12 September 2009

On Opening Up with PHP

PHP is one of the big success stories of open source, so it's great to read this interview with its creator, Rasmus Lerdorf. I was especially struck by these words of wisdom:

in 1997, it basically came to the point where I was going to kill the project, because it was growing so fast and my mailbox was filling up with suggestions, complaints, patches, all these things. Up until then, I had been doing everything myself. Someone would make a suggestion, send me a patch and I'd rewrite the patch the way I thought it should be done.

I would disagree with people, I'd argue back and forth, and I just couldn't keep up any more. I was getting frustrated and sick of it all, [thinking]: "Why are all these people expecting me to fix their code? They're not paying me. What the hell am I doing working my ass off for these folks? I don't even know them – what the hell is going on here?"

So that was the time when I said: "This has to change. Give the guys who have been complaining over the last few years access to the code. The guy who has been complaining about the Oracle extension, he's been a pain in my ass for years, so it's yours now buddy. Any further issues or complaints about Oracle go directly to you." And that really empowered people.

When they felt that they now owned a slice of PHP, they started getting defensive. Instead of complaining to me about things – once they got ownership, and power, the whole atmosphere changed. And it got a lot more fun as well, because I didn't feel like it was just me against the world any more; now it was a real team effort.

That, in essence, is the secret of free software. Putting it into practice is slightly harder...

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Roger Lancefield said...

You may well have seen it, and it's a pragmatic rather than an ethical point, but the effectiveness of this process is demonstrated in this video animation illustrating the growth of the Python project. The moment the project is opened up, its growth explodes:


Roger Lancefield said...

I should have pointed out that the key portion of the video is the months which follow May 2000 when, I understand, Python's CVS tree was moved to SourceForge.

Glyn Moody said...

thanks - I'd not seen those. Now tweeted for their wonderfulness...