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The "Doctor Who" Model of Open Source 116

Posted by kdawson
from the chemistry-in-a-phone-booth dept.
Glyn Moody writes "Open source projects are generally fine when there's a long-term leader like Linus; but what happens when nobody is able or willing to run things for extended periods? Peter Murray-Rust explains how the open chemistry group known as the Blue Obelisk has evolved what he calls the 'Doctor Who Model of Open Source': 'You'll recall that every few years something fatal happens to the Doctor and you think he is going to die and there will never be another series. Then he regenerates. The new Doctor has a different personality, a different philosophy (though always on the side of good). It is never clear how long any Doctor will remain unregenerated or who will come after him. And this is a common theme in the Blue Obelisk.' Could other open source projects learn from this experience as long-term leaders start to move on?"
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The "Doctor Who" Model of Open Source

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  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gizzmonic (412910) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:06AM (#28390249) Homepage Journal

    Doctor Who? We're talking about a contrivance that was used to explain away actors leaving a show. Meanwhile, in reality, open source projects leave a lot of code that may or may not be well-documented. Changing project managers every few years strikes me as rather difficult, although I guess if you can maintain interest in the project throughout, it could still be a success. Still, it seems like a warning sign to me, kind of like when a movie has 5 screenwriters or 5 editors.

    • Yes, if fact the first time it happened, it was because the Timelords had "changed his appearance." I don't know why they feel this need for a pseudo-science fictional explanation, it's never bothered James Bond.

      • You're thinking of the 2nd to the 3rd Doctor regeneration. The 1st Doctor to 2nd Doctor regeneration had no other explanation other than he was fatigued and worn out.
        • I thought his first regeneration was forced upon him by the Time Lords. Something along the lines that he was long overdue.

          I found it intriguing that the story got tagged with both timeywimey and dontblink. That was my favourite episode out of the new seasons.

          Any way, about changing leaders in a project, it's not like they would just pick a random hacker off the street. Presumably, someone working on the project, who already knew the project well enough to lead it, would step up. This is one of the stre

          • by Spacelem (189863)

            Nope, quite definitely the second regeneration.

            William Hartnell (the 1st Doctor) dies at the end of The Tenth Planet due to fatigue and old age, and regenerates into Patrick Troughton's 2nd Doctor (in what is in my opinion still the best regeneration sequence of any Doctor).

            Patrick Troughton's Doctor is forced to call upon the Time Lords for assistance in The Wargames, and they punish him for meddling by forcing him to regenerate, returning Jamie and Zoe to their own timelines (and leaving Jamie in Culloden

      • by Jaysyn (203771)

        I always thought James Bond was just an urbane sounding code name for whoever was agent 007 at the time.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mrchaotica (681592) *
          Nah, there was continuity between all movies, including ones played by different actors (until the Daniel Craig ones, which is why it was called a "reboot"). For example, Roger Moore's Bond lays flowers on Tracy Bond's grave in For Your Eyes Only, even though it was George Lazenby's Bond who married her (in On Her Majesty's Secret Service).
        • Actually, James Bond was the author of Birds of the West Indies, published in the 30's.

          Don't you know your ornithology??

          • I'd love to see a play on that in the films. I bet James Bond himself knows much about the Birds of the West Indies, not to mention the Girls of Eastern Europe and the Ladies of Russia...

            • by perlchild (582235)

              I do believe when they had Halle Berry as a bond girl(in Cuba, part of the West Indies, IIRC) she makes a reference to birds and ornitology...

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Marillion (33728) <ericbardes@@@gmail...com> on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:24AM (#28390507)
      Just as Doctor Who is bigger than any one actor who plays the role, many of the "Big Things" in life are always bigger than those who run them. Corporate Executives should do well to remember that.
      This isn't the same thing as saying anyone can just replace anyone. Matt Smith has some large expectations to meet when Tennant turns over the TARDIS key.
      Linux is a great example. Linus doesn't do as much day-to-day programming in the kernel - he hasn't for years. None the less, there are dozens of people who do. Linux will continue long after Linus stops working on it.
      I think there is a great danger if there exists a Cult of Personality in an organisation. While I firmly believe that Apple can do well after Steve Jobs leaves, he has built a Cult of Personality that will immediately cripple whoever follows.
      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        Hasn't crippled Apple so far with Mr. Jobs being on medical leave for more than 6 months.

