FASLANYC’s post inspired me to read Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” from 1996, which is about the Linux computer operating system, but if you change a few words could be about urban neighborhoods. I'm going to dedicate 2 posts to the essay, this week the basic setup and Raymond's own summary points (you can spend more than a week thinking about how they might apply to urban neighborhood development), and next week more from the body of the essay. "Who would have thought that a world-class operating system could coalesce as if by magic out of part-time hacking by several thousand developers? Linus Torvalds's style of development — release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity — came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here — rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.
"Chance handed me a perfect way to test my theory, in the form of an open-source project that I could consciously try to run in the bazaar style. I'll use it to propose some aphorisms about effective open-source development.
- Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's personal itch.
- Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite (and reuse).
- 'Plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow.'
- If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you.
- When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor.
- Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.
- Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.
- Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.
- Smart data structures and dumb code works a lot better than the other way around.
- If you treat your beta-testers as if they're your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.
- The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.
- Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.
- 'Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.'
- Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.
- When writing gateway software of any kind, take pains to disturb the data stream as little as possible — and never throw away information unless the recipient forces you to!
- When your language is nowhere near Turing-complete, syntactic sugar can be your friend.
- A security system is only as secure as its secret. Beware of pseudo-secrets.
- To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.
- Provided the development coordinator has a communications medium at least as good as the Internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one."
Next week, excerpts about why this approach not only works, but also may result in better outcomes for computer programs...and urban neighborhoods.