Open Source for Everyone

This summer has sparked inspiration to not just create new sites, tools, and designs but also give back to the community that has taught me so much. As a designer and front-end developer, I thought the best way for me to contribute was solely through open source projects online. This led to my realization that I have been contributing to open source projects for quite a while now, and I believe others should really give it a try.

The open source movement has been around since the Internet was a fledgling phenomenon and grown exponentially over the past few years as new tools were released, which made working with open source projects easier for the common computer user. As these tools progressed, the definition of an open source project has also changed to stand for so much more than code.

The initial open source philosophy started with software developers in the 90s; it stood for releasing free licenses to developing software or code blueprints for other developers to hack in their local environment. The most notable open source project during this beginning period was Netscape's release of the source code for their Navigator Internet browser in 1998 (there is even a full documentary called Code Rush about their incredible journey to the final release of the project all on YouTube ). This led to the founding of the Open Source Initiative to further promote the open sourcing of more major projects from big tech companies, like Mozilla, WikiMedia, and The Linux Foundation.

The philosophy was popularized in the 90s so sharing the code was stuck to passing around floppy disks since the Internet speeds were far too slow to be discovered over dial-up; it would take a few years until broadband Internet to enable easier distribution. Then came the creation of an enormous stepping stone in the open source community, GitHub. This is a company and web app powered by the motto: Social Coding (for all), and truly believes that great code and projects can be created by a global community of developers, designers, and enthusiasts alike. After hearing a few of the GitHub employees, Joel Glovier and Matt Graham, speak about the attitude surrounding the company, I first began to realize the idea behind open sourcing is applied to more areas than just code.

Before I explored the wonderful world of repositories on GitHub, my first contribution to an open source project was on Kickstarter. An awesome smart watch called Pebble had just surpassed its initial funding goal in less than a day, and it was something I finally found worthy of investing my money towards. However, I wasn't really investing in Pebble, nor was I pre-ordering the product months in advance; I was contributing my money and trust to a small group of inventive guys from Canada hoping to develop their product for the masses. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo help individuals and groups share their project with other people around the world and ask for funds to turn their products, software, music albums, plays, movies, and services into a reality. This is labeled as crowdfunding but it can easily be defined as open sourcing product & creative development.

It is spectacular to see a platform for people to share their dreams and ask the world for a little help getting started. Then backers get to share in those dreams as the project creators continue to share their progress, whether it be good or bad, and get feedback on every step of the way. I would not have believed the amount of work that went into designing, manufacturing, and shipping 80,000 fantastic, little smart watches until I committed to Pebble. I continue to follow along with every update even after receiving my physical reward because I am now part of a community that cares about this company and their idea of wearable technology.

//Be warned though, crowdfunding can be a tad addicting, at least it was for me. Since Pebble, I have backed nearly 30 projects on Kickstarter. These ranged from major product design to short books, even some independent films and local musicians. Most of these projects succeeded but some have failed, either in meeting their money goal or providing rewards to their backers. So before you go on a frenzy funding spree, be sure to do a little research on who you're backing and ask a few questions to ensure your money is being put to good use. //

Now, money and technological prowess are not the only ways to contribute to a public project; knowledge is a powerful tool as well. There are sites like Wikipedia that have huge collections of open source knowledge on nearly every subject in the human domain. Anyone can contribute and add knowledge to a data base accessible by BILLIONS of people. Forums are another great way to open source questions so that anyone with similar inquiries can immediately find those answers with a quick bit of Googling (doesn't that sound a little dirty?). Next time you're scrolling through the [your interest here] forums or exploring the depths of the Wiki world, try adding a thought or tidbit of info. You may be surprised to find how much you like it.

Any situation in which a problem can be solved or project completed by asking for the help of the community, whether it be global or local, can be defined as an open source achievement. With so many open source options available, anyone with internet access can contribute. Take a survey of your skills and some of the problems that could be solved by the hands of many, and give open source a shot.