Open source is like falling in love


I’ve always believed that the best things in life should come in open source packages. Openness is a natural synonym with selflessness and, thus, with love in its truest form. That’s the analogy that instantly came to my mind after reading this article by Bryan Behrenshausen, which discusses ways to explain the concept of openness to your friends.

Behrenshausen’s article uses the analogy that open source is like sharing a recipe. It’s always nice to find openness in our daily experiences and realize how important it is to our lives. However, it’s a sad fact that not all people appreciate cooking as much as some of us do–which explains why I always end up in the kitchen whenever my friends want something to eat.

When explaining open source to others, it’s important to reference something they can relate to—something everyone experiences. I like to say that open source is like finding a significant other to fall in love with. Openness means almost the same thing for open source as it does for relationships. Falling in love with your best friend is pretty similar to becoming part of a community surrounding an open source project you love.

Transparency: Opening your heart and mind
A good relationship needs complete honesty and understanding, so your significant other will always be ready to hear facts and ideas about you without judgment. A good pairing allows both partners the freedom to discuss things, and to use what they learn to improve the relationship. This information could be related to your past or your desires for the future.

The same thing happens when you become an active part of a community: people are sincere, helpful, and honest; they know that being transparent in their relationship is the best way to strengthen it. You’re free to say things and to receive criticism for your work. At the end of the day, everyone’s in the same boat, and everything that comes from it will help the community grow together.

Sharing: The way to show you care
Whatever is yours is your loved one’s, too. Doesn’t it make sense? When you love someone, all you care about is giving without getting anything else in return. The best part is knowing that whatever you give will be appreciated. It doesn’t matter if you give a simple compliment or an expensive gift; you’ll receive some love in return and feel good about it.

In open source communities, there are users with different abilities and varying amounts of time to commit to projects. Occasionally, a user will only lurk around forums and edit documentation–maybe just to fix a small bug that annoys him. Another use might stay longer to help develop the core features of the project, and become a commited member. Other users with no technical knowledge will only get in touch to ask questions or just to thank developers for their work.

All members’ contributions are appreciated and valued for what they are: a gift for the community and to the users of the project. In truly loving relationships, people share whatever they can, and they appreciate even the smallest gifts from others.

True love: Driven by openness
At this point, someone might ask: “What is the difference between an open source relationship and a closed one?” The difference relates to their different perspectives on sharing ideas. In relationships with your loved ones, a specific (and unique) creative or romatic gesture from you to an ex-partner might be off limits for use in current or future relationships (especially if your current squeeze knows your ex).

However, open and loving relationships still encourage reusing and sharing ideas for expressing your feelings. For instance, when my girlfriend gave me a painting of the two of us, a friend saw the painting and decided to do the same thing for her boyfriend. Seeing her gift become a great idea for others to use made my girlfriend feel good.

In open source communities, you can also generate ideas from other experiences and share them to achieve something new. You can take what you have learned and reuse your knowledge to benefit other people–something that wouldn’t be possible while working in closed environments.

Passion: The spark of true commitment
While some are looking for the love of their life while buying drinks at a bar, some find it by sharing a bag of snacks, a simple thought, or a profound statement. In one moment, you may realize that your best friend is the person you’re in love with. That’s also how open source works.

Most people involved in open source projects start out scratching their own itches, doing everyday things they love and feel comfortable with. But over time, the desire for sharing and openness becomes part of them, part of their passion, and their commitment grows. It’s like falling in love with your best friend: you might one day find yourself commited to a project you joined in a small way and came to care about deeply.

For lovers of open source, these projects become integral parts of their lives, and it feels natural to develop passion for those communities and the ideas that grow and develop over time. What begins as a simple, everyday relationship, can blossom into a deep commitment–or even a career.

Understanding: The cornerstone of community
There’s nothing better than having someone who understands you for who you are and leaves you free to be yourself. My girlfriend hates to see me playing with a yo-yo in public, but she’s understanding of my nerdy needs and lets me talk for hours about ridiculous subjects. And if by any chance I need to go and preach about open source, or do some fun Arduino stuff with my friends, she’s happy to see me doing it.

Needless to say, there’s nothing not to love about being part of open source communities. Everyone seems to have side projects and ideas, and if you take your time to learn about them, you’ll realize how great it is to create things with people who have different backgrounds, interests, and perspectives. In loving relationships and in open source communities, people complement each other.

So remember: good things should be spread around and replicated–they deserve your love and appreciation. That’s why you should never hesitate to send flowers or chocolates to your favorite open source communities, every once in a while.