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[P]
Open-source book hosted at Salon

By fluffy grue in News
Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 12:24:08 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

At Salon they're hosting the open-source development of a new book by Andrew Leonard about the open-source movement in a nice bit of self-referentialness. So far it seems to be a pretty interesting treatise on free software for general consumption.


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Open-source book hosted at Salon | 23 comments (23 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Hm. This book is not open source. I... (4.00 / 1) (#1)
by rusty on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 07:23:41 AM EST

rusty voted 1 on this story.

Hm. This book is not open source. In any way whatsoever. Basically, Leonard's posting chapters one at a time, and asking for reader feedback. While this is nice and all, open source it ain't. Consider this scenario: If Leonard was writing the book simply because he had something to say, and decided "I want people to read what I have to say. So I'll write this book, and give it away, and tell people to do whatever they want with it, just as long as they read it!" then that would be an open source book.

But he says "writing is different than code." How? Oh yeah, and the "Linus controls what goes in the kernel" argument holds no water. Linus controls what goes in his kernel. If I don't like it, I can take the sources and start accepting different patches. So if I don't like what Leonard's putting in his book, can I take what's on Salon so far and start adding to it myself, for eventual publication? Nope.

Why do writers just seem to not get it?

____
Not the real rusty

Reader Feedback, eh. (none / 0) (#4)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 12:48:50 PM EST

Reader feedback ... he will listen to their comments, for sure ... just another way to pick people's brains (those people with a clue or opinion on the subject) for free. Bet he then turns out a really good book.

[ Parent ]
Re: Reader Feedback, eh. (5.00 / 1) (#5)
by rusty on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 01:12:29 PM EST

Yeah, exactly. How would you all feel if I picked your brains and got lots of feedback and ideas for Scoop, and then turned around and offered to charge you for the code? It's the same thing. Sure, I *could* do that, but I wouldn't call it open source, and I'd probably feel pretty slimy about it.

What I don't get is why writers seem to not understand the open source idea. If there's one thing other than software that I think could benefit, or at least easily adapt to, the open source model, it would be writing. But writers seem to be the ones who are simultaneously most excited about OSS in the software world, and last willing to apply the ideas to theri own profession. Weird.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: Reader Feedback, eh. (none / 0) (#7)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 01:33:29 PM EST

> Yeah, exactly. How would you all feel if I picked your brains and
> got lots of feedback and ideas for Scoop, and then turned around
> and offered to charge you for the code? It's the same thing. Sure, I
> *could* do that, but I wouldn't call it open source, and I'd probably
> feel pretty slimy about it.

False analogy again. It's not the same thing. Do you really think, after reading what Leonard's put up, that what he is doing is "picking brains"? Is that all there is there for you?

there would be no need to feel slimy in your hypothetical question, in any case. We would have freely contributed our ideas and suggestions. No one forced up. You then charge fo the code? I don't have a problem with that. It's you doing the work, after all -- anyone can talk. Besides, in my view, Free software is much more about ensuring quality that it is about getting stuff for nothing. What makes it important is that there is a benefit to society in regarding a computer program as incomplete without the source. But, given the nature of computers, preventing the copying of such source is impossible; therefore, it's better not to try. Not the way Stallman would put it perhaps; but the end result is the same: Free Software Good.

> What I don't get is why writers seem to not understand the open source
> idea. If there's one thing other than software that I think could
> benefit, or at least easily adapt to, the open source model, it would
> be writing. But writers seem to be the ones who are simultaneously
> most excited about OSS in the software world, and last willing to
> apply the ideas to theri own profession. Weird.
Here you're just plain wrong. Writing code is software engineering; the only thing it has in common with Writing is the verb. Therefore, what's sauce for the goose here isn't necessarily sauce for the gander.