        IMHO, Scott Forstall should be the next Apple CEO. He seems to have the Steve Jobs charisma and the Steve Gary "Woz" Wozniak tech side.

        • by wisty (1335733)

          Bad companies need a great CEO, to turn them around. Good companies just need a decent CEO, to not mess things up completely. If the CEO is steering too much, something in the company is wrong.

          As long as Apple keeps a good, tech savvy CEO with high standards, it should stay on track.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hal2814 (725639)

        "he has built a Cult of Personality that will immediately cripple whoever follows."

        Jobs certainly embodies Apple and is the person most people associate with it but whoever immediately follows Jobs will do fine. It's the guy after that who strangles his companions and gets put on trial where he is his own prosecutor that will struggle.

      • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Funny)

        by theaceoffire (1053556) on Friday June 19, 2009 @12:12PM (#28391163) Homepage
        "While I firmly believe that Apple can do well after Steve Jobs leaves, he has built a Cult of Personality that will immediately cripple whoever follows."

        ^_^ Ah, that's where your wrong. Steve Jobs plans to die battling an army of Microsoft servers for freedom and puppies... he will change the Cult of Personality into a Cult of Martyrism, led by his dying wish to crush evil and defend new ideas!

        O.o and bam, they replace him with NO one, and every new Mac is "In memory of our brave, noble leader".
    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday June 19, 2009 @12:06PM (#28391075) Journal
      I agree, Dr. Who is probably not the best analogy for the model they are describing.

      Instead we should consider that the project leaders are like the drummers in the band, they set the rhythm and tempo at which the project moves.

      Most bands have only one drummer through the life of the band, because the drummer's style defines the band so much. If that drummer leaves the band, or spontaneously combusts, the band often drifts into obscurity. This is much like many OS projects. There are exceptions, of course.

      The most obvious exception in the world of bands is Spinal Tap. So I think we should call this the "Spinal Tap" model, rather than the "Dr. Who" model.

      Plus, you get dancing dwarfs on miniature stonehenges, and versions that go up to eleven.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Gizzmonic (412910)

        Most bands have only one drummer through the life of the band, because the drummer's style defines the band so much. If that drummer leaves the band, or spontaneously combusts, the band often drifts into obscurity.

        Admit it...you're a drummer. And you just made that up. Name one band that went under after the drummer died/left. Genesis? Even the Who survived the loss of Keith Moon.

        • Led Zeppelin.

          • by Gizzmonic (412910)

            Yeah, they broke up, but I think they were on their way out anyway. Although I think Rush is an exception. I can't seem them going on without Peart (or any of their members, actually).

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              Maybe the drug use would have eventually ended Led Zeppelin; it's hard to say. But they consciously decided to give it up after Bonham died.

              I agree about Rush. From what I've read, if Neil Peart had left for good after the tragedies in his life, Rush would not have continued as Rush.

              • Indeed, as a Zeppelin fan myself, I've sometimes wondered why they didn't soldier on with a replacement member as some other bands have. (AC/DC and Bon Scott/Brian Johnson was the first thing that came to mind; there are many other examples...even so, I'd say the sample size of "known" bands is too small to make any conclusive statements about which band role was associated with which effect. And of course, I'm not goign cast aspersions on such deeply personal decisions.

                Yeah, _In Through the Out Door_ produ

        • Genesis doesn't count. Any band that replaces Peter Gabriel with Phil Collins as lead singer deserves to be relegated to obscurity, and I'm not sure it has anything to do with the loss of Collins as a drummer. Or maybe I just don't like Phil Collins, no matter how catchy his pop hooks are.

          But here is one big example: King Crimson. They just weren't the same when Giles left and Buford came in... no matter how good Buford was with Yes.

          BTW, I'm not a drummer. And I don't really think that the drummer is
          • by mdwh2 (535323)

            Any band that replaces Peter Gabriel with Phil Collins as lead singer deserves to be relegated to obscurity, and I'm not sure it has anything to do with the loss of Collins as a drummer.

