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Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software
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Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  375 ratings  ·  62 reviews
An inside look at modern open source software developers--and their applications to, and influence on, our online social world.

"Nadia is one of today's most nuanced thinkers about the depth and potential of online communities, and this book could not have come at a better time." --Devon Zuegel, director of product, communities at GitHub

Open source software--in which develo
Hardcover, 1st Edition, 256 pages
Published July 14th 2020 by Stripe Press (first published July 2020)
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Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In _Persecution and the Art of Writing_, Leo Strauss describes some techniques by which authors conceal heterodox ideas. One pattern he identifies is a book that has a long tedious and orthodox first part, and then suddenly the tone changes and there are a few striking ideas in the middle, at a point where most censors will have stopped reading.

I don't know if it was deliberate, but Eghbal does exactly that. The first half of this book was a rather tiresome taxonomy of projects and ethnography
Jacob Williams
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We assume that open source projects need to grow strong contributor communities in order to survive.... But this narrative no longer translates to how many open source projects work today.

This book is packed with interesting quotes, stats, and analysis.

My main takeaway is: most open source projects are reliant on an individual or small group of core contributors. The attention of those individuals is a crucial limited resource that needs to be rationed. Pushing a larger number of people to m
Steven Deobald
Apr 03, 2021 rated it did not like it
I've been excited to read this for months. What a disappointment.

This is a good example of what happens when a person hones their long-form writing skills on Twitter threads. This book is a printed Twitter thread.

The first half of the book is an acceptable contemporary survey of the history of Free and Open Source Software. Many important historical details are missed, but Eghbal can be forgiven for this; she isn't a software developer or an industry expert.

The rest of the book, however, is a po
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was ok
This book is tough to review because I really think it's two books: one is a collection of ideas about the history of open source, of software creation, and of the internet, and the other about a synthesized understanding of what open source means, the economics of it, and the author's own experience, having worked at GitHub.

Although there are a lot of really interesting ideas, fragments, quotes, and papers included in both tracks of thought, there is not really a central, cohesive narrative, a
Steven Lin
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Speaking as someone who knows little about open source, I found this book both informative and thought-provoking.

Describing the dynamics of the open source community and the varied and complex relationships people have with code (some "consume" code, some write code, some maintain code, some do a little bit of everything), Eghbal captures a set of concepts and metaphors that have broad application outside of their immediate contextual sphere.

At heart, the discussion centers around questions of
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It's a little hard for me to say just how interesting this will be to folks outside of the world of open source software, but I suspect that if you are interested in markets and economics, public goods vs. common goods, relationships between big online platforms and online creators, etc, you will enjoy this. It is extremely relevant to my day-to-day life and I have seldom seen someone write about what's actually going on in technical communities with such insight.

It's also a really beautiful ph
Thu Nguyen
Apr 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book reveals a very intricate look of the open source software (OSS), where Github is the hosting platform.

At first, the author introduces Github, its features and community, from multiple reference points: stats, narrative and personal view. These telling stories show up many corners, from the diversity in characteristic of open source developers to tribalistic behavior of github projects. In hindsight, the first two chapters, rather arid, are later used as material to cook the main thesi
James Elliott
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Software has eaten the world, and open source has been a huge part of that. I’ve been attending interesting talks about some facets of this book for the last few years, but was amazed by how thoroughly and thoughtfully the disparate strands of history, communities, and technology were woven together in this analysis.

I’m squarely in the center of the target audience for a book like this, having managed to build a small community around a set of my own open-source projects, but I think anyone who
Graham Holtslander
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A well-written, economics-focused look at open source software. I enjoyed this book a lot, it kept my attention the whole time! It was fascinating to see behind the scenes of some of the open source contributors and projects that I’ve kept my eye on for a while now (React, Django, Linux, and others). The author also shows some great analysis and observations on how open source maintainers (but also people like Twitch streamers!) can and should charge for the work they do.