If you really want to argue that the product of intellectual work should be freely-available, then you must also come up with a social model that shows how peole who do this work will get paid. I don't want to be an academic, I don't want to work for a publishing company, and I don't want to flip burgers at McDonalds. What would you suggest? And the financial problem, though basic, is not the only one. If I write an article or a book, then it is mine. Sure, I may put it on the Web, or get it printed, or whatever; but whether or no I get paid in the process, I don't want someone taking my work and making changes to it. They want to write? They can write your own stuff.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]

Re: Reader Feedback, eh. (none / 0) (#13)
by fluffy grue on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 03:28:38 PM EST

    there would be no need to feel slimy in your hypothetical question, in any case. We would have freely contributed our ideas and suggestions. No one forced up. You then charge fo the code? I don't have a problem with that. It's you doing the work, after all -- anyone can talk. Besides, in my view, Free software is much more about ensuring quality that it is about getting stuff for nothing. What makes it important is that there is a benefit to society in regarding a computer program as incomplete without the source. But, given the nature of computers, preventing the copying of such source is impossible; therefore, it's better not to try. Not the way Stallman would put it perhaps; but the end result is the same: Free Software Good.
You, sir, "get it" a hell of a lot better than most Free software advocates. The whole reason Linus Torvalds started working on Linux (then called "Freix" until someone suggested a better name) wasn't because he wanted a no-cost UNIX system, but because he was disgusted with the development environments available to him on a home system, didn't like Minix, and didn't want to pay out the butt for SCO. The reason a lot of people joined in on free software early on was to be able to actually fix those damned bugs which plague most commercial software. It wasn't about getting software for free. Even Stallman agrees with this; as much as he'd like everything to be free, he realizes there's a limit to how far his utopian, Socialist visions can go, and that programmers need to eat too (though he'd prefer that programmers become waiters to pay the bills).

The reason Linux and other Free software is so popular with all these m4d-ph4t rabid Linux users isn't because they can contribute to the process, but because it doesn't cost them anything. Most Linux users I know nowadays can't code, or at least not very well, and think that being able to compile your own kernel constitutes being part of the open source phenomena. Personally, I haven't compiled a kernel in over a year, ever since I switched to Debian; I have more important things to be programming. (Yes, I plug Solace whenever I get a chance, even though that only leads to people asking me where the source code is. I guess it's in the obscure hope that someone with Money will stumble across it and offer me a research grant so that I can work on it full-time or something. :)


--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: Reader Feedback, eh. (none / 0) (#22)
by rusty on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 07:49:07 PM EST

I agree that free software is important for quality reasons. In fact, I agree with everything in your post. I do want to point out the benefits of 'gratis' as well though.

Yes, most current linux users can't code. BUT most people in general can't code. It isn't a thing for everyone. The great thing about free (beer) software, especially of the quality that linux provides, is that it can give people the opportunity to learn to code, who might otherwise have never had it.

I speak from experince here. I was a long-time DOS user, who finally got a windows machine in 1995. My first linux install was around 1994 (slackware, I believe) and at the time, I just didn't get it. Unix was just a word I had heard, I had no idea what it was all about. My next linux install was 1996, not too successful :-). But I kept at it, and by the next year, I was pretty well able to keep a system running, albeit in dual-boot mode.

The thing about linux is, if you really want to use it, you almost *have* to learn a little about programming. Yes, you can avoid it, but it puts the tools right there in your face, and practically dares you *not* to use them. I learned to code because linux made it easy for me, and I got linux for free. There's a pretty significant barrier to entry to coding in the windows world, in that at the very least you have to go seeking the tools, and probably pay for them. All through college, I was flat broke. There was no way I was going to go buying development tools, when I didn't even have a clue where to begin.

Linux, and free software, put the tools in your hands, and nudge you in the direction of using them. If it weren't for that nudge, I doubt I'd be doing what I am doing today.

Just my experience. But I think there's definite benefit to be found on both sides of that coin (or the same side of two different coins, as it were). ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#6)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 01:18:30 PM EST

You're right, Rusty: it's not open source. In fact, it's not source code at all, but a book. Arguing by analogy is rarely profitable. Just because opening the source code of a computer program is demonstrably a good thing (which I think few people would argue with) does not mean that trying to force other things into that Procrustean bed is therefore good as well. Not even Stallman argues this -- though he does have a related idea, just as odd, about "free" documentation.

> what Leonard's putting in his book, can I take what's on Salon so far
> and start adding to it myself, for eventual publication? Nope.

