“A Door to Iteration, Innovation, and Constant Progress”: What Is Open Source?

From October 13-15, the All Things Open conference in Raleigh, NC, will explore the world of open source, open tech, and the open web. But what do these three things mean, and why do they matter for creators on this blogging and publishing platform?


Interested in contributing to the WordPress open source project? Learn how to get involved, even if you don’t know how to code.

Your WordPress.com site? This very blog you’re reading right now? Both are powered by WordPress, which is open source software. This means that anyone — including you — can inspect, modify, and even build upon its source code. This transparent and public way of building and communicating may be new to you if you’re used to work processes, in the software industry and beyond, that happen behind closed doors.


“Four Freedoms,” Matt Mullenweg, ma.tt

Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic, the company that makes WordPress.com, is a passionate leader of and advocate for open source and open tech — software that empowers each and every one of us to create, and an approach to technology and ownership that encourages us to share and let go of our ideas and intellectual property. The idea is that others can enjoy that same freedom to create, or even make our own work better, on an open and collaborative web.

In his “Four Freedoms” post, Matt shares his vision for open source technology and how it can foster innovation and produce the best work possible within a community.

I believe that software, and in fact entire companies, should be run in a way that assumes that the sum of the talent of people outside your walls is greater than the sum of the few you have inside. None of us are as smart as all of us.


“Designing in the open,”Kjell Reigstad, Automattic Design

But what does that look like in practice? Automattic designer and Longreads art director Kjell Reigstad reflected recently on designing in the open. Working at agencies in the past, Kjell described previous design processes taking place mostly within controlled environments, presented to just a few stakeholders, or under strict non-disclosure agreements. But when he began to work full-time on the open source WordPress project, it introduced him to a whole new way to collaborate.

The actual process of working in open source can also be a shock. As designers, we tend to hold our work close to the chest at first. The idea of letting strangers on the internet comment on your initial sketches is many designers’ nightmare.


“A Meditation on the Open Web,” Alexis Lloyd

Not a software developer or web designer? The future of open source should be of interest to all creators or consumers of digital content. For a deeper understanding of the open web, dive into this short animated journey through our digital landscape, with stops at familiar places like Facebook and Instagram. Designer Alexis Lloyd first asks us to think about where we spend our time online and then guides us across the varied terrain of today’s internet, ultimately showing us the possibilities of an open web.

What is the world of the open web like, beyond the walls of dominant social media platforms?

Own Your Content Recommendations:

“Khoi Vinh on How His Blog Amplified His Work and Career”

“Paul Jarvis on Making Your Business Better, Not Bigger”

“Ryan Merkley on Licensing Creative Work and How Attribution is Gratitude”

Did that video pique your interest? Dive into the Own Your Content series, created in partnership with our friends at CreativeMornings. The blog explores topics like creativity and ownership and shares practical wisdom from web leaders; it teaches you how to make sure your online work is respected and protected, and remains rightfully yours, as the web continues to evolve.

Consider a point of view on content ownership from Khoi Vinh, a principal designer at Adobe, who speaks on the benefits of carving out one’s own corner on the web and blogging on his own personal site, Subtraction, for the past 20 years:

I personally can’t imagine handing over all of my labor to a centralized platform where it’s chopped up and shuffled together with content from countless other sources, only to be exploited at the current whims of the platform owners’ volatile business models.

Or read insights from Paul Jarvis, an author, designer, and software creator, on the restrictions we face as creators and consumers on social networks:

Try exporting your “page likers” from Facebook or even your followers on Twitter… oh wait, you can’t do that?! That’s because those platforms own your data and own your social connections, not you.

And for a related perspective on content like your writing, art, and photography, consider these thoughts on creation, innovation, and collaboration from Ryan Merkley, the CEO of Creative Commons:

What we know is that creativity and innovation benefit from access to raw material, and that our tendency is to believe that restriction is good when it’s our content, and bad when it’s content we want to use. The history of creativity and discovery are rooted in remix, not restriction. We need to find ways to ensure creators can have livelihoods, and also that content and knowledge are accessible.


“Open Source and Power with Matt Mullenweg,” Rework podcast
(Transcript available.)

Want more? Listen to the spirited conversation between WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg and Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson on a recent Rework podcast episode. Their discussion on tech monopolies and the power of open source communities originated on Twitter and continued in greater depth on the podcast.

WordPress belongs just as much to you as anyone else.

Explore the All Things Open website for more on the event, which begins on Sunday, October 13.