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.

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