The Github Model of Participation

There are many reasons that Github has become the primary place to host open source repositories and stolen the hearts of many of its users in the process. Doubtless the utility of Git has much to do with it, as do commercial decisions such as free hosting for open source projects, and resisting the short-term gains of clogging pages with ads which look like download buttons (SourceForge, I’m looking at you!).

Outside of the the realm of software much can, and has, been written about the potential for Github, or services of its ilk, to have transformative effects on other document-centric endeavors such as legislation.

But I think Github is a demonstration of a principle with a wider reaching value than these.

Consider for a moment, what sets Github apart from other social networks - a fair comparison since Github often frames itself in those terms. You might first think of the fact that it is a community around a particular subject, rather than a general purpose communication platform such as twitter or facebook, but I don’t think that’s so unique, there are smaller social networks around all manner of special interests. I think at the heart of it, Github is a community in which action is the primary currency of participation.

Wish someone’s project had this feature? Submit a pull request. Think a project is going the wrong way? Fork it. Where other groups might gather around the online water cooler to kvetch about all that is wrong with things, the github community mantra is one of positive action - show me the code.

While the terminology of pull requests and forking may be specific to code, or documents in general at a stretch, the philosophy of action, solving problems rather than complaining about them has far wider application.

Of course there’s nothing novel in this idea, its been one of the primary messages of the successful, and those who write about them for ever, but perhaps seeing it manifested in the spirit of a community makes it’s power more visible.

So next time you’re irritated by something in your work or home environment, don’t just moan about it, try and come up with something practical you can do about it and “submit a pull request”