A few notes about openness (and a request)

I have something much longer and comprehensive coming on this topic, but these few notes will have to do for now.

First, “open” is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our commonsense, every day experience teaches us that “open” is continuous. Anyone who will argue that “open” is a binary construct is forced to admit that a door cracked open one centimeter is just as open as a door standing wide open, because their conception of the term has no nuance. Alternately, they may adopt an artificial definition, in which a door opened 20 cm or more is considered open, while a door opened 19 cm is not considered open. But this is unsatisfactory as well.

For example, the “open” in open source is not nuanced at all and has been artificially binary-ized. The open source definition tells us very clearly what a license must and must not do in order to be permitted to describe itself with the trademarked term “open source.” In the eyes of the defenders of the “open source” brand, if you’re not open enough you’re not open at all.

I made an explicit choice with open content not to go down the open source path of imposing my will on others. People make the choice to be open for a variety of reasons. They choose the path of openness in order to help them accomplish goals that are very personal. It is just as inappropriate for you to try to force your goals on others as it is for others to try to force their goals on you. Who am I to say how open is open “enough?” I didn’t 11 years ago and I’m not about to start now. Who are you to judge me for not being open “enough?” I didn’t choose openness as a path to accomplishing your goals, I chose it as a path to accomplishing my own goals. If the way I express my openness doesn’t help you meet your goals, ignore my openness – don’t criticize it.

Starting with the Open Publication License and including the Creative Commons licenses, the open content licenses have been crafted in a way that recognizes that people choose the path of openness for different reasons. The licenses have therefore provided people with license options to help them more effectively accomplish their personal goals. This tolerance for different goals and explicit support for people in achieving them is something we should cherish and extend beyond our licenses into our community discourse and behavior. Let me begin.

In a post earlier today I argued that our collective purpose should be “increasing access to educational opportunity.” That was a mistake on my part. Increasing access to educational opportunity is the reason I chose the path of openness and launched the idea of open content upon the world. But that goal is my own, and I shouldn’t and don’t expect others to accept it as their own. As I have tried to be open, I’ve discovered additional reasons one might choose to be open – like the way that openness facilitates the unintended. This is another, though secondary, reason I choose to continue to be open.

Without any special authority to do so, may I please give you a homework assignment? Would you please blog about why you choose to be open? What is the fundamental, underlying goal or goals you hope to accomplish by being open? What keeps you motivated? Why do you spend your precious little free time on my blog, reading this post and this question? If each of us put some thought and some public reflective writing into this question, the field would likely be greatly served. The more honest and open you are in your response, the more useful the exercise will be for you and for us.

Comments on this entry are closed.

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  • I believe that openness in software and non-code contribution can reduce the cost of introducing new technologies and research results in the daily operations of companies, thus making them better. Sharing technology and code can reduce development costs (on average of 36%, in some cases much more) and increase competitiveness (OSS companies have customers in higher revenue classes when compared to traditional companies).

  • Great post which could present some interesting findings and debate. I’ll be checking back, interested to see what others have said.

  • This is a great request, to, in essence, build a preliminary repository of “why am I open?”. How should we link from our blogs to this post? In a comment, just post our blog link response?

  • Can I just resubmit this post from your OER course?

    “One may consider two poles in the gamut of possible motivations for participating voluntarily in Open Education: moral and economic. Tomaševski (2001) declares available, accessible, even compulsory(1) education a prerequisite to meeting world citizens’ right to education. Wiley (2006) mongers the fear that American higher education, and the nation in general, would pass up a golden investment opportunity in forgoing Open Education. On one end is an instrumentalist businessman, on the other a clergyman preaching morality for morality’s sake. All other motivations may be understood to fall somewhere between these two position.”


  • Okay okay okay, I’ve completed my homework assignment! You can read it here: http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-i-chose-openness-david-wiley-ive.html

    Here’s a teaser:

    Perhaps Papert’s mistake was in attributing intention to the computer; if, to further extend the metaphor, the computer really was an explosive device, then it had no ability to decide how, when, and here to detonate.

