The principle of contribution vs the principle of community

In a discussion on the Apache Software Foundation and the GitHub coordination tool, Mikeal Rogers makes an interesting distinction between two different peergovernance principles, which are sometimes in tension:

“On GitHub the language is not code, as it is often characterized, it is contribution. GitHub presents a person to person communication system for contributions. Documentation, issues, and of course code, travel between personal repositories.

The communication medium is the contribution itself. Its value, its merit, its intentions, all laid naked for the world to see. There is no hierarchy or politic embedded in the system. The creator of a project has a clear first mover advantage but the possibility is always there for its position to be supplanted by a fork, creating a social imperative to manage contributions in a satisfactory manor to her community.

GitHub is truly a system of anarchism, in the most classic sense of the term. It is a system of communication and contribution that is without a central organization or institution of governance. Sure, it is hosted, developed, and maintained by someone but they do not enforce any set of governance or process over the users of the system.

It is my belief that we are, right now, in the middle of a very large evolution in the ecology of open source. The language of contribution has infected a new generation of open source contributors. Much of the potential first imagined by open source pioneers is being realized by high school kids on a daily basis who contribute effectively with less effort than has ever been required.

The reason I am so convinced of the importance of this change is so simple it took me nearly a year to identify it. While the ethos of Apache may have been “Community over Code” it required those in the community to understand and internalize that ethos for it to be fully realized. Social problems became political problems because the ethos had to be enforced by the institution.

The new era, the “GitHub Era”, requires no such internalization of ethos. People and their contributions are as transparent as we can imagine and the direct connection of these people to each other turn social problems back in to social problems rather than political problems. The barrier to getting a contribution somewhere meaningful has become entirely social, in other words it is now the responsibility of the community, whether that community is 2 or 2000 people.

A system that enforces its principles without intervention is a tremendous achievement and GitHub’s adoption trend should not be a surprise to anyone. Git at Apache

GitHub’s decentralized nature is built, in large part, on git. Many of the social principles I described above are higher order manifestations of the design principles of git itself.” (

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.