Open Source Principle 3. Egoless participation

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Because open source depends on transparency and participation, project leadership and contributors must both work in an egoless* environment. The project’s knowledge base can only grow through transparency, and all contributions are made to benefit the overall project, not any one person or business in particular.

If the project is to iterate quickly, then no one can be territorial about their code; quite the opposite: if people are encouraged to look for bugs and potential improvements in a project, then the project naturally improves that much faster. “Bug-hunting and criticism are always project-labeled, not person-labeled,” comments Raymond.

Raymond further observes that in open source communities, “boasting or self-importance is suppressed because it behaves like noise — tending to corrupt the vital signals from experiments in creative and cooperative behavior.”

In an open source community, one’s work is one’s statement. Authority in the community arises through high-quality contributions that have a broad impact — what we call in WordPress a “do-ocracy.” Within this context, it’s important to remember that “removing a person’s name from a project history, credits, or maintainer list is absolutely not done without the person’s explicit consent.”

Raymond observes that the best brag is code that “just works”, and that any competent programmer can see is good stuff. Thus, the open source culture’s knowledge base increases rapidly.

Another important idea packed into this concept is that of “leadership but no one leader.” A flat leadership structure in open source allows for more contributors to show leadership and for a project to iterate more quickly.

Potential contributors want project leaders with enough humility and class to be able to to say, when objectively appropriate, “Yes, that does work better than my version, I’ll use it.”

Yet another reason for humble behavior is that in the open source world, you seldom want to give the impression that a project is “done.” – from Homesteading the Noosphere, The Value of Humility

(Implying that a project is “done” will discourage potential contributors to spend their time improving it.)

Rejecting ego-driven, self-promotional behavior also serves to build trust among an online contributor community. Often open source projects bring people together from different parts of the world and vastly different lived experiences. When all you have in common is your interest in building or improving on a collective project, willingness to collaborate will frequently depend on the belief that your fellow contributors share the same priorities.

*”Egoless” is a term that Raymond coined to mean “without ego” or “without an exaggerated sense of self-importance.”

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