Hacker Culture and the FLOSS Innovation

Hacker Culture and the FLOSS Innovation

Yu-Wei Lin (University of Manchester, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-999-1.ch004
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Abstract

This chapter aims to contribute to our understanding of the free/libre open source software (FLOSS) innovation and how it is shaped by and also shapes various perceptions on and practices of hacker culture. Unlike existing literature that usually normalises, radicalises, marginalises, or criminalises hacker culture, I confront such deterministic views that ignore the contingency and heterogeneity of hacker culture, which evolve over time in correspondence with different settings where diverse actors locate. I argue that hacker culture has been continuously defi ned and redefi ned, situated and resituated with the ongoing development and growing implementation of FLOSS. The story on the development of EMACSen (plural form of EMACS—Editing MACroS) illustrates the consequence when different interpretations and practices of hacker culture clash. I conclude that stepping away from a fi xed and rigid typology of hackers will allow us to view the FLOSS innovation from a more ecological view. This will also help us to value and embrace different contributions from diverse actors including end-users and minority groups.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Editing Macros (EMACS): EMACS refers to a class of text editors, possessing an extensive set of features, that are popular with computer programmers and other technically proficient computer users. The original EMACS, a set of Editor MACroS for the TECO editor, was written in 1975 by Richard Stallman, and initially put together with Guy Steele. Many versions of EMACS have appeared over the years, but now there are two that are commonly used: GNU EMACS, started by Richard Stallman in 1984 and still maintained by him, and XEmacs, a fork of GNU EMACS which was started in 1991 and has remained mostly compatible. In this chapter, the development of EMACS is used to illustrate how hacker culture and the FLOSS innovation co-evolved over the development process.

Socially-Informed Algorithm: A socially-informed algorithm is a piece of algorithm that is designed and developed dependent of social, cultural, and organisational contexts. Broadly speaking, each written algorithm is both technically and socially informed because it is always shaped by the social environment where the developers situate and the technical tools are known and made available to the developers and users.

Hacker: According to Wikipedia, a hacker is a person who creates and modifies computer software and computer hardware including computer programming, administration, and security-related items. The term usually bears strong connotations, but may be either positive or negative depending on cultural context. However, this chapter challenges a fixed definition of hacker and suggests a look at different interpretations of hackers and practices of becoming hacker.

Hacker Culture: According to Wikipedia, hacker culture is a subculture established around hackers (see Hacker). Wikipedia lists two mainstream subcultures within the larger hacker subculture: the academic hacker and the hobby and network hacker. However, this chapter suggests that hacker culture evolves over time and new definitions always emerge through the negotiations of different interpretations of a hacker and practices of becoming a hacker in spatiality and temporariness.

Free/Libre Open Source software (FLOSS): Generically indicates non-proprietary software that allows users to have freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change, and improve the software.

Forks: In software engineering, a project fork or branch happens when a developer (or a group of them) takes a copy of source code from one software package and starts to independently develop a new package. The term is also used more loosely to represent a similar branching of any work, particularly with FLOSS. Associated with hacker culture, this chapter argues that forking usually happens because people improve the software based on their local needs which implicitly entails different interpretations and practices of what a hacker is and how to become a hacker alternatively.

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