Read two interesting essays recently.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond is a philosophical essay where technical jargon – like the moats surrounding a medieval castle – deter non-nerds from daring to enter.  Which is a huge pity, because its observations apply not only to software development, but are also salient in fields such as business management and public policy, (where, presumably, non-nerds are abundant).

The title of the essay is in itself an instructive metaphor.  “Cathedrals” are built according to a strict blueprint that only an elite few have access to; “Bazaars” on the other hand, grow organically, as each new merchant opens a stall to sell his wares.

Raymond likens traditional software companies to Cathedrals, where access to the source code is restricted to an exclusive group of software developers; the bazaar is analogous to open-source software, where the source code is developed in public view.

The essay basically outlines 19 guidelines for creating good open source software, and this is where some truths which transcend technology serendipitously appears.  Number 11 is my favorite: “The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.”  Just replace “users” with customers/stakeholders/public where applicable.

To social science and liberal arts majors, Tim O’Reilly’s What is Web 2.0 provides a seminal reading into how the Internet has developed in the past 15 years, and what it means.  O’Reilly lists Wikipedia, blogging, open source software, peer-to-peer file-sharing (Napster) as the signposts which herald Web 2.0. This was written in 2005 – which is probably the Internet equivalent of the Middle Ages; written today, he would most certainly have mentioned social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Much ado about “Web 2.0”

According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by Darcy DiNucci, a consultant on information architecture, in her 1999 article “Fragmented Future”; the term rose in popularity in 2004, when O’Reilly Media and MediaLive hosted the first Web 2.0 conference, where Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle outlined their definition of the “Web as Platform.” World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, however, has apparently called the term a “piece of jargon,” noting that the Web in his vision was all along intended as a collaborative medium.

Notwithstanding, O’Reilly continues to evangelize “Web 2.0”; his essay is available online in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish (as well as English).

A Theory of Evolution

There is no question that the web is rapidly evolving, and that it is doing so in a fashion which is probably better described as being bazaar-like.  At the same time, corporate behemoths like Microsoft and (now) Google, which are more like Cathedrals, continue to dominate the scene at any time.

At first glance, the two seem to be in conflict.  For example, would the success of open source software mean the end for Microsoft?

In reality, however, I think that Cathedrals and Bazaars actually complement each other.  Once, at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I noticed that many stall holders would shutter their stalls during prayer times and head for the grand Hagia Sofia which sits down the road.  Likewise, programmers at large software companies may in their spare time, help build Linux in open source collaboration; at the same time, those who dabble in open source development are getting the know-how they need to land that lucrative job at Microsoft.  It may thus well be there the new Web will accommodate both Cathedrals and Bazaars.

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