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» Computer Supported Cooperative Whatever: Reflections on Work, Play and Passion at CSCW 2006 from Gumption
As I reflect upon the reflections that were offered during the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2006) last week, a promiment theme that emerged was the tension between professionalism and playfulness. The conference, which ce... [Read More]


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And *my* favourite comment from Bill Buxton was - "Your team can be either productive or creative. But not both." Productivity and creativity are often at odds in organizations was his point.

Bill Buxton

Perhaps my point was not clearly expressed. It was not my intent to "dismiss Linux" Rather, my point was that we would all be better served if the discourse around it was better balanced and more considered in its analysis.

Of course Linux is important. I assume that is obvious to anyone who has taken even a curory look at the phenomenon as well as the system. But that very importance should, I suggest, compel more thoughtful analysis that much/most of what I hear.

What I had hoped to say was:

(a) The process that brought Linux about, while interesting, was not original. It has a precedent that goes back to how the Oxford English Dictionary was produced, for example.

(2) I also pointed out that having the source code of Unix available to hack and improve was not new in Linux. We had it with Unix back in 1975.

(3) Likewise, I observed that as a clone of Unix, Linux has made little contribution to the science of operating systems.

(2) As a response to some of the statements of the opening plenary, I suggested that while such collective initiatives work well for projects like Linux, Wikipedia and the Human Genome Project, they do not appear to work well for others.

(3) I complained that in singing the praises of the approach, many, such as the opening plenary, fail to add the caveat that all of the examples cite were things where the architecture was either simple, and lent itself to non-dependent decomposition (Wikipedia & Human Genome), or the architecture was already given (eg, the primary decisions and behaviour of Linux were already established by Unix)

(4) I gave a contrasting operating system example. I suggested that it was extremely unlikely that the same (worthy and bright) gang and process that brought us Linux, would not and likely could not, bring us what I see as the real outstanding need in operating systems, namely a reliable, efficient, multiprocessor, parallel processing, real-time OS.

(5) The over-riding comment was that everything is good for something and worst for something else. My point was that we would all be better served if there was less religion in this discussion, and more reasoned objectivity.

(6) I bemoaned the difference in the level of critical discussion and analysis that accompaies discussions of technologies, such as Linux, and what we expect as given when reviewing and discussing theatre, literature, art and dance. My point being that technology is as, if not more, worthy of such discussion.

I hope that this clarification goes some way in doing that very thing. Thanks for the air time.


Elizabeth: thanks for adding your favorite quote from the talk (I liked it too, and am glad it's now in "the record").

Bill: thank you, too, for adding to the discussion here. I missed the opening plenary, and so did not have access to the full context in which your criticisms of Linux were articulated. I appreciate your taking the time to elaborate beyond the brief note I made on your comments on that topic.

I thought that the first person to ask a question following your presentation was spot on in his observation that the strength of Linux is [the openness of] its development model, and the shortcoming of closed platforms such as, say, Xbox, is that his students who participate in afterschool classes to build videogames can't share their creations with their friends (the games they build won't run on Xbox) ... and it is this desire to share their creations that is one of their primary motivations.

I think if you had waited a half-second later in issuing your extremely considerate and diplomatic response -- to the effect of helping this person find a way to get some special dispensation that might pave the way for his students' games to somehow make their way to [their friends'] Xboxes -- the audience would have erupted with applause in support of this man's position.

I do not consider myself a Microsoft-basher -- indeed, I have many friends and acquaintances that work for Microsoft whom I greatly admire and respect -- but I am sympathetic to criticisms of the company's practices of "embrace, extend, extinguish".

Given the desire you articulated to apply cultural criticism to technology products and companies, an observation made by James Carse, in his book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, contrasts society and culture in ways that I believe apply to the difference between Microsoft Windows and Linux ... as well as the [society of] CSCW and, well, the culture of computer supported cooperative whatever. Fleming Funch, in quoting and expounding upon Carse's ideas on society and culture, notes:

"In their own political engagements infinite players make a distinction between society and culture. Society they understand as the sum of those relations that are under some form of public constraint, culture as whatever we do with each other by undirected choice."

Society consists of what people do because of necessity, because they HAVE to. Society is a finite game with certain rules that have to be adhered to. Society will perpetuate rules from the past and will resist any changing of the rules. Society has a lot to do with achieving and maintaining power, largely based on the games one has won in the past and the status one has achieved from that.

A society is bounded temporarily and spatially. There is a start and an end to a society, and it will defend its borders and its definition vehemently. Members of a society are only those who live within its boundaries and agree to the validity of its rules.

A culture, on the other hand, is not bounded. Anybody at any time anywhere can participate in a culture.

In a society deviation is considered anti-social and carries various sanctions and punishments. This is becaues it is in the vested interest of society that rules don't change. If somebody comes along and changes the rules, or causes some rules to be dropped, then past winners might no longer command the same power based on their former winning status. For example, Communist Party officials in Russia.

It is a highly valued function of society to prevent changes in the rules. Such functions as academic degrees, trade licences and election procedures for political office are all examples of society protecting and enforcing the existing rules and allowing people to win only by using them.

So, one can either accept the rules for participation in the society of Microsoft, or one can embrace the [counter]culture of Linux, and participate more fully in the co-creation of new technological wonders (and, of course, blunders). The ideas, and even the implementation, of Linux may not be new, but then, I've heard similar criticisms of a number of Microsoft products.

If the key to innovation is cultivating the adoption of ideas, it seems to me that an open source platform is a more effective vehicle for encouraging adoption than a closed platform -- and [thus] adopting an open source platform is more likely to promote the creation, sharing and further adoption of ideas by others (for example, Xbox games).

I may be missing something obvious here -- and I welcome further input -- but your criticisms of Linux seem incompatible with, and wholly unnecessary to, establishing your other, far more inspirational (and obviously, agreeable), points.

I'm reminded of Alan Kay's fabulous keynote at CHI '98, which was, ironically, marred (in my opinion) by his bitter -- and [with respect to the themes he emphasized throught the rest of his talk] rather unnecessary -- denunciation of Microsoft as the "evil empire". In a further touch of irony (given the current context), one of the themes he was championing was idea processors vs. word processors -- as he put it, "toys and tools for tinkering and thinkering" -- which seems very much in alignment with issues you raised in your fabulous keynote.


*Great* notes Joe, thanks for sharing!

Regarding Bill Buxton's comments on Linux, I didn't feel them as a dismissal at all -not of its capabilities nor of its development process. He just pointed out (and repeated above) that its process wasn't original, and that its features were a clone of a previous system -as is sadly often the case with open source projects. These are provable claims, and he offered the evidence.

Actually, I'd go further and say that Linux-as-counterculture is a myth. At least it is in my environment, and it seems to be in the CSCW community: When, as you point out, a room is on the verge of an applause eruption for a comment in defense of Linux, you know it's become a cultural element so ingrained and so deeply accepted in the community that there's nothing 'counter' about it. It's the mainstream. That's why fresh comments such as Buxton's stick out so much -they're a challenge on the cultural status quo.

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