The changing cathedral and the evolving bazaar

I was having an email discussion with my former BYTE colleague John Montgomery about superplatforms when it occurred to me there was nothing essentially private about what we were saying. Why, I asked, wasn't he blogging about this stuff, preferring instead to write about belt sanders and table saws? So he blogged this response:

When I was in the trade press, I worked with a remarkably talanted writer named Rochelle Garner who, at the end of every month when we'd get the first copies of our monthly magazine from the printer would come out of her office, hold it up over her head, and say, "Landfill. We've just made more landfill." Then she'd go back into her office.

So why do I blog about meaningless things? Because I can help people by being annoying to Maytag about their product line and help them fix their houses themselves. Everything else is landfill. [A View from Elsewhere: Why I Blog About Meaningless Things] 1

But since electrons don't take up much space in the landfill, his next entry did address the cathedral-and-bazaar discussion we'd been having:

The world of this software [the bazaar] still has way too many sharp edges where one thing ends and another begins. I don't think that collaborative development will fix the sharp edges -- after all, these are the folks who let sed and awk have really different syntaxes from each other and from their shells because it was enough that it worked. [A View from Elsewhere: Superplatforms and Commodities]

This is entirely valid, and remains an open question. But projections based on past behavior require a sprinkling of salt. In an item on the architectures of participation and control I noted how the bazaar, presuming that the cathedral can never change, fails to notice when it does. Witness the escape of Microsoft's IIS web server from its security purgatory, and the company's enthusiastic embrace of the blogosphere.

The bazaar, likewise, evolves. The people who brought you sed and awk back then aren't the same ones who are bringing you Firefox now. The bazaar is learning that fit and finish, coupled with pervasive consistency, are worthy engineering challenges to which its tactics of open and scalable collaboration can fruitfully be applied.

Five hundred years ago the cathedral and the bazaar were divided cultures. But this network we're all building and using is a machine for cultural transmission and transformation. So I regard nothing about past behavior as a certain predictor of the future.

1 It goes without saying, of course, that neither of us really thinks belt sanders and table saws are meaningless.

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