            They didn't lose Collins as a drummer. And I'm not sure that Genesis could be described as being relegated to obscurity after Gabriel left ;)

            • And I'm not sure that Genesis could be described as being relegated to obscurity after Gabriel left ;)

              I think the fans just wish it had been.

            • When Collins became lead singer, he drummed only during some of the longer instrumental solos... the primary drummer was someone else at that point.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by mwilliams666 (1399301)
          Phil Collins never left Genesis. He just changed positions
          • by mdwh2 (535323)

            Indeed, and what's more, he didn't stop being their drummer (apart from on live tours, and even then he drummed during instrumentals).

            Well, except for when he left in the mid-90s. And then Genesis did drop into obscurity (although it was probably more the loss of him as a vocalist, than a drummer).

        • by Doomdark (136619)

          Not that all that many recognize it, but Hanoi Rocks [wikipedia.org] was another band that did call it quits after drummer (Razzle) died.

        • by stile99 (1004110)

          Most bands have only one drummer through the life of the band, because the drummer's style defines the band so much. If that drummer leaves the band, or spontaneously combusts, the band often drifts into obscurity.

          Admit it...you're a drummer. And you just made that up. Name one band that went under after the drummer died/left. Genesis? Even the Who survived the loss of Keith Moon.

          What about The Glork?

          Never heard of them? Well there you go.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Doctor Who? We're talking about a contrivance that was used to explain away actors leaving a show.

      I think that was his point. At some point, actors and developers leave. They get tired of doing something, they want to try something else, they get pissed off at the audience/users, or get hit by a bus. If you have an ensemble cast (e.g. ER) it's easy to shift things around and continue even when all of the orignal people are gone. But what about a single-main character show/project? What happens when the main actor/developer, the guy the show/project is built around, leaves? Most of the time, that's it. T

    • During one of my rare waking moments in college, my Intro to Business instructor told us that businesses have life-cycles, like anything else. The right CEO to get the company off the ground and growing may not be the right CEO for an established, mature, organization. Likewise, when a company is dealing with a major sea-change of society and technology, it will take a pretty wiley CEO to get the company through it.

      An OSS project is the same. The leaders that got things "going and growing" may not be the be

  • by Burb (620144) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:06AM (#28390251)
    After 12 deaths, you need hyper-advanced aliens from another planet to grant a new regeneration cycle? Does Davros take over? I'll explain later.
  • Feudalism (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bastard of Subhumani (827601) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:07AM (#28390283) Journal

    Feudalism with a herditary monarchy. Trouble is anybody who works on open source projects doesn't breed, so you'd have succession wars all the time.

    No change there, then.

  • by thehickcoder (620326) * on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:08AM (#28390291) Homepage

    with characters such as RBS, Linus, Guido Python, Larry Perl, etc.

    Um..... RMS, Linus Torvalds, Guido van Rossum, Larry Wall

    • I had a friend who enjoyed calling him "Linux Torvalds" to the consternation of his Linux-loving roommate.

    • by dasheiff (261577)

      >>with characters such as RBS, Linus, Guido Python, Larry Perl, etc.
      >Um..... RMS, Linus Torvalds, Guido van Rossum, Larry Wall

      First of all RBS is like Voltimort you can't say his name.
      Second, we are all on a first name basis with Linus.
      Third, Python has clearly become the programming language of choice.
      Fourth, except to take down a system wall isn't really used. Perl is used slightly more often.

    • Actually RMS has now merged with RBS. Collectively, they're now known as the Royal Bank of Stallman. You can put money in, but only if you agree that anyone can take it out.

