Over at AOL-HuffPo, filmaker Raymond Schillinger is calling Egypt's the first open source revolution.
Having covered open source since 2005 I have one word for Mr. Schillinger.
Schillinger seems to confuse open source, which is a software development and business model, with the computer revolution itself. (He also seems to think Wikipedia is open source -- it's Creative Commons.)
Some of his confusion comes from having been at a government open source conference during the uprising. Listening to people like Aneesh Chopra, (who hosed Virginia Democrats with a massive defense contract for managing the state's computers, leading to a Republican takeover) gush about how open source development is neato can turn your head.
And open source can be good for government at all levels, if you realize it's a make-or-buy decision, and if you commit to building your own internal resources, not just buying systems from contracts as Chopra did. If you do that, then you can really take advantage of everything going on around you, the work being done both inside and outside government, and by ordinary people as well. As presently implemented, open source is just a badge contractors use and they're the only people pocketing the savings.
But getting back to Egypt.
Where money comes from the ground, these goods can be supplied to a minority that might then be engaged in oppressing the majority. When Iran pays off its oil field workers, it has enough for the security apparatus, and the people suffer. Where money does not come out of the ground, other arrangements become necessary.
That's because engaged, educated people demand autonomy, and they expect to be treated like adults by the institutions around them. The necessary tools of their lives, which now include PCs and Internet connectivity, show them that others are getting this and prospering. They demand the same. As noted here many times, freedom and democracy become mass market commodities, and the more of them you have the faster you can adapt to change.
Change is no longer just an intellectual process. What we can imagine, chips and networks let us build. Capital moves at the speed of light, it can move out as well as in. Reputations matter. In that kind of business environment getting with the program requires willing minds and open hearts. Tyrants can chain your body, but they can't get the most from any mind while the chains are on.
Technology is the revolution. Not open source. Open source is one way in which to build technology -- everyone shares in the construction of something too complex for any one actor to build themselves. And people innovate on top of that. Open source itself is not "a model for innovation," as Schillinger calls it. It's a model on which innovation can be built, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Think of a mountain. Open source can be the crust, and the rocks beneath. The life on top, and a few feet below the surface, that's the innovation. Open source enables it, but in and of itself it's just the mountain, no different than the mountains all around.
Egypt and Tunisia are middle class revolutions, not open source revolutions. They are the products of mass education and engagement with the modern world, of prosperity and the common hope to get a little piece of it for ourselves. They are products of our modern world's abundance. Open source is an expression of technology's growing complexity.