GITHUB WAS INTENDED to be an open software collaboration platform, but it’s become a platform for much, much more than code. It’s now being used by artists, builders, homeowners, everyone in between, entire companies … and cities.
>GitHub is doing to open source what the internet did to the publishing industry.
“Anyone can now change the data when new bike paths are built when roads are under construction, and new buildings are erected,” the city of Chicago recently announced. People are managing home-renovation projects on GitHub. One law firm also just announced a couple days ago that it’s posting legal documents for early-stage startup funding on GitHub. Someone even published all the laws in Germany on GitHub last year. (Perhaps not so surprisingly, he has about 17 open “pull” requests for changes.) And of course, GitHub is still used by programmers and developers flying AR Drones with Node.js or building websites with jQuery.
As people who were once just users become producers, they’re re-shaping the culture of open source. GitHub, I believe, is doing to open source what the internet did to the publishing industry: It’s creating a culture gap between the previous, big-project generation of open source and a newer, more amateur zed generation of open source today.
When most people hear “open” source, they think democratic, distributed, egalitarian: everyone building things together for everyone else to use.
I’ve been contributing to open source projects for over 10 years, but what’s different now is that I’m not a “member” of these projects – I’m just a “user,” and contributing a little is a part of being a user. Little interactions between me and the project maintainers happen several times a week on all kinds of little projects I use.
And it happens even more often in the other direction: People I’ve never heard from sending me little bits of code on all the little projects I’ve published.
>As people who were once just users become producers, they’re re-shaping the culture of open source.
The first versions of GitHub did one thing very well: They made it much easier to publish – than to not publish – your code. This was enough for many notable projects, including Ruby on Rails, to move to GitHub almost immediately.
But what happened next was even more interesting: People started publishing just about everything on GitHub… Pushing code became almost as routine as tweeting. By reducing barriers to entry and making it easier to coordinate and contribute to open source, GitHub broadened the peer production to casual users.
Today a vast landscape of simple and understandable software is accessible to a creative class of people who did not have the depth of technical knowledge necessary to participate in the large open source projects of the past.
Making Things Easier to Use
One of the longtime problems with open source software has been fit and finish. Bad documentation, website design, and usability, in general, have been poor – especially when compared to many proprietary counterparts.
But now, with low barriers to contribution, less-technical users see these areas as easy places they can improve the very software they rely on. (This means little things like cryptic error messages get more humane and tiny one-line CSS changes make websites render correctly in ancient browsers and mobile phones.)