Super hobbyists and pirates

July 3, 2016 opensource , commentary 2 min read

There are so many gems in this piece on open data and creativity by Aseem Sharma. But one thing struck me as it relates to open source software:

Thomas Jefferson made regular weather observations, and as a matter of fact, noted it was 76 degrees while penning the United States Declaration of Independence. The first formal collection of weather data came from super hobbyists, like Jefferson and the Meteorological Society of Palatinate, and made its way to the Smithsonian in 1849. Joseph Henry, the Smithsonian’s first secretary, created a national network of volunteer telegraph operators. In this system each operator would telegraph the wind, rain, and temperature data…

[Eventually], it was requested that U.S. Congress move the weather service to the Department of Agriculture. It was at this point that industries ranging from transportation, railroad companies, and the agriculture sector began demanding the data of the weather bureau. In a few years, anything that was affected by weather was dependent on the data from the National Weather Service.

Today, an industry worth US $1.5 billion revolves around weather data. Today, we also have private players and startups that provide an alternative to data from the traditional sources.

This sounds a lot like the story of open source software.

It reminds me of the book The Pirate Organization: Lessons from the Fringes of Capitalism. From the summary:

In The Pirate Organization, Rodolphe Durand and Jean-Philippe Vergne argue that piracy drives capitalism’s evolution and foreshadows the direction of the economy. Through a rigorous yet engaging analysis of the history and golden ages of piracy, the authors show how pirates form complex and sophisticated organizations that change the course of capitalism. Surprisingly, pirate organizations also behave in predictable ways: challenging widespread norms; controlling resources, communication, and transportation; maintaining trade relationships with other communities; and formulating strategies favoring speed and surprise. We could learn a lot from them—if only we paid more attention.

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avatar of Brandon Keepers I am Brandon Keepers, and I work at GitHub on making Open Source more approachable, effective, and ubiquitous. I tend to think like an engineer, work like an artist, dream like an astronaut, love like a human, and sleep like a baby.