There is a concept in the realms of software called “Open Source” that has been the movement behind community created software that anyone can use for free. Open-source initiatives have enabled the creation of everything from operating systems like Ubuntu and CentOS to development tools like React Native and Git.
There is a rich history and wonderful philosophy behind this movement that you can read all about but I believe the motivation behind it really comes down to the desire in the software community to be a creative part of bigger project that will make help the success of the whole community.
The reason that these projects end up being so popular can be allegorically explored through the lens of React Native. (chosen because I started as a web developer so this project personally affected me)
Facebook created a tool called ReactJS for us website developers to create websites with easier to read and better organized code. It established very helpful development patterns, practices and mindsets for web development. Then Facebook followed up with another related project called ReactNative that enabled web developers to use the same patterns, practices, mindsets and tools from ReactJS and then ReactNative would use some magic and spit out an iOS (and later Android) app.
For those not in the industry, web development and mobile development are completely different worlds that take months of retooling and training to traverse just to be functional. Then years to become truly adept. And along comes Facebook and they put out a free tool that allowed web developers to build their first mobile app in a matter of hours with minimal training. It was a breathe of fresh air and it was fun. ReactNative allowed me to create a mobile app (with just a couple days of work) for my fiancee and I so we can communicate day to day with things that are useful to us (and probably no one else).
This tool, React Native, is a monumental undertaking, their codebase is enormous. It requires intense expertise in both web and mobile development and a whole team just to manage the thousands of contributions from over a thousand developers from all over the world.
The best part about the ReactNative project is that we all benefit from the work being done on this project because it is community driven, sponsored by a reputable organization (Facebook) and it is free and available to all.
Very few organizations could take on this project by themselves and frankly it makes little business sense that any organization would want to. But with the help of an enthusiastic community, enabled by an experience team managing the culture, the whole industry of web and mobile development is taking steps towards better practices and better products. The impact is immeasurable in the software world.
Reflecting on this project made me ponder on what other places in the world, would really benefit from some enthusiastic community taking on monumental challenges to ease the burden for all. And for whatever reason I thought about Harry Potter.
The world created by JK Rowling is one of the most intricate and awe-inspiring works of world building known to man. Very few geniuses can pull a feat of that magnitude off in any area of industry or art. Most of us are not even on that level. It got me thinking about what could be accomplished if an enthusiastic community with a well managed culture was put behind the monumental challenges of world building and storytelling.
The story of the book “The Martian” by Andy Weir is a good proof of concept. It was published a chapter at a time, online and Weir then took technical and editing critique from readers with the expertise needed to refine the book.
That was a book where much of the world building was done, present day non-fiction Earth has been pretty well flushed out. The incredible storytelling and premise is what filled that literature with life and fire.
I want to see if we can shoot even higher. I am imagining a literary world with the novelty of James Cameron’s Avatarand the magnitude of fictitious history and storytelling of Game of Thrones. All created and managed like an open source software project.
These are the goals and practical steps that might be helpful to guide an open source literature project to its fruition.
- Create a world (either new or Earth expanded or Earth adjacent)
- Create a story. A piece of literature that can be a standalone book or series.
- Accept contributions from a community.
- Create a team tasked with managing the culture of the community and the direction of the literature because contributions will be vetted and accepted by that team to ensure quality and alignment.
- Accomplish the above goals to the point where the community can contribute a myriad of prequels, sequels, and adjacent stories to enrich the literary world being built.
- Setup a literary framework. This step can be done with one or a few people to seed the project with enough of a literary framework to get it off the ground. This would include accomplishing enough of the world building to contain a compelling story and ideally enough world building to allow for others to write compelling and completely unrelated stories inside the same world. Also this would most likely include seeding at least a few of the first chapters of the story.
- Set expectations and a framework for contributing. Come up with a set of goals for the project and how they will be accomplished and how others can come alongside that work. Decide if there will only be a few contributors or if there will be dozens. Decide if there will be a set of guidelines for writing style to get accepted into canon.
- Invest in contributors. As contributors join, invest in them, get them on board with the vision and the story and the goals of the project. Give them all the (actionable, specific and kind) feedback needed to succeed in the framework set up. Encourage and invite their vision and creativity into canon.
- Ask for help. Get people on board to contribute, read, share with their friends.
- Give credit. Make sure that readers know all the work that has been contributed by the team.
- Build! Add stories, characters, etc to your (and the contributors’) heart’s content.