The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant had the saying: "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind." I studied Kant for an entire semester in college and to this day I still only kind of understand what he was talking about. In a nutshell, Kant claimed that knowledge is a synthesis between experience and what we bring to experience. What he meant though by "knowledge", "synthesis", "experience", and even "we" is notoriously obscure. Which brings me to open source.
Jim Willis posted an interesting comment (with which I agree) on my talk at Harvard's JFK School of Government. At the end of the talk I had suggested formulaically that:
Community = Code + Content
I was trying to make the point that there is a new dynamic which is emerging out of the open source movement. On the one hand, there is open code, which is what we usually mean by open source. Open code is important and vital. On the other hand, we also now have an emerging open content movement led by initiatives such as MIT's OpenCourseWare and the Creative Commons founded by Lawrence Lessig. Taken together they are enabling communities and new forms of association. I mentioned Flickr as an innovative community that rests on code and content, even though in this case neither the code nor content is open.
What makes Flickr dazzling (I am a loyal user) is the way in which they have managed to spring a community into existence based on great software and content contributed by its users.
Here was Jim Willis' comment in his blog:
"The speaker at lunch was Al Essa, CIO at MIT’s Sloan School of Mgmt. He gave an interesting talk on Open Code and Open Content. It was very similar to the talk I’ve been giving at government conferences for a few years now except his focus was more on Open Code/Content in academia. He had a very interesting formula towards the end of his presentation:
Open Code + Open Content = Community.
I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but it’s an interesting idea. I’d argue that he’s missing a variable there and it should really be:
Open Code + Open Content + Open Services = Community"
I have to say that Willis is right. There is a missing variable and as Willis points out it's "Services". So, going forward I will use the following formula:
Community = Content + Code + Services
Let me also put forward the following hypothesis: the more open the content, the code, and the services, the more vibrant and richer the potential for creating a community. And at the end of the day code, content, and services are just means. What we should all really be going after are open communities, based on curiosity, sharing and mutual respect. Open content, open code, and open services can make it possible.