“The Cathedral and the Bazaar” is an essay on software engineering methods, analyzing why open source works (based on observations of Linux and Raymond’s own open source management experience). Raymond contrasts the top-down development of software (the “cathedral” model) in which software is “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation” and the bottom-up development of software in a “great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches”. Raymond highlights the ways in which open source can lead to better quality, higher reliability, and more flexibility. By treating users as co-developers, releasing early and often (while listening to your customers), and recognizing good ideas from users, the open source model can be extremely successful. To put it more succinctly, as Raymond says, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. Another important key to open source that Raymond highlights: “joy is an asset…[sic] play is the most economically efficient mode of creative work”.
“What is Web 2.0” describes the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, starting with the idea of web as platform – that is, a shared set of rules upon which applications can be built (think Windows, Mac OS, etc.). O’Reilly then takes the open source ethos Raymond describes (although not explicitly) and explains how it underlies the other differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0:
- Harnessing collective intelligence. (inherently part of the open source “bazaar” mentality)
- Control of data as chief source of competitive advantage. (this relates to the open source ethos in two ways: one, since software is open source, that leaves the data to be the key to competitive advantage and two, enhancement of data via user input (e.g., user reviews)relates to harnessing collective intelligence)
- End of the software release cycle, with users treated as co-developers to provide constant updates. (again, a very open source idea, and one mentioned explicitly in “Cathedral and the Bazaar”)
- Lightweight programming models designed for hackability and remixability. (which are practically preconditions of treating users as co-developers)
- Rich user experiences that support collaboration and sharing of data. (which relate right back to the idea of harnessing collective intelligence)
In looking for other descriptions of Web 2.0, I came across this fabulous YouTube video by anthropology professor Michael Wesch that really captures the essence of this new landscape in a more Web 2.0 kind of medium.
In an article he wrote for Anthropology News, Wesch highlights three characteristics of Web 2.0 that “the journey of [creating] the video itself” maps out: speedy creation and distribution, collaboration/Creative Commons (“one of many new ways of thinking about copyright that enables more creativity and collaboration”), and new forms of sociality – all of which tie in nicely to the ideas of web as platform, harnessing collective intelligence, users as co-developers, and increased collaboration (all highlighted by Raymond and O’Reilly).
I think the open source ethos described in both Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and O’Reilly’s “What is Web 2.0” is exciting and inspiring, the best aspect of the digital age; the same aspect highlighted by Clay Shirky (see previous post) and the same aspect driving Wikipedia’s success. With that established, let’s move on to my favorite question: what does this mean for public health? The obvious connection, of course, is open source healthcare software. Wikipedia has an entire list, ranging from the kinds of things inherently suited to open source work (i.e., things already happening in the software realm, like Health IT, data storage/translation, and management systems) to more creative applications (e.g., Ushahidi).
More interesting to me, however, is thinking about how we can take the open source ethos beyond software (both in ways that are driven by technology and in ways that are not). How can we tap into the collective intelligence of users of public health services and products, empowering those we are trying to help? Mayor Menino and company’s idea of “new urban mechanics” (see previous post) is one idea (a technology-driven one) that I’m really excited about it, but in practice, it doesn’t quite yet reach the under-resourced as much as I’d like (though it has the potential to do so).
In searching for a program that does reach the under-resourced in a non-software open source way, I came across The Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training Academy (BEST Academy), a program of Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit organization that “works with the South Bronx and other underserved urban communities as they transform themselves into great sustainable places to live” (emphasis added). The BEST Academy connects the need for environmental restoration to the career development needs of those in the community, providing green job training to predominantly low-income individuals. This certainly has the empowering users-as-codevelopers piece of the open source ethos.
I actually found out about Sustainable South Bronx via the Ashoka Changemakers’ Idea exChange blog, which featured an interview with environmental justice advocate and founder of Sustainable South Bronx, Majora Carter. She calls for more crowd sourcing efforts (citing the pepsi refresh project as an example) and eloquently points out the very thing I’ve been trying to avoid in focusing on public health solutions that empower instead of provide top-down “help” to those “below”:
“Yes, in a way, philanthropy is the victim of its own success. If the overall goal is to help the underdog, then you will always look for the underdog, often at the expense of anyone who looks like they are succeeding. That creates an incentive to look less a champion, and look more like a victim.”