Are open source projects run like a democracy or an oligarchy?

aristocracy

I was reading Fred Wilson’s comments recently on The Bitcoin XT Fork. In it he discussed how open source developers manage their projects.

“A group of open source core developers are a democratic system.”

I was surprised by this comment because I had never thought if it as democratic. Here are my thoughts…

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1. Indefinite tenure

Open source projects typically have a leader with indefinite tenure. He can’t be voted out. When developers are unhappy with how things are run, or how they’re evolving, they typically “fork” the project and go their own way.

That would be where Texas secedes from the union if they’re not happy with how things are run in Washington.

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2. Inherited rights

Like an aristocracy, leaders of an open source project typically have rights inherited. This could be due to merit, or seniority. They are the ones with admin rights on the git account.

Divine rights indeed!

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3. Appointments made by merit

Developers join open source projects, and move through the ranks mostly by merit. Sure there’s some back scratching, and massaging that helps too. Personality surely matters, but primarily skill at contributing code & architecture ideas are paramount.

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4. Power rests with a small elite

For sure, all people cannot vote on open source project direction. It’s a small group of elite, who are admittedly closest to it, and most knowledgable. These are the ones who control it’s direction.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

5. Oligarchy or Aristocracy?

From wikipedia an Oligarchy is “a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people”. That sounds closest.

While open source projects do have the indefinite political tenure of an authoritarian regime, they lack the strict obedience aspect.

However, open source projects do look a bit like an Aristocracy. Aristocracy is “a form of government that places power in the hands of a small, privilged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia meaning ‘rule of the best’. ”

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