In defense of open source innovation and polite disagreement

First off: congratulations to the MakerBot team on Replicator 2, and on the store. It looks like a good product, from first impressions. It’s a lot of hard work getting a product out, and more opening a store. The team who did this deserve praise.

I’ve been seeing a lot of inflammatory language in my news feeds the past couple days about the Replicator 2, specifically whether or not it’s open source. I haven’t got enough information to say, but I think well of Bre and Adam and the MakerBot team. I believe their ideals regarding open source software and hardware are more or less in line with my own, and I trust that they’ll do their best to meet those ideals.

What concerns me is the inflammatory language many have used to criticize MakerBot.  A lot of fundamentalist, angry language is being thrown around; language similar to that we usually hear from people who blow things up, or who buy elections. I don’t think this kind of language is necessary. I have an aversion to fundamentalism of any sort, even when it’s in support of my own ideals.  It leads to bad things.

MakerBot is one of many companies working to establish source principles in mainstream corporate culture. Doing that means a lot of compromise. There will be steps forward in the direction of openness, and there will be steps back.  There are a lot of people in the corporate world who need to be convinced that open source is a good thing. We won’t change their minds with overthrow. We will change their minds by competing fairly on their playing field, sometimes by their rules, and offering better products and services. We won’t always meet our ideals with every product or service.

Chris Anderson’s new book refers to what’s happening as “The New Industrial Revolution”. I hope he’s wrong. Revolutions tend to be bloody, vicious things, leaving many scars. I hope it’s the new industrial evolution. That means slower change, but it’s change that benefits everyone and hurts as few as possible.

We are all compromisers. Did you tweet vicious language about MakerBot from your iPhone or iPad? Are you reading this on a Dell, a Sony, an HP laptop, a Blackberry phone?  Then you bought a closed source product.  What kind of a fundamentalist are you?  I know I’m a terrible one, because, as much as I disagree with Apple’s corporate strategy, you can have my MacBook Air when you pry it from — strike that. You can have it when the newer, shinier one comes out. When that happens, I’ll be even happier if Apple takes a step in the direction of openness.  Probably won’t happen, but, like the dog that goes happily to the front door when the doorbell rings even though it’s never for him, I am an idealist.

One dynamic that happens in a lot of idealist communities: we praise our opponents who make even a small step in our direction, but we attack our own mercilessly when they make even a small step away from us.  It’s counter-productive.

I don’t know what MakerBot will do regarding the Replicator 2′s licenses and source material, but if they do something I disagree with, I will talk to them in the same tone that I’d expect them to address me in if I did something they disagreed with. I won’t call them names.

So: if you’ve got an objection to what MakerBot or anyone in your own community does, speak up. But do it politely. Before you say anything, phrase it as if you had the person you’re addressing in front of you. Check the language with your grandmother, if you need to.  If she tells you you’re being impolite, listen to her. She’s probably right.  She changed your diaper once, you know. She knows when your poo stinks.


This post is dedicated to Grandma Farley, who probably would have told me that I “don’t have enough sense to pound sand into a rathole.” I still don’t know what that means.

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