    I was drawn to the open education movement because it attempts to do on purpose what we thought computers would do by default: blow wide open the walls, and therefore the constraints, surrounding education.

  • I have completed your assignment as well. http://feathertail.livejournal.com/9856.html

    Takeaway: “If the people who are looking for life’s works can’t find them in building on what you have done, then they will just build around you.

  • Rob

    I choose to be open because I believe that control over the use of ideas constitutes control over others’ lives.

    We sometimes hear that “information wants to be free”. I would argue that while information can’t want anything, all knowledge is free (meaning that it exists independent of people), and anyone trying to impose restrictions on it is attempting to control the minds (and therefore lives) of others.

    While “freedom” or “openness” has different considerations when applied to code rather than content, I consider the two linked because one (code) has the power to control and regulate the transmission and use of knowledge and the other (content) represents (in its most valuable interpretation) the knowledge itself.

    In short, the world has always been open; it’s the people seeking control over others that should be defending their viewpoint.

  • Oh yeah…

    Is a door that’s cracked open just one centimeter open, closed, mostly open, or mostly closed?

    If you’re on a submarine, it’s open.

  • If you’re trying to move a piano inside, it’s closed.

  • And if you want the people inside to hear the piano’s music, it’s kinda open. But if they want to learn to play the piano themselves, it’s pretty well closed.

  • 1) I efficiently find collaborators by being open
    2) my work becomes known to more people

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  • I’m sorry; you’re right, I should’ve ignored you instead of criticizing you. The essay I posted has been deleted. I hope things go well for you.

  • ohhhhh, really, Jared? I thought it was a really nice piece.

  • I’ve blogged my answer several times in a different way, but I’m not sure which posts to cite. So, instead I’ll just put a little bit here about why I keep going.

    There is a need, actually there are lots of them that openness helps. It’s a good thing to help people, and I have what I jokingly refer to as the paladin complex. Injustice and evil make me want to lay about with a broad sword, or other implement of destruction.

    I can help. As a game designer, student and tutor, I have several points of view that compliment each other in finding potential open solutions.

    I want to learn more and find the current systems irrational, irritating, frustrating, illogical … well you get the idea. The more I try to learn, the more I am confronted the the above two facts. Solving the problem appeases both my selfish and selfless halves, so I will continue with all that I am to make a difference.

  • I write online only for the highest of motives: to capture truths in text. I find writing a struggle. Often I don’t know what I think about something until I have written about it. Often I think I understand something, and then when I turn to the screen to describe it myself, I find I don’t. The only payment that I insist on for my work is to reread it thinking, “He’s nailed it. That’s just what I think.”
    It gives me particular joy to write for the web, as I continue on my path the enlightenment. It is a suitably humble activity: obscurity is almost inevitable. Yet there is always the possibility that something I write will also help someone else. I always tell the truth as I see it. Where I cannot, I find the inner revelation about my own cultural beliefs even more rewarding (and disturbing) than seeing my truths writ large. That is why I currently write under a pseudonym after ten years of online presence under my true name: to explore the difference between the two states. Maybe one day I will write the comments I couldn’t publish, but I probably won’t, because they remain unwritten.
    I think those who share my predilictions and ambitions are rather few. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to pass their hours as I do. Most people, at base, are fearful of the mental nakedness that writing involves: there is nowhere to hide, so many ways to be criticised. But I know my fellows on this earth seek enlightenment, hate lies, want honest systems, and the wealth of our culture to be shared, So I continue to offer myself freely to that team. It seems worthwhile.

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  • http://elizabethtweets.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/utah-state-u-s-opencourseware-closes-because-of-budget-woes/ is where I’ve stated my reasons… but as I mention, Clay Shirky, Michael Wesch and others say them better 🙂

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