requiem for certainty

New Book on Free and Open Source Software

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Just out.  Chris Kelty’s Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke UP, 2008).  This is an important study of an important emerging practice: free and open source software.  I was at the release party for Mozilla’s Firefox 3 browser last week (thanks Nicole).  If Mozilla is any indication there is great strength and enormous potential for collaborative innovation in emerging open source practices.  The same could be said for Wikipedia.  And perhaps also for the OLPC.

But rather than riffing further on free and open source software (FOSS) here let me just point you to Kelty’s insightful study.  Of particular value is his conceptualization of FOSS as developing on the basis of what he calls “recursive publics”.  So far as I can tell these are Deweyan “publics” even if Kelty borrows at time from more classical (i.e., Habermassian) public sphere theory.

An important part of Kelty’s book that deserves mention is his project for “modulating” the book, by which he means to recursively turn the book into something like an open source project itself (but not entirely as of course the publishers would balk at that).  The project for modulation is availabe at  You can read the book online there (you should) and you can also buy it there (you also should).  More important you can ‘discuss/comment’ on the book online in collaboration with others.  It will take a little while to get a critical threshold of commentary going there but I plan to add to the conversation soon (you should, too!).

Also related to the book but not yet fully launched is Kelty’s companion project in modulation at  That should also prove valuable (so set your rss feeds to go).


Written by Colin Koopman

June 26, 2008 at 3:32 am

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