Harlan T Wood

::: integrate :::

What if we checked the commons into GitHub?

Not all of the commons, mind you, and not all at once. But each of our little slices of this vast wealth, our areas of interest, that which we wish to share, to curate, and to remix.

Why should programmers have a monopoly on the paradigm shifting technologies and new information topologies known to the open source software world as forking, diffing, and merging?

I’ll say it again, because I’m not kidding. I’m not making a rhetorical point.

What if we checked the commons into GitHub?

Open Source Everything

Imagine a new level of collaboration around open corporate and organizational systems, open government models, open solutions to our biggest challenges. Imagine that we could fork each other’s content and offer these changes back to the original authors, just as programmers can today with GitHub’s pull requests.

What if the commons were a space of global-scale remixing, a living symphony, a thriving ecosystem of creativity and innovation, built on a substrate of proliferation and organic evolution?

We can have this now.

GitHub has built and refined a base suite of high quality tools. All that remains is to:

  1. Crawl your trust network, gathering creative commons (or similarly licensed) content from the sites of interest to you.

  2. HTML is painful to diff and merge – so strip the content down to plain text, or a sane format like markdown.

  3. Curate your content collections – this could be as simple as a blog post announcing a new collection of remixable content.

  4. Invite others to collaborate. The commons should be a space for creative play.

Numbers one and two I’m working on, in the context of a project called Software Zero – currently pre-alpha and fit only for ruby coders. Contact me if you want to play. Numbers three and four are easy.

What’s in it for GitHub?

I’ll tell you why I would love this idea if I were them.

GitHub makes their money from private collaborations, while public projects are hosted for free. If the forking of content takes off like the forking of code has, there will be many use cases for private as well as public collaborations around written works – potentially a much larger market than that which exists for code.

It’s not just GitHub

While GitHub is the most promising platform that I know of for these purposes, as well as probably the largest collection of public data on actual collaborations available anywhere, there are other serious players emerging in the fork/diff/merge space. Most notably on my own radar, Ward Cunningham, inventor of Wiki, has released a new open source Federated Wiki (biased author alert: I (Harlan) did a bunch of work on this project). A key excerpt from a Wired article on FedWiki:

Cunningham’s vision is that you will have your own wiki, perhaps several wikis. When you see a page on someone else’s federated wiki that you want to edit, you can click “fork,” and the page is copied into your own wiki where you can edit it. The owner of the original wiki can then decide whether to merge your changes into the original page.

The Remix Revolution

Distributed version control is key to enabling massive knowledge sharing and collaboration. It gives individuals power over their content and a reliable way to manage it, and it documents authorship in a cryptographically verifiable log to give credit where credit is due.

What if this new millennium saw new works of great cultural significance with thousands of artists involved, all working in a hive of collaboration, all merged together into one cultural artifact to embody lifetimes worth of creativity? Let’s start with our creative commons and public domain content. Let’s start now.

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