Ant colonies and open source projects

February 10th, 2007

I’m still mulling over whether it makes sense to adapt Ranganathan’s laws for open source software projects. I’ve started reading his The Five Laws of Library Science to improve my understanding of what he meant by each law, and hope to have something more to say soon.

In the meantime, here’s something to ponder. In Emergence, Steven Johnson talks about self-organising systems, where the whole appears to be greater than the sum of its parts. His approach is journalistic rather than academic, and there are some very critical reviews on Amazon, as well as many positive ones. Johnson draws his examples from ant colonies (as you might expect), cities, SlashDot and eBay, among others. I found his discussion of Deborah Gordon’s research into ant colony behaviour interesting, in particular her finding that ants from older colonies behave differently from ants from younger ones. Individual ants in each colony are likely to be a similar age (their lifespan is apparently about a year), and the suggestion is that the length of time the colony has been established somehow affects the way they react.

How much are open source software projects like ant colonies? What I would find if I compared the behaviour of people in different open source software projects? Would those from a new project react differently to a naive question from a non-techie than people from a well-established project? That’s not really part of my current research, but it might be something to look at in the future.

Entry Filed under: Free/open source


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