A maker/hacker community’s critique of Open Source Ecology

I plan on trying to contact as many past contributors as possible from Open Source Ecology to get more information about the realities inside this project, and I will be posting more as time goes on. If you have information about this project, or any other project like this, feel free to get in touch with of us.

Excerpted from Sinister Cyborg:

(version without links, original here)

“After reading this blog post and comments (via archive.org, the pages are gone now) it seems pretty obvious that a long line of people that contributed to the Open Source Ecology project have been chewed up and spit out over the years. Further digging around here and here also hinted at the depth of revisionism (note the missing entries) that the Open Source Ecology project undergoes to maintain it’s appearance. This is all par-the-course for a startup that is funneling social capital without concern about the details of what it cost to acquire.

* Centralizing Authority By Obfuscating Credit

It only took about a month for her to get to this.

It only took about a month for her to get to this. This is from the newly hired project manager’s work log.

The first sign that a project like this is down a bad road is the lack of crediting of collaborators. This is EXTREMELY common in these kinds of projects and is a conscious attempt to make sure that project authority is maintained by the founder and not made available to others. The closest I’ve come is this list at the bottom of the About page in the wiki, which only provides names without context and is confirmed to not be complete. This allows for a constantly changing cast of characters to come and go without the public being aware of it, which helps the founding members continue their fundraising and speaking without having to deal with questions about the human element involved. I’d like to hear more from people that have been involved, but I get the impression that lots of content has been deleted by administrators. I’ve been there, and NOTHING is as upsetting as seeing your identity stripped away from a project you contributed to (though not your work!) because your experiences represent a shortcoming of the project.

* The Prison Of Positivity

The easiest path to take is to blame those with complaints and almost all open source projects like this take advantage of that. Contributors feel they cannot be open about concerns and problems they have because they fear that it will mar their reputations as ‘not team players’. They fear opportunities in the future will not be available so they peddle the cycle. This has created an entire culture of people, often coders and artists, that jump from project to project with nothing to show for it but a few entries on a resume earned not from their work but their participation in positive promotion. If you find yourself a cyber-sweatshop worker or treated like nameless grunt labor you should feel empowered to inform the community about it, not forced to cope with it in fear that the only thing you are going to get out of it will be jeopardized.

This comes out in the engineering side of this project as well. Little to no documentation of the problems and failures of the designs used exist, which is arguably the most important thing to document. The Open Source Ecology project has wrangled with numerous issues of substandard parts from various sources that cause critical failures, especially (apparently) in the PowerCube module. This little tidbit about the poorly chosen engine in the PC came from a contributor that said they left the project in protest. She claims she left after building substandard CEB presses and selling them. It is almost impossible to find discussions about what fails and why, only that ‘a decision to change a part’ has been made. Way to defeat the purpose of open documentation, folks.

* Props Vs Products

I participated in a ‘design sprint’ for Open Source Ecology a few weeks ago, which was supposed to be a design sprint for projects in the system. It was extremely obvious that most of the participants generally had no experience with 3d modeling or industrial design, but were all encouraged to create SOMETHING anyway. This sometimes devolved into “How to use SketchUp 101? for creating for the wiki. This is absolutely not how you approach designing equipment to produce, this is how you fill out stub articles on a page and assisting the creation of graphs implying increased participation. It is very ‘corperate-culture’ to engineer the flooding of documents in order to give an illusion of productivity. It is extremely possible that these inadequate designs will be built anyway, they will make excellent props for photoshoots and tours.”

1 Comment A maker/hacker community’s critique of Open Source Ecology

  1. Cody Harrison

    I think a lot of your comments are totally valid, including not having enough documentation of the problems. But I don’t agree that the purpose of the design sprints ended up being to flood the internet with documents to give an illusion of productivity. I volunteered at Factor e Farm in 2011 for a few days and went back for a month this past September (I’ve also been contributing monetarily for years). The project has come a loooonnngg way since 2011. While I was there Marcin was completely open to hearing constructive criticism and how to improve things. The documentation side still needs a lot of work but they are definitely making improvements. I mean they are trying to open source the means of production. In my opinion that is one of the most historic things to happen in the history of humanity, let’s drop the ego and just work together to make it happen.

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