Geek / Technical General

Cathedral and Bazaar…and Gaming?

In the latest Escapist, The Contrarian: Roll the Dice mentions ESR’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

I’m reminded of Eric S. Raymond’s essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar. He wrote about the differences between top-down, monolithic software development and bottom-up, open-source development. But the metaphor applies here too.

People don’t always get what the Cathedral and the Bazaar really represent, and it is weird because it isn’t like Raymond hid the meaning in metaphor and poetry. He says it up front: the cathedral represents software development by project leaders on high while the bazaar represents software development done by everyone. Both ways can be open source, not just the latter. It just depends on if the project moves in a direction on the whim of the few or with the natural developments of the many. That’s all it refers to.

Linux overturned much of what I thought I knew. I had been preaching the Unix gospel of small tools, rapid prototyping and evolutionary programming for years. But I also believed there was a certain critical complexity above which a more centralized, a priori approach was required. I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.

Linus Torvalds’s style of development – release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity – came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here; rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.

Even so, people think the cathedral and the bazaar refers to open source vs proprietary software, Microsoft vs Linux, and all sorts of things. And apparently now it refers shallowness in video games vs the depth provided by tabletop gaming? Or the openness of a game as opposed to the rigidity?

I thought it was a good article, but the link to ESR’s work was a big stretch that doesn’t work.