Open source, a strong sense of community

If you’ve been out on the internet lately, you know that the term community is popping up everywhere. But can we talk about sense of community though?

Fidel Chaves
5 min read

What is a community?

A community is a social unit with commonality; this may include values, religion, norms, or identity. They may share a sense of place if they have a given geographical area or a virtual space. That is the case of so-called online communities. They are usually small groups of personal and close relationships, so stretching the definition to such massive affiliations as national, international, or virtual communities might be controversial.

According to McMillan and Chavis, four elements identify the sense of community:

 

Membership: feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness

 

Influence: making a difference to a group and of the group, mattering to its members

 

Reinforcement: integration and fulfillment of needs

 

Shared emotional connection

 

These definitions were thought of for a neighborhood and are in touch with a sense of socialization. It’s usually referred to as groups that share a learning process from childhood and incorporate some rules. According to Tocqueville, these norms of tolerance, reciprocity, and trust guide the involvement of individuals in a community.

 

These definitions may seem strange to apply in a large group. But before passing judgment, we need to know how communities are built and organized.

Community building and organizing

In his book, Scott Peck presents a series of steps that are followed consciously through the building of a community:

 

Pseudocommunity: The first grouping of people, when everyone is nice and presents their friendlier side.

 

Chaos: People leave inauthenticity behind and feel safe to present their 'shadow' selves.

 

Emptiness: This stage stops the attempts to fix, heal and convert the chaos stage. Here people can acknowledge their own woundedness and brokenness, common to human beings.

 

True community: There is a deep respect and true listening of everyone's needs.

 

As we lay down these stages, you might be reconsidering the use of the word community for internet discussions and shared threads. But we should take a look at the actual open-source community before that.

The open-source-software community

The commonality behind open-source software is a movement that supports the use of open-source licenses and the notion of open collaboration. Developers that support this movement contribute to projects voluntarily writing and exchanging code enabling anyone to obtain and modify code for their projects or contribute to an existing one. The modifications are documented over time to get a clear sense of progress and identify the contributors at any stage of development. This creates difficulty to single out a proper owner of a particular bit of code. That is actually a feature, not a bug.

 

As the group advances in development, the involvement can augment, and participants can develop the original sense of pseudocommunity. As Stefan Fejes states in his GitHub Universe 2019 talk, a general good mood and friendliness are recommended for the project. Treating people with respect and kind words moves the project forward in the best possible way. As the collaboration advances, some problems and discussions may arise, maybe prompting the chaotic state. You might think that the chaos state is actually the default state of the internet, but, in this case, authenticity comes from anonymity and disinterest in the other person.

 

Even as we see a growing sense of community in the open-source movement, it seems to happen at a much smaller scale than portrayed.

Diversity in open source

As we dive into the open-source groups, we can see that a wide range of people intervenes in this movement. From communists to libertarians, you can find anything between and beyond. While they share the values of open, and sometimes even free, software, they might disagree on many other issues. We will not talk about types of communities in-depth, but we can see here how identity-based, organizationally-based, and projected community relations intertwine.

 

Internet communities often value knowledge and information as the preferred resource. Community resources produce weak ties that are usually supported by focus in exchanges about specific topics and cohesionates the group. With this broader take, we can talk about a broad Internet community. Inside it is located the open-source community. The FOSS community houses then multiple communities around specific repositories or software. in GitHub or elsewhere.

 

As we go deeper into these nested communities, the ties grow strong and have more human significance. If you ever traveled away from home, you might have had a glimpse of this. When you encounter someone from your country while abroad, there is an instant recognition born by the things you share. In this situation, even a casual conversation might spark up, which might never occur to you daily, but it seems somewhat normal to seek a point of contact in a foreign place.

 

Recognition does not only happen at a national level. You might be naturally friendlier to someone from your town at college or smile at a person wearing a character from your favorite fandom, even talk about the distribution you are using after seeing a Tux sticker on someone else's laptop.

 

The open-source community might not imply an instantaneous strong tie for its participants, but developers worldwide go to the same place and share their love for their common interest. That alone may be more than enough to incite collaboration among people with shared values and common interests.

 

At Awkbit, our developers can't get enough of GitHub. The open-source philosophy is deeply rooted within, and the willingness to collaborate and participate in a broader community is a major driving force for our team. If you have any doubts or want to know anything about our code and working style, get in touch. We are here to help!

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Sources & further reading