No, of course you can't. That's called plagiarism, and writers who do it are rightly held in contempt.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#8)
by rusty on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 01:42:17 PM EST

Ok, you're a writer, Paul. Why can't an Open Source model work for books? For example, why are writers who take other people's word called "plagiarists" and held in contempt, yet coders who take other people's code and improve it called "hackers" and held up as the Programmers Ideal?

The thing I usually hear is that it won't work because computer programs "do something" while writing doesn't. I don't really buy this argument. I don't buy books to "look at words" I buy them for what they *do*: entertain me, make me think about stuff, teach me something, whatever it be.

Think about it this way: what if I were the New York Times. I make my money by selling ads. I sell ads because people want to read what my writers have to say. Sure, there are side-deals and frills, but that's basically the business model. The NY Times costs less than a dollar, weekdays (I believe-- is this still true?). What if the New York Times decided that all the content it produces will be free for other publications to reuse, reprint, "patch" (imagine an article republished in another publication with a point for point rebuttal in the next column), whatever. Now how would that affect the New York Times's bottom line? People would still buy the paper, because that's where they'll get the new stuff *first*. The NYT could still pay it's writers, because they can still sell ads, etc. So who really benefits from slapping a copyright on all written content?

The only benefit I can see is that the Times Co. can resell the article to other publications. Do columnists and reporters get royalties from this? I doubt it. Columnists might for syndication, but I know reporters don't. So again... the big business is the beneficiary of copyright law.

I don't know... convince me that an open-source like model *couldn't* work for writing. I still don't see why it couldn't.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#9)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 02:31:10 PM EST

> Why can't an Open Source model work for
> books? For example, why are writers who take other people's word
> called "plagiarists" and held in contempt, yet coders who take other
> people's code and improve it called "hackers" and held up as the
> Programmers Ideal?

Because writing and code are two very different things. Code does a job of work, just like a wheel: and we all know there's no sense in reinventing the wheel. As for writing, well to begin with, what sort of writing are we talking about? Linux Installation and Getting Started? Ulysses? But, this is too abstract. We can look at free software and see that the principle works; we don't have to justify it from first principles. Let's take a look at some practical examples of the application of the GPL to publishing. The LDP is a good example of how the free software model doesn't apply well to writing. Take the case of the Linux Network Administrator's Guide. It's dead now, isn't it? Well out of date, at least. O'Reilly printed it, and sales were below those of other books. On the other hand, Running Linux is basically an updated Linux Installation and Getting Started. But then, Matt Welsh isn't a writer, is he? I mean, he writes, and writes well; but he doesn't make a living from it. Last I heard, he was still in academia.

It's clear that people can make a living from open source, because the fact of the matter is that most programmers don't make a living from selling proprietary code in any case. Now, all writers do, by definition, make a living from selling their work.

There are problems with the free software model too: most notably, that there is no clear way for society to directly reward the actual producers of free software. Indirectly, yes; directly, no. But that's another issue.

> The thing I usually hear is that it won't work because computer
> programs "do something" while writing doesn't. I don't really buy this
> argument. I don't buy books to "look at words" I buy them for what
> they *do*: entertain me, make me think about stuff, teach me
> something, whatever it be.

I wouldn't use that argument; but You could use your counter-argument about anything. Should food be free because I buy it for what it does? Reductio ad absurdum.

To turn to your NYT example:

> The only benefit I can see is that the Times Co. can resell the
> article to other publications. Do columnists and reporters get
> royalties from this? I doubt it. Columnists might for syndication, but
> I know reporters don't. So again... the big business is the
> beneficiary of copyright law.

Then they should turn freelance (he said glibly). Big business is a beneficiary of copyright law as it relates to writing; but that law also protects the writer.

Anything I sell to the NYT, I sell on the basis of first US serial publishing rights. I retain copyright, and I have the right to sell that piece again later. Who does this benefit? The writer, the guy who did the work. Now, in your scenario, a publisher can take my work, published elsewhere, and put it up on their site with the expectation that hits will soar and advertising revenues rocket (an unlikely scenario, but bear with me). Who benefits in this case? The publisher. I don't see a red cent, unless the companies who are profiting from my work see fit to extend me some charity.

