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Rereading "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"

Replying to a question on Nettime on "open source and implementing this metaphor to a curatorial practice":

"Curatorship" remains a problematic term not only in this context, self-organization may be more appropriate, but extrapolates the systems beliefs within Internet culture. ESR's text needs, on the one hand, to be read its historical context of optimistic 1990s Internet cultural visions of "crowd wisdom", "collective intelligence", "smart mobs" etc.; cybernetic memes as much as variations of the liberal tropes of the "invisible hand" (A. Smith) and "open society (Popper). In Raymond's text - which has been overrated, but is nevertheless a historical document -, the "bazaar" is first of all a systemic free market metaphor.

Linux, more recently, Wikipedia and other phenomena show that "critical mass" theories are not completely off. The issues are, in essence, the same as with all consensus-based projects - such as architectural vision: Linux reimplemented Unix instead the Plan9 or Lisp Machine kernel architectures simply because Unix kernel architecture is c.s. textbook knowledge. Correspondingly, Wikipedia implements the most clearly consensus-based form of writing, the general encyclopedia. (Still, its value lies in the frequent eccentricity and obscurity of phenomena it tracks, unless this is been stifled by angst-ridden editorial self-control.)

That "open collaboration" is not a magic bullet, and "open curatorship" is older than "Open Source", may best be studied in the Mail Art network, beginning with Ray Johnson's New York Correspondance School in the 1960s, and with the festivals and non-juried exhibitions of previous avant-garde art movements as yet an older pretext. Bob Black said everything that needs to be said about Mail Art when comparing them to the Paralympics, i.e. a seemingly alternative but really just parallel system to the established system [hard to avoid the term here] based on its own - quantitative instead of qualitative - logic of reward and punishment.

Obsessed with egalitarianism, the Mail Art network required to never reject any contribution to an open-call project, despite the known and often enough deplored "junk mail" phenomenon. It ultimately renders "Mail Art" yet another cybernetic systems-obsessed art paralleling the decline [or rather: continually present, but ultimately dominant aspect) of Fluxus into the "intermedia" laboratory art described in S. Youngblood's "Expanded Cinema" (1970) [H. Flynt's criticism of Fluxus].

"Self-organizing systems" up your's.

Back to "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", it is, like Barthes' "The Death of Author", a text that nobody has read yet everybody has an opinion about. Contrary to popular belief and urban myths, it does not truly pitch an Open Source "bazaar" model against a proprietary Microsoft-ish "cathedral" model of software development, but analyzes the decentralized development of one specific piece of software, the Linux kernel supervised by L. Torvalds. The urban myth probably originates in the fact that non-technical readers are unlikely to understand that it is not about [what is commonly called] the "Linux operating system" as a whole. In fact, the classical "cathedral" model of software development in small, closed committees had been characteristic among others for GNU software, the free BSDs and the X Window System, i.e. all the base components of a typical "Linux distribution" except for the kernel itself.

Ten years later, a clear-cut division of "bazaar"- and "cathedral no longer exists in Free Software development: The development of the Linux kernel has become more hierarchical while the development of GNU and BSD software has become more distributed and adapted to the Internet. (Viz. the now-standard use of networked version control systems.)

While not using the term "Open Source" in its initial version, the essay preempts the later Open Source-vs.-Free Software debate by discussing open, distributed development processes as technically superior to closed processes. This is its main point [with, as pointed out, striking similarities to Bertalanffy's theory of open systems and Popper's theory of the open society as the counter-model to societies founded on philosophical idealism.] Again: While the distributed model has its advantages - most obvious in the fact that, thanks to BSD, GNU and Linux, Unix hasn't died, but improved and blessed us with tools that don't offend the human intellect such as zsh and vim never mind the complete lack of proprietary commercial interest in developing such software -, it is not the answer to all questions. Raymond's conclusion that "given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow", is a bit loudmouthed considering - for example - the issue of MD5 hash collisions.

The reverse is true as well: If there are not enough eyes, bugs can bite you, for example in FLOSS multimedia authoring software from Cinelerra to PD with its minuscule communities of often non-professional programmers.

All critique of "open systems" ideology pales, however, in comparison to the issues of (contemporary visual) art. Art literally wears the emperor's new clothes, and suffers from a severely if not pathologically distorted self-perception of its actual contemporariness. It is the only of the modern arts that is still structurally feudalist, with an economy firmly based on the notion of one material fetish object, with reproduction - unlike in books, music records, films, software - being merely a second-rate, plebeian illustration of the aristocratic "original". It is financed by the modern successors to the old feudal authorities; back then, the church and the courts, today, the rich as the successors to the aristocracy and the state as the grant-giving successor to the church.

22nd February 2009
Tags 16mm, analog, art, book, cultural theory, deutsch, div, economy, education, film, gnu/linux, internet, literature, music, nederlands, neoism, performance, photo, poetry, politics, super 8, systems, theology, video.

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