Transparent and Open

The term “open and transparent” rolls off your tongue. While somewhat more cumbersome to say, I tend to prefer reversing the order: “transparent and open”. I prefer this because I believe that transparent precedes open; and far more open source projects are transparent than are open.

In my experience most people seem to understand transparent. “Transparent” means that you do things in a way that others can watch. Making source code available to anybody who wants a copy is one way of being transparent. Holding project-related discussions in a mailing list with an archive that’s accessible to anybody with an Internet connection is another way of being transparent. There are many more examples, like making your issue tracker available, hosting public discussion forums, and more.

Transparent does not mean open.

Open is a little harder. “Open” means that you do things in a way that others can participate. It means that you provide a level playing field: everybody participates using the same set of rules. Being transparent is easy; being open is hard.

Being open is more than just accepting code patches, and permitting outsiders to create bug reports.

Being open and having a true level playing field is hard because it requires that you give up absolute control. In an open project, control is shared. When the playing field is truly level–with the same set of rules applies to everybody–it’s possible that somebody can arrive at your project and change the way that you do things. This is not to say that anybody can show up and start making arbitrary changes to the code. Rather, it means that there exists a set of rules and conditions by which anybody can earn the right to participate as an equal member.

The rules need not be explicit or quantitative. Though, it does help if they are.

Take a look at the developers on your project. Do they all work for the same employer? When was the last time you added a new developer to the project? Do you accept contributions from “outside” contributors? How hard do you work to convert those “outside” contributors into full participants and decision makers on your project?

Operating in an open manner, actively courting participation to turn outsiders into insiders increases the diversity in the project and in so doing increases its strength and durability.

Transparent is good. Transparent and open is better.

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