No-one pays for what they can get for free. People pay for free software because they want support, or simply the reassurance of a brand name: and they'll pay for that. If my writing is freely-distributable, no-one in their right mind would pay for it. What "support" could they expect? What else is there, apart from the writing? And they've got that. And so we return to the basic point: comparing source code and writing is comparing apples and oranges.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#10)
by fluffy grue on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 02:48:50 PM EST

As an aside, comparing apples and oranges is quite valid. Put samples of both on a mass spectrometer, and you'll see they're actually quite similar. :)

As far as your choice of Linux documentation vs. Ulysses: I don' t know whether by Ulysses you meant the modern novel by that name or Homer's Odyssey, but the Odyssey was written under the original model of an open-source work of literature. It was passed down orally for generations, being changed and differently-emphasized and the like with each telling, just like any other piece of oral history or fiction. Look at urban legends for a modern example of open-source writing.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#12)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 03:19:06 PM EST

I meant Ulysses, the novel by James Joyce, as opposed to The Odyssey, a "book" by Homer. Comparing the bards of old with modern writers is flattering, but hardly to the point. And urban legends aren't "writing" until someone writes them down. Even then, they hardly bear comparison with real writing, whether that be a technical manual or a novel.

By the way, just as I still insist you can't compare apples and oranges, you can't compare different epochs of history. Throw away that Ayn Rand, and read some Marx.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#14)
by fluffy grue on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 03:42:08 PM EST

Now that's just insulting. Why the hell would I be caught dead reading anything by Ayn Rand? But I still stand by my initial argument; "Apples and oranges" is a very bad cliche, passed down from generations before we had modern science and quantitative means of analysis. I much prefer the metaphor "comparing aardvarks and basalt," where there really is no comparison.

Okay, back to being a bit more serious: urban legends have been written, as there are several books on them, in fact, and are constantly being spread and retold through modern media, such as email and even the newspaper nowadays (who seem to think that random email they get is a legitimate news feed; as an example, a friend of a friend said her sister read in the paper about hypodermic needles in the coin return slot of a payphone which was laced with LSD and strycchanine). (Yes, that was a crude attempt at humor. I really have seen articles in the paper reporting modern ULs as fact though.)


--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#15)
by Paul Dunne on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 03:50:00 PM EST

> Now that's just insulting. Why the hell would I be caught dead reading
> anything by Ayn Rand?

I do apologise, I mistook you for an American. Whoops: sorry Americans!

Yes, sure, urban legends are great stuff for the journalist when the paper is having a slow day. Not the happiest example for the advocate of "free writing", though, eh?

Of course the apples and oranges saying isn't logical. It's a saying; it doesn't have to be logical.
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#16)
by fluffy grue on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 03:54:44 PM EST

Well, I am an American, but that still doesn't mean I read Ayn Rand. :)

    Of course the apples and oranges saying isn't logical. It's a saying; it doesn't have to be logical.
Does that also apply to Free software sayings?
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#18)
by rusty on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 04:06:51 PM EST

What is this thread about again? ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by fluffy grue on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 03:10:33 PM EST

    Hm. This book is not open source. In any way whatsoever. Basically, Leonard's posting chapters one at a time, and asking for reader feedback. While this is nice and all, open source it ain't. Consider this scenario: If Leonard was writing the book simply because he had something to say, and decided "I want people to read what I have to say. So I'll write this book, and give it away, and tell people to do whatever they want with it, just as long as they read it!" then that would be an open source book.
I meant to put my own thoughts on this in the article body (I've been chastised in the past for being "too editorial" in the blurb) but it slipped my mind. True, he's mostly using the open-source fad to hype up a writing model which has existed for over a century, at least in works of mass-market fiction which were published a chapter at a time in various periodicals (authors would often be forced to sacrifice their artistic integrity in order to keep their fans happy), but I personally believe his claim that the book's outline will be changing and evolving based on reader feedback, and I see no reason why he couldn't be convinced to change wording or direction. Okay, so it's not like he's running a public CVS server where people can submit hard patches, but conceptually it's very much like open source. Also, in the example of periodical-published novels, the author couldn't go back and change bits once they were published; here, nothing is set in stone, so to speak.

