No ghost in the machine

Summary:In other words, if you don't like the park you're walking in, walk somewhere else. That's your responsibility as the user

Shelley Powers of Burningbird took what I wrote about RSS yesterday to heart, and offered some excellent rebuttal. In hopes of adding enlightenment (and by way of apologizing to any readers who were offended yesterday) here some highlights:

Contrary to your assumption, open source code is not 'owned' by the commons. People can't just jump into the code and start hacking away.

For instance, your site uses Wordpress. This is a GPL licensed piece of code, and you can't get much more 'open source' than GPL, which means anyone can copy the code and make modifications and do what they want with this code. The only stipulation is that you can't apply a more restrictive license on any code derived from the source.

Now, what can happen is that if I decide I want to go a new direction with Wordpress and it differs significantly enough from the Wordpress development team, I can 'fork' the code. I can grab a snapshot of the code and go my own direction, maintaining my own version of the code. In fact, this is something I am doing--creating a new version of weblogging software called Wordform that will be a fork of Wordpress 1.3.

This is open source. This is how many open source efforts work. Apache's a good example of a larger project, with a bigger team -- but you still have to follow the rules and 'prove' yourself before you're allowed in to hack the code. And there are Apache architects that strictly control future directions for this tool, which is why it rarely goes through major changes. Notice how people are still using Apache 1.3?

Now, the same constraints about Wordpress are true for RSS 2.0, though it's released under Creative Commons; you can't modify the specification and still have it released as 'RSS 2.0'.

As for the garbage you get in your syndication feed -- the most open aspect of open source is that you have the right to 'openly' unsubscribe from the syndication feed that dumps the crap on you. In other words, if you don't like the park you're walking in, walk somewhere else. That's your responsibility as the user in the open source equation.

She really told that guy off, didn't she?

Topics: Developer


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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