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Welcome to the next phase of open source (Glyn Moody)

To protect open source from its own success, Glyn Moody suggests that we upgrade the OSI membership and challenge the media to speak appropriately and consistently about open source.

Glyn Moody has quickly moved to the top of my RSS reader. He consistently writes thoughtful pieces, and this one is no different. As Glyn explains, none but the most determined persist in believing that open source is a fad that will soon die out. On the contrary, open source has taken over infrastructure software and is gathering steam in the application space.

Oddly enough, this is where the problem starts.

The manifest advantages of being open source - to say nothing of the trendiness of the label - has led to many startups adopting the term uncritically. From being an alternative way of branding free software, open source has now become a way of branding any software where the code is available - irrespective of what other restrictions are imposed. This is bad news, because it dilutes the value of the term "open source." That, in turn, could stymie corporate adoption, as companies find themselves increasingly confused about what open source really means, and what the real value is.

More is at stake than semantics. I believe, with Glyn, that the health of the movement depends on proper nomenclature.

As [Michael] Tiemann says, the open source world needs to work actively towards retaining the value of the term "open source," by linking it strictly to the official OSI licences. For those unhappy with the idea of making the OSI the arbiter of what is and what isn't open source, the solution is to work with the organisation to make it better at this role, rather than to fight it and make things worse.

In the absence of legal tools like trademark protection - hardly a good solution, anyway - the best way to defend the use of "open source" is through community pressure. When people - for example, journalists - use the term "open source" inappropriately, this should be pointed out to them - politely, and backed up with reasons why.

I agree on both counts. My recent Open Source CEO Series profiles several companies/CEOs that many (including myself) would chafe at calling "open source." In this context, since I was focusing on the CEO and not the companies they lead, I felt it was OK. But still, it could be misinterpreted.

As for updating the OSI, I think this is an important initiative. I'm not sure how best to do it, but I would be happy to give up my board seat there if I felt a replacement would better serve the needs of the community, and I'd be happy to let the OSI board and the community make that call, not me.

Anyone else have thoughts on how to help shape OSI in the image of the open source community that it now serves?