Writing is different than code, though. It's easy to unify coding standards, but not so easy to unify writing standards. Of course, coding is just as creative an endeavor as writing, but they involve different mindsets, and have different flows about them. If you need to fix a memory leak in a piece of code, you can submit a patch, but you can't very well send a patch to George Orwell and suddenly make communism work, or to Franz Kafka and have Gregor Samsa be a fish stick instead of an insect. (Yes, I know that it'd be a stronger argument if I chose authors who were alive, but there's no notable authors worth making the comparison to these days...) Of course, you could always "fork" the "codebase" by writing your own story with the same general framework but then changing the plot elements wherever you see fit - nothing wrong with that, and it's an accepted fact in literature that there are only so many literary themes. Hell, some people make a living on writing the same plot over and over - see Robin Cook or Michael Crichton.

As I pointed out elsewhere, works of writing which have been passed down orally have been "open source" ever since humans have been able to communicate, and that continues today in the form of urban legends and the like. Music, too, tends to be open in a similar way; see how most classical music has different "arrangements" put out by different publishers, where one thinks there should be a trill and another thinks there should instead be an arpeggio, and notice the different versions of songs which modern artists perform of others. In the case of Hootie and the Blowfish and 4 Non Blondes doing Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and "Misty Mountain Hop," respectively, oftentimes these open interpretations are on par with the originals, and better than anything that the covering artists ever did on their own.


--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Off topic comment ahead... (none / 0) (#17)
by analog on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 04:05:54 PM EST

Hell, some people make a living on writing the same plot over and over - see Robin Cook or Michael Crichton.

I'm with you all the way on Robin Cook, but I'm curious as to what you consider to be the same about Crichton's plots from one book to the next. It's been my experience that his books bear so little resemblance to each other (with the obvious exception of Jurassic Park/Lost World) that people frequently don't believe that the same guy wrote them. There are some themes he likes to return to, but I'm not sure it's fair to call that plot recycling.

Btw, was it an accident that you picked two writers with medical degrees?

[ Parent ]

Re: Off topic comment ahead... (none / 0) (#21)
by fluffy grue on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 05:44:23 PM EST

I didn't know Cook had a medical degree. As far as Crichton, well, okay, he doesn't recycle the same plot over and over, but...
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: Hm. This book is not open source. I... (none / 0) (#19)
by drivers on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 04:20:23 PM EST

Hey fluffy grue, :) Open source is a term that is being overused. Hell, Al Gore got flamed for saying his web site was "open source." I think there is a good way to tell if Open Source is a proper term for something and that is the Open Source Definition. Now in prose, there is no distinction between the binary and the source, because the word is the source However, that is not all there is to open source. Open Source Definition (is it just me or are links hard to see on this site)

[ Parent ]
cool, interesting... books are cult... (none / 0) (#2)
by rongen on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 07:28:51 AM EST

rongen voted 1 on this story.

cool, interesting... books are culture right? :)
read/write http://www.prosebush.com

Open source book? Not quite. But st... (none / 0) (#3)
by Demona on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 12:24:08 PM EST

Demona voted 1 on this story.

Open source book? Not quite. But still a better read than most of what passes for journalism or socio-technical commentary. I'll wait until it's finished, then sit down and read the whole thing at once (after most of the bugs have been worked out :)

IDG/LinuxWorld Open Source Book (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by rusty on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 04:24:35 PM EST

An interesting email tipped me off to another open source book project at linuxworld. And the Open Content license was a most interesting read (linked from that page). I still don't know about fiction, or even journalism, but for technical manuals, it might just work.

____
Not the real rusty
Opencontent.org (none / 0) (#23)
by joeyo on Wed Mar 08, 2000 at 08:45:41 PM EST

Here is a link to Opencontent.org.

One site which I read nearly every day, MacOS Rumors, uses the opencontent licence and you can find a list of other sites here.

(If anyone says anything about karma whoring, I will hurt you! :-)

--
"Give me enough variables to work with, and I can probably do away with the notion of human free will." -- demi
[ Parent ]

Open-source book hosted at Salon | 23 comments (23 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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