viewed by everyone. The resulting software thrives to be secure, and cheap.

Open source is best fit for information rich material and thusly software, rather than manufactured goods. However crowdsourced references like Wikipedia are common example of products well suited for the open source model.

What interests Civic Lab Barcelona most in open source, is the way that it can be implemented beyond software : It comes down to conceptualizing open source as ethics.

The model is tied with the desire to share and collaborate with others in a transparent fashion. Further, it entails accepting failures as a way to grow, rebound, and empower others to do the same.

The objective is that each and every one should gain access to the way in which the world is designed. We need to facilitate engagement so that more people can take part in the improvement of the environment they live in, and the overarching democracy.

Further, open source is a set of ideas dear to Civic Lab Barcelona’s heart: collective intelligence, rapid prototyping, or the fast creation of ideas, tools and prototypes, transparency and the improvement of the community.

More than just technology, open source is a way of life.

Although we are far from achieving an all open source reality, the model does challenge our previously monochromatic way of conceptualizing software. Concessions are under way and some hybrid models do exist, aside from binary considerations. Even Apple, for instance, grants access to the source codes of some of their products . Allowing time for open source software to gain momentum, we need to find inspiration in the open source ethics so as to pave the transition towards a more collaborative, transparent, and inclusive government.

| Written by Alexis Sarfati |