Highly recommend readin
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
an exceptional book. physically an immensely pleasing object to hold, page through, and possess. intellectually stimulating if you work in open source, or are generally interested in the 'passion economy', trends in internet culture, or behavioral economics. style is semi-academic but also light. accessible to people who don't code. ...more
Nov 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The title of this book suggests that by reading it you will learn about open source development, but in reality by reading it you will gain a much deeper understanding of how communities behave online. Eghbal's detail on the motivations, frustrations, and impact of open source developers offers a window into the factory of public works in the modern era, with implications from academic science to media. I can't recommend this book highly enough. ...more
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book rekindled my feeling of love for software and programming. Eghbal writes with such care about projects and communities, and I learned a ton from this as a public GitHub peruser but noncontributor.

In terms of actions, my takeaways are that low quality contributions are sometimes worse than none, and maintainer attention (instead of the code itself) is the scarce resource of software production. Super fresh insights with a lot of applications outlined in the book.
Esteban Vargas
Sep 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020-leisure
For technical people: It won't teach you anything new. But the last chapter is totally worth it.

For non-technical people: It will be an awesome read if you want to understand everything about OSS.
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The few insights could have been summarized in a few minute blog. This book might be useful for someone who knows literally nothing about software, open source, and perhaps technology to get an understanding of the dynamics in that world.
Rishabh Srivastava
Mar 29, 2021 rated it liked it
I got a lot of value from this book, but I wish it were better organised. Also wish it contained a section on open-source licensing, and how the cloud has changed the adoption of open-source products

It had 3 themes: how the open-source ecosystem has evolved, an application of economic theories to open-source, and a prescription for how creators and platform could manage and sustain open-source projects better

Some key points were:

1. Software is frequently characterized as “zero marginal cost”. It
Mar 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book!!! It provides a deep and thorough analysis of open source motivations and intriguing predictions of possible creator-style funding models from institutions and individuals.
I think the author strongly leaned on the creator model model as we are now seeing that model taking off in spades for many creators at large. However, I wonder if there is something different about open source software development. Yes, it does is seems plausible to support rock star open source prom
Tim Black
Jun 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Although there are countless books on how to write software, very few focus on the producers themselves or the culture of production. Nadia Eghbal tackles this challenge quite skillfully as she integrates the the history of the open source movement, economic theories on the production of public goods, and the realities of today's more (comparatively) mature internet ecosystem.

She breezes past the more obvious observations (like Wikipedia, only a fraction of developers contribute the bulk of open
Mitchell Wakefield
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an incredibly well researched, well crafted, and enjoyable book to read. As a person coming into this field fairly green, knowing little to nothing about Open Source Software, GitHub, and the ways of working and community building that goes into an open-source project, this book explained things clearly and in great-depth.

I particularly found the authors' approach of using real-world metaphors to explain conceptual frameworks and project building within the space of open-source softwar
José Miguel
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Nadia is among the first authors to write about user and maintainer attention as the modern currency of open source collaboration. This approach helps unlock much needed conversations around money and sustainability and this book introduces a solid foundation for that (particularly Pt. 2, and if you are interested mostly on this topic I would actually suggest to start with the Conclusions chapters) That said, in the process of getting to that argument Nadia lays out modern open source governance ...more
Anthony Mangino
Feb 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
Being relatively new to the world of open source software (OSS), I had only a cursory understanding of what OSS actually IS, how it works, and how developers and maintainers do the work of building, repairing, and ensuring our digital infrastructure functions. Having read Nadia Eghbal's blog on "Reimagining the PhD" and being familiar with her history of and philosophy on independent research, I was intrigued to hear where her research into OSS development took her. I was not disappointed!

For ma
David Cournapeau
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
An interesting overview on the modern challenges of the social aspects of open source software.

I did most of my OSS contributions in the late 2000s. I witnessed the move from CVS/sourceforge to github/git. I never went into the JS world, and it was interesting to see the different model that is usually taken by that ecosystem. Many small projects, very few contributor per project.

