I've recently been enjoying Two Bits, Christopher M. Kelly's study of the cultural significance of free and open-source software. There are many books about FOSS' history and future, but where Two Bits really succeeds is in Kelly's perspective as an anthropologist. He places FOSS in a broader cultural context of rethinking intellectual property: his book examines not only free software, but also free music, free text, and free education. (via)

One great point Kelly makes is that organizations and companies committed to open source implicitly prioritize their content over their own longevity. Projects continue to grow even as the organizations supporting them shuffle in and out of the picture:

Being radically open means that any other competitor can use your system - but it means they are using your system, and this is the goal. Being open means not only sharing the "source code" (content and modules), but devising ways to ensure the perpetual openness of that content, that is, to create a recursive public devoted to the maintenance and modifiability of the medium or infrastructure by which it communicates. Openness trumps "sustainability" (i.e., the self-perpetuation of the financial feasibility of a particular organization), and where it fails to, the commitment to openness has been compromised.

The book was published by Duke University Press, but Kelly has put his money where his mouth is by offering the entire book for free in several formats. He encourages readers to notate the online version with their own comments or even rewrite it.


Elliot Harmon
Staff Writer, TechSoup