Adam Jacob Advocates for Building Healthy OSS Communities in “The War for the Soul of Open Source”

Chef co-founder and former CTO Adam Jacob gave a short presentation at O’Reilly Open Source Software Conference (OSCON) 2019 titled “The War for the Soul of Open Source.” In his search for meaning in open source software today, Jacob confronts the notion of open source business models.

“We often talk about open source business models,” he said. “There isn’t an open source business model. That’s not a thing and the reason is open source is a channel. Open source is a way that you, in a business sense, get the software out to the people, the people use the software, and then they become a channel, which [companies] eventually try to turn into money.”

Companies often employ open source as a strategy to drive adoption, only to have mega corporations scoop up the software and corner the market. Jacob addressed the friction open source communities have with companies that use OSS to make billions of dollars per year running it as a service, citing Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a prime example.

Amid conflicts like these, it’s a challenge to find meaning in OSS via business. Jacob looked to organizations like the Free Software Foundation and Open Source Initiative but could not get on board with the methods and outcomes they pursue through their efforts.

He concluded that what is left is the people at the heart of OSS, who improbably come together with an overlapping sense of shared values and purpose.

“Each of us are a weird different shape, struggling to find our path and yet open source software gives us this ability to gather together around this resource that we turn from being scarce to being infinite,” he said.

“Look at your own desires, look at your own needs and the things you want in your own life. Then go out and find and build and steward communities with other people who share those values and who will embrace your purpose, and sustain each other. Because that is the true soul of open source.”

In December 2018, Jacob launched the Sustainable Free and Open Source Communities (SFOSC) project to advocate for these ideas. Instead of focusing on protecting revenue models of OSS companies, the project’s contributors work together to collaborate on writing core principles, social contracts, and business models as guidelines for healthy OSS communities.

“I believe we need to start talking about Open Source not in terms of licensing models, or business models (though those things matter): instead, we should be talking about wether or not we are building sustainable communities,” Jacob said in a post introducing the project. “What brings us together, as people, in this common effort around the software? What rights do we hold true for each other? What rights are we willing to trade in order to see more of the software in the world, through the investment of capital?”

Check out Jacob’s presentation below for a 13-minute condensed version of the inspiration behind the SFOSC project.

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