As far as I’m convinced, one of the things that will forever exist within the WordPress development community is the various degrees to which we align ourselves with the principles of open source software.

Perhaps a simpler way of putting it is that the development community is forever going to be debating over the “spirit of the law,” or the “letter of the law” of the GPL, and will be deriving their actions and choices based on their interpretation.

But this post isn’t so much about my particular stance on the GPL. Instead, it’s more about something that I’ve seen being shared throughout the rest of the WordPress development community since late last week.

Scribu – a prominent figure in the WordPress development community – recently shared a quote from Eric Raymond about open-source and pragmatism.

To pragmatists the GPL is important as a tool, rather than as an end in itself. Its main value is not as a weapon against ‘hoarding’, but as a tool for encouraging software sharing and the growth of bazaar-mode development communities. The pragmatist values having good tools and toys more than he dislikes commercialism, and may use high-quality commercial software without ideological discomfort. At the same time, his open-source experience has taught him standards of technical quality that very little closed software can meet.

I’ve seen this post retweeted, reblogged, or shared by a number of other developers – some in WordPress, some not – and all of them basically reduce to the following point:

I’m realizing then I’m an open source pragmatist.

I love it when I see people take a stance on an issue – especially a divisive issue – and do so in a respectful manner.

But here’s the thing: The quote shared and being retweeted is part of a much longer article that I’ve found extremely fascinating. So much so, that I’ve read it a number of times in order to make sure that I’ve fully grokked all points that it contains.

You can choose to read the entire article or not (but if you’re going to be identifying yourself as a sort of pragmatist, wouldn’t it make sense to know the larger context? :)).

The Varieties of an Open Source Pragmatist

Anyway, the article – aptly named The Varieties of Hacker Ideology – reduces the hacker ideology into two varieties:

1. “Zealotry”

The article identifies three characteristics of people with varying degrees of zealotry.

To quote the article, a person of…

  • “Great zeal might say ‘Free software is my life! I exist to create useful, beautiful programs and information resources, and then give them away.'”
  • “Moderate zeal might say ‘Open source is a good thing, which I am willing to spend significant time helping [it] happen.'”
  • “Little zeal might say “Yes, open source is okay sometimes. I play with it and respect people who build it.'”

2. “Hostility To Commercial Software”

Next, the article identifies three characteristics of people with varying degrees of hostility.

Again, to quote the article:

  • “A very anticommercial person might say ‘Commercial software is theft and hoarding. I write free software to end this evil.'”
  • “A moderately anticommercial person might say ‘Commercial software in general is OK because programmers deserve to get paid, but companies that coast on shoddy products and throw their weight around are evil.'”
  • “An un-anticommercial person might say ‘Commercial software is okay, I just use and/or write open-source software because I like it better.'”

The Combinations Thereof

Assuming that the above variations are accurate and true and aren’t excluding any other degrees of zealotry or hostility, there there are nine combinations of which a person may be:

  1. Having great zeal, and being very anticommercial
  2. Having great zeal, and being moderately anticommercial
  3. Having great zeal, and being un-anticommercial
  4. Having moderate zeal, and being very anticommercial
  5. Having moderate zeal, and being moderately anticommercial
  6. Having moderate zeal, and being very un-anticommercial
  7. Having little zeal, and being very anticommercial
  8. Having little zeal, and being moderate anticommercial
  9. Having little zeal, and being very un-anticommercial

When it comes to where the WordPress development community, my guess is that we actually fall all over the map; however, that doesn’t keep us from having bi-weekly (or weekly?) debates over some aspect of the software or the nuances that come with it.

Granted, we all have our positions because we’re passionate about the software and we’re passionate about publishing. That much we can agree on, but there is a lot of room for conversation in between.

Given the combinations of ideologies above, I think it’s fair to assume that when debates arise, I don’t think it’s the same two (or three or four, etc.) groups of people who are arguing about the idea.

Instead, I think that the topic in question breeds debates with the ideologies with which it most aligns and clashes.

So the next time that a debate in our development community arises, perhaps we could continue to have productive conversations by having a bit of a clearer understanding as to where the opposing viewpoint is positioned.

So Where Do You Stand?

Whenever a debate within the community arises, I’ve often been asked my opinion on what I think about certain things.

For the most part, I tend to remain quiet primarily because I personally don’t think arguing about things via Twitter is very productive, and I’ve mixed feelings about doing the same in blog comments (though I do think they are a bit of a better medium).

Anyway, I figure that if I’m going to write a post like this and say this:

I love it when I see people take a stance on an issue – especially a divisive issue – and do so in a respectful manner.

Then I should at least provide my general stance on the whole thing.

But first, I’ll make single disclaimer: I think it’s possible to have a different ideology based on the aspect of open source software about which you’re talking.

For example, I may feel one way about, say, Linux than I do about WordPress than I do about Rails than I do about jQuery, etc.

And I say this simply because these applications are relevant to a different place in the market, so the philosophy behind, say, an operating system is not necessary true for the philosophy behind, say, a JavaScript library.

We get involved with open-source for different reasons and those reasons are often rooted in a variety of things the least of which does not have to do with zealotry or hostility.

So, with that said, I identify myself as someone having moderate zeal and I am un-anticommercial. I do consider myself an open source pragmatist.

But now it’s your turn. If your willing to share, retweet, or get in on the “open source pragmatist” original, then share where you stand and I urge you to even go as far as to declare your level of zeal and hostility.

I’m genuinely interested in hearing it.