A quick comment on open, yin and yang

February 13, 2009 § 2 Comments

Just now, I was commenting on my friend Steve’s post on The Yin and Yang of Open. As sometimes happens, the comment grew into a bit of a tome. Or, at least something long enough that I figured I should make it a post instead. So here it is.

Great post, Steve. While I am always waving the flag of open, I am also a big yinyanger. Balance is important.

But, for the most part, I think were already surrounded by enough ‘closed’. Getting to balance is a long way away. So, closed mostly doesn’t need our help.

There are exceptions. Privacy is a big one. We’re losing it quickly. And it’s a pretty critical part of the balance. You need the privacy kind of closed in order to protect most of what we value in freedom and openness.

On the elements of open, I think you mostly have them. The three that I stick to these days are:

1. Transparency: Can you *see* inside something, and understand how it works.

2. Permeability. Can energy / labour / ideas / whatever get in *and* out of the open thing you are talking about.

3. Malleability: Can you shape / remix / make something new. This is similar to Zittrain’s generativity. Or, in layman’s terms, it’s hackability.

I did a similar exercise to yours here:


… and then iterated and tested by talking to alot of people in alot of ‘what’s open?’ conversations.

A fourth item that may be on the list: permission. As in, you don’t have to ask for it to do something. I am not sure it’s quite the right word. But my colleague Jay suggested it as we were talking about what an open mobile ecosystem would look like. It would be one where you don’t have to ask permission to add new apps, invent new services, and so on. Like the internet.

One small area I disagree: you say ‘openness is not in and of itself a virtue’. Something can be virtuous but, like all things, require moderation and balance. Personally, I see both ‘openness’ and ‘privacy’ as virtues, and don’t see much of a contradiction.

That’s all for this sunny Friday. ‘Hi’ to family and all in Durbanville.

And, to anyone else reading this, happy Friday to you too.

§ 2 Responses to A quick comment on open, yin and yang

  • Thanks for taking the time to reply. I had hoped to provoke more of a response in general as this is a conversation I am very interested in having but was reduced to importuning my friends. 🙂

    I completely agree that “closed mostly doesn’t need our help”. As an activist and advocate for open, I feel vaguely conflicted in even bringing this up. Having said that I can help but feel that failing to talk about open in a yin/yang ecosystem approach, is a bit like talking about what a wonderful democracy Rome had without discussing the slave culture it was built on.

    Makes me wonder whether there isn’t a need for a kind of Maslow’s hierarchy of openness which prioritizes some kinds of openness over others. I may give this a go in a future blog post.

    Cheers… Steve

  • Your link https://commonspace.wordpress.com/2008/02/02/open-vs-open-vs-etc/ actually goes to http://manypossibilities.net/2009/01/the-yin-and-yang-of-open/

    I’ve refered often (and still am) to your open vs open vs etc. post. Thanks!

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