Is government open source code we can patch?

That's the question raised by Britt Blaser in “Oh, if only government went in for an open source make-over…”. It's also one suggested indirectly by Phil Hughes in Our Internet.

Democracy is by nature "our government". The open source twist on that we put it together and can hack improvements to it. Think of elected officials as committers and maintainers and you start go get the idea.

The analogy isn't perfect, because by nature open source code is purely practical: it has to work. While government often does not. All government is buggy. In the worst cases it crashes outright and is replaced or supplemented by corrupt alternatives.

But government and governance are not the same things. A lot of governance takes place outside of government, in society. What Britt's suggesting is an open source model of governance, facilitated by code, that directly engages citizens in governance. What Phil's suggesting is building or rebuilding the Internet on the model Bob Frankston suggests in my Interview with him in the current issue of Linux Journal. That model is one not dependent on mainframe-like proprietary networks by phone and cable carriers that add the Internet as "a service", but instead depends on individuals and small groups connecting to each other, and then out to the world by any means available, which might or might not include those carriers.

I have long believed that there is far more business, especially for carriers, to be found in bets on abundance than in bets on scarcity. In other words, there are non-monopolistic advantages to incumbency that far exceed the monopolistic ones.

I bring this up for two reasons.

First, individual and community-built networks will eventually encounter big carriers that own backbones as well as "last mile" CFR (copper, fiber and radios). When that happens, we need to be able to show business as well as social advantages of wide-openness and ubiquitous connectivity.

Second, those carriers are part of what Bob calls the Regulatorium -- a combination of regulated enterprise and governance in which the latter tends to control the former. We can work around it up to a point. Or we can hack it.

We did it with code. Now let's do it with connections.


Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal


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Nice post!

Freescv's picture

A year or so late but whatever.

Don't listen to the anon hater there. I believe open source govt CAN work, enough I'd waste 15 bucks on a domain for it!

Love to also see daily voting on proposed legislation b/c our law makers are corrupt. Tracking them and comparing their votes vs our votes would be nice.

Can see some points in the above comment but it's overreacting like regular people would run it or something. lmao.

Course normal votes are under senator ones, but adding in a layer of open source (people's votes) would be real nice UNDER their votes. Just to compare and see just how badly were not being represented.

Take copywrong laws. Love to see the 360 N American votes on that vs the meager 500-600 people controlling our laws /w bribe money to Senators. ;)

US Constitution is Open Source

Frymaster's picture


Your analogy is interesting, and perhaps more powerful than you intended. The US Constitution itself is open source, if you will, and editable. "The Framers" intended that Americans would change it to meet changing times, hence the series of amendments covering key rights like voting, and, most importantly, consuming alcohol. But they set the bar high, requiring super-majorities in both houses of Congress PLUS each of the states.

It's a high bar, but it makes sure that a substantial majority backs any changes. To do that, first these code-based network need to become a force for action.

They don't change the

Anonymous's picture

They don't change the constitution anymore, they just ignore it.

Look at the patriot act, what happens if you have a law that breaks the 1st, 4th, 5th and 8th, amendments (possibly others) of the constitution? .. well if the supreme court doesn't rule on it and congress doesn't care.. then its law.

Open Source government is a HORRIBLE idea because it is like a pure democracy that would cause tyranny of the minority by the ruling majority and all of us will at some point find ourselves as a minority on some issue.

You need to understand that democracy is a bad thing, it is two wolves and a sheep deciding on whats for dinner.. The US is also NOT a democracy and if it was, we could vote on what color to paint the white house. No the US is a Constitutionally Limited Representative Republic or in other words, a government designed to protect the minority FROM a oppressive majority.

“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant -- and a fearful master.” —George Washington, 1797

Government itself is the problem because government itself is force. This desire for force for men to control other men, that has brought about all the great evils, war, rape murder, and theft of our history. Force itself is the problem and that's all government is. We should have as little of it as humanly possible.