Tuesday Jan 08, 2008

Torvalds on Democracy and Culture

Interesting interview between Jim Zemlin and Linus Torvalds. Two issues jumped out at me -- democracy and culture.

Torvalds on Democracy:

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Jim Zemlin: Let’s look a level deeper at the social interaction because open source is often described as this sort of democratizing process that, you know, everyone has a say, there’s this grand consensus, but at the end of the day, needs to be some sort of decisiveness when it comes to making decisions. How do you deal with that?

Linus Torvalds: Well, I mean, it’s really not a democracy at all and some people call it a meritocracy which is not necessarily correct either. It’s – I have a policy that he who does the code gets to decide, which basically boils down to there’s a – it’s very easy to complain and talk about issues and it’s also easy for me to say, ‘You should solve it this way.’

But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is actual code and the technology itself and the people who are not willing to step up and write that code, they can comment on it and they can say it should be done this way or that way or they won’t, but in the end their voice doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is code.
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I agree. But I'd just add that "code" to me means anything that you actually produce. It could be a document. A piece of artwork. A spec. Some code. A building. Whatever. Those who "do" always distinguish themselves from those who talk. To me that's the essence of a meritocracy.

Torvalds on Culture:

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So, the language barriers tend to be a huge problem for – well, actually, maybe more even the different cultural issues that – with Asian countries they have good penetration; some of them have huge penetration of Internet use, they have a obviously great education and they do not end up contributing a lot to open source, not the kernel, not to generally other projects either.

And that seems to be at least partly cultural and it’s really hard, then, for some of these people who have cultural barriers and a language barrier to then become actively involved. It does happen, but it certainly explains a lot of the reasons why Western Europe and the U.S. are the biggest development areas.
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This one's tougher. Although I agree that there are big language and culture issues in some Asian countries, at least in China I see these melting fast. It could be a very different open source world in a few years.

There are many other really interesting bits in the interview. Take a look. And a listen. Linus Torvalds - Part I | Linus Torvalds - Part II
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