Where does trial and error belong in OSS?

I hold a somewhat philosophical view of where OSS (and IT in general) fits within its overall timeline. It’s all pretty nascent in the grand scheme of things.

Whilst communitications technology is the common thread, I’ve worked in many industries including construction, mining, engineering, government, utilities, emergency services, healthcare, farming and more. Most of these industries have been around for far longer than OSS. As the outsider looking in on those industries, it seems that the basic techniques they use have existed for decades and have been refined to the point of relative maturity and consistency*. Think the technique for preparing a suture on a wound, of building a timber frame for a house, of milking a cow, etc. There’s not much error because the trialling has already been refined out of the process.

But OSS is much younger. The technologies they’re built upon are still in a state of massive upheaval. We aren’t even close to reaching an asymptote of refinement yet. Within this maelstrom of change, there is still a lot of trialling underway. And when there’s trial, there’s bound to be errors. They happen whether you like it or not. In the case of OSS, a LOT of errors. Clearly, errors are not in short supply.

Trial, on the other hand can be far more scarce. The fear of making mistakes on these large, complex projects often holds us back from performing the trials that could help us contribute to the Global OSS Body of Knowledge (GOSSBOK). We mistakenly believe that to avoid error, we have to avoid trial. We actually need more trial. **

Having said that, these projects consume too many resources to be an out-of-control learning experiment. The key call-out here is that our OSS already provide the tools to conduct many controlled micro-experiments. Our databases of large, relational information are perfect for conducting rapid prototyping or rapid insight checking.

* Note that I’m not trying to denigrate the innovation occurring in these industries, as I’m sure they are all highly innovative.
** I’ve shamelessly borrowed from the words and concepts in a Seth Godin blog

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