But the most interesting part was chapter 4, and the emphasis of attention costs that have plagued many projects and
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nadia Eghbal has done great work conceptualizing how the ecosystem of open source software works, in a way that I think would be readily accessible to a lay audience. If you have a non-technical role among software developers, this book is a great place to understand the risks and rewards of the open source work your company no doubt depends on.

Beyond explaining the dynamics of open source, Eghbal also points to the difficulties of long-term software maintenance and explores possible funding and
Zak Miller
Apr 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

Discussions on how open source is organized, monetized, etc. Biggest insights for me were:
1. Many of the biggest/most important open source projects are carried forward by a few people who do almost all the commits
2. Low quality contributions (questions on how to use the library, poor code that has to be reviewed) are major problems for those projects because they take time away where the maintainers should be coding
3. Making things worse, most contributors only show up once, so they ca
Joseph Heck
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful work I've been waiting years to see, and I'm thrilled it's here!

Nadia distills years of the open source movement, overlapping with the growth of social media, into readily understandable terms and highlights not only successes, but failures. In doing so, she makes a path forward achievable for both those wanting to help produce, and who want to consume, these kinds of abundant services without a tragedy of the commons kind of outcome. Well founded insights are wrapped into some thought
Mark Mulvey
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Software doesn't die, because someone out there—someone its developers may not even be aware of—will continue to use it. The author Neal Stephenson once described Unix as ‘not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic... Unix is known, loved, and understood by so many hackers that it can be re-created from scratch whenever someone needs it.’

Code is not a product to be bought and sold so much as a living form of knowledge
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A profoundly well written and researched book on Open Source Software Development

Nadia Eghbal has done the open source community a profound service in writing this book. It is marvelous. The book covers both the social, economic and unseen costs of developing open source software. It gives the reader an appreciation for the subtleties of the process, and articulates the impact of the approach upon both the contributor and consumer of open source code projects.

The cited references add weight by e
jasmine sun
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology, technology
this book provides a summary of the social and economic characteristics of open-source communities + lots of interesting frameworks for describing those dynamics.

eghbal is a very clear writer and assumes no prior knowledge, which is both very helpful and can make parts a bit dry if you're already familiar with the topics -- i'd imagine that everyone will end up skimming some parts. this book is also quite specific to github culture, so i'd make sure you're excited about that before reading (some
Feb 06, 2021 rated it liked it
A bit too much emphasis on how Github is the greatest thing ever, which is somewhat understandable as the author worked there, but nevertheless provides great insights into how and why open source projects are run the way they least for those that haven't been intimately involved already. Points deducted for so much emphasis on Github, especially for suggesting projects need to use it to be successful, and other philosophical differences that would require a long form answer to adequate ...more
David Laing
This book gave me a much deeper appreciation for the usually unpaid work done by maintainers of open-source software. It also introduced me to the anarchist origins of open source, which I was unaware of. I'd recommend this book to people who work in software, mainly for the context that it provides around tools we use every day. For non-developers, the book is quite accessible, and definitely worth reading if the topic interests you. Pairs well with Michael Nielsen's book, Reinventing Discovery ...more
Phil Eaton
Mar 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sociology-like breakdown of the entities and people that make up open source, culminating in studies on sustainability and funding.

Most books on the subject were written in the 90s or early 2000s when open source (and the books themselves) were obnoxious and totalitarian. In contrast today open source is not itself the point, and fairness and kindness are core values.

This book focuses more on the last 10 years since the rise of Github as de facto platform for open source. But the periods (then
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Oh hey, we're nearly halfway through 2021! We can't really believe it either... Traditionally, this is the time when the Goodreads editorial...
71 likes · 11 comments
“One study found that in more than 85% of the open source projects the researchers examined on GitHub, less than 5% of developers were responsible for over 95% of code and social interactions.7” 2 likes
“But just as tweets are easy to read and retweet without context as to who wrote them, code is easy to copy-paste without knowing, or caring, where it came from.” 1 likes
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