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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

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Open Source is Antifragile

There is a book called Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.

Obligatory: I'm not necessarily a fan of Nassim Taleb in general, but all of his books are worth reading so you can form your own opinion. Regardless, this concept of "antifragile" is a really good one.

"Antifragile" systems are not the same as "robust" systems — it is more a description of things which do not only hold up against distress, but improve as an outcome of it. The book describes the mythical hydra, which grows back with two heads when one is cut off.

This has been a mental model which has guided a lot of my decision-making in an effort to build things which can grow while withstanding the many downward pressures of any venture along the way.

I advise you to read about this idea and draw your own conclusions, but I'll muse a little further on the nature of antifragilism in open source.

Antifragile elements of open source

Open source software is inherently one of the most antifragile things I can think of, and especially if its nurturers treat it that way. "Many eyes make all bugs shallow" is a phrase that embodies this idea. Open source systems are constantly prodded, scrutinized, and stressed by the rounds people tend to try and put it through.

Open source systems, and the companies behind them, are generally aided by certain forms of competition which either validate or even consume the software. Of course, the threats of giant competitors can eventually become real threats, but open source systems tend to remain nimble against these threats — often empowering many small vendors to ensure the giant can't reach escape velocity.

When companies are struck by market forces or management miscues, open source software lives on.

The "threat of forking" tends to align the interests of more parties than proprietary software and seems to lead to great outcomes in the long run.

International conflict, sanctions, etc. inherently have very little impact on open source software. For companies tying their future to the success of a software trend, this can be very important. The likelihood that unforeseen market forces cause the quick death of your technical foundation are very limited.

Bottom line

Cut off the head of proprietary software and the body shrivels and dies. Open source software grows another head.

This quality of antifragility in this space is not always good for society, but on average I think we can generally agree that it is. If you are looking to build systems with a lasting impact and have the potential to distribute much more value than they consume, I'd advise thinking in these terms.

Happy coding!

Top comments (2)

jj profile image
Joseph (JJ) Jacks

Great post Ben. Thank you! Especially in these high volatile times with the Russia sanctions, Federal Reserve interest rate hikes here in the US and monetary tightening in general, open source has never been better timed to take advantage of boom and bust cycle shifts — especially considering the sheer number of developers building software and internet population at all time highs. Very exciting times.

dinerdas profile image
Diner Das

Nice post