Is government open source code we can patch?

by Doc Searls

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.