      (this is a joke, by the way, and should not in any way be taken as a criticism of RMS, his principles, or the Free Software movement)

  • by Itninja (937614) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:08AM (#28390305) Homepage
    You mean the model where something is only deemed entertaining because everything else is either soccer or BBC news? And after a decade or so people just stop caring and the the whole things becomes a kind of national joke? That model?
    • by CRCulver (715279)
      As dorky as Doctor Who might be to a lot of us, it wouldn't be such a staple of television if it were a ratings distaster. Somewhere out there enough people are watching it.
    • What is this "soccer-thingy" you're talking about?
      Never saw anything like that on a british channel.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Eevee (535658)
        Association football. It's that thing happening down on the pitch between the outbreaks of fights up in the stands between rival gangs of hooligans. From wikipedia: The term soccer originated in England, first appearing in the 1880s as a slang abbreviation of the word "association"
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:14AM (#28390389)

    For example, that Eccelson chap was a good first pick. When he sharted off to go do other things, Tennant was a good replacement. But now that Tennant is ready to pass the baton, the new pick they have looks like a total tit with his flock of seagulls hair. We might be stuck with a Doctor firmly entrenched in the 80's with all that entails. Simply naff.

    • Eccelson was the ninth pick...
      • I don't mean to pick on you, but I think you are being overly picky. He meant the first pick of the modern Dr. Who.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by mwvdlee (775178)

          You mean Eccelston wasn't even considered for the part back in 1963 (when the first series started) when he was -1 years old (born in 1964)?

        • Firstly how can you be overly picky on Slashdot? Secondly the modern Dr Who is a continuation of the "old" Dr Who not a reimagining like say Battlestar Galactica.
  • Funny ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    a reborn project is what the open source community already calls "forking".

    WT?

    -Hackus

  • the daleks?, cybermen? somebody has to be the badguy in this show...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Cybermen. Embrace, extend, extinguish. The Daleks usually skip the first two parts, though in the case of the Bad Wolf arc finale-duology and at least one of the Cult of Skaro episodes, they've taken all three steps.

    • Microsoft should be the Daleks, because Steve can be Davros. After all, they are both closely associated with their chair...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chrutil (732561)

      the daleks?, cybermen? somebody has to be the badguy in this show...

      Well, if anyone is the daleks my pick would be Oracle.
      Running around pointing and screaming "Exterminate" is totally Larry Ellson'ish.

  • by hal2814 (725639) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:28AM (#28390579)

    And if the project lays dormant for a while and comes back in a completely new direction that doesn't even match up with where the project previously was, they'll just make up a "Time War" to explain away the differences.

    • The Time War was covered in the Big Finish audio productions.
      • by hal2814 (725639)
        When? I've kept myself fairly familiar with Big Finish and am not aware of one set in the Time War. In fact, in their own FAQ [bigfinish.com] they state:

        We are unable to feature the Time War in any of our stories for the reasons given in the previous answer.

        The previous answer being:

        The terms of our licence with the BBC allow us to only produced 'Classic' Doctor Who. This means that we can only use the first eight Doctors and their companions. Anything connected to the new series - even characters who are no longer fea

  • by uncledrax (112438) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:36AM (#28390671) Homepage
    I dunno, I think there might be something here, but also expand on it:

    The Dalek model: One strong personality creates the project, and gets it to a first release.. then the other developers overthrow him, split the project, wage holy war upon the rest of the world (and each other), but occasionally bring back the original founder for their own reasons.. overall the project won't die since it's still popular with the masses even though everyone knows it's evil. (I submit 'Joomla [joomla.org]/Mambo [mambo-foundation.org]' for this model)

    The Cybermen Model: Have a basic idea/product, but adapt it to every possible platform known to man even though there's little change between them. (I submit as an example the 'Nuke' CMS)

    The "Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart" model: A project led by a Scottish project lead for the sole-purpose of getting tax credits [slashdot.org]
    • The Big Two. . . (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fantastic Lad (198284)

      The Master Model: Ego-maniacal evil super-geek genius builds a kind of cool but scarily 'wrong' empire with no moral center, which woos the sheeple into obedience and generally locks down the whole of creation, apparently because lots of people being free and happy is a bad thing. I'm sure there's at least one world-spanning all-mighty software company out there which follows this model, but it is better not to utter its name aloud. . .

      As for the Cyberman Model. . . A design ethic which envisions Smooth,

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      The Dalek model: One strong personality creates the project, and gets it to a first release.. then the other developers overthrow him, split the project, wage holy war upon the rest of the world (and each other), but occasionally bring back the original founder for their own reasons.. overall the project won't die since it's still popular with the masses even though everyone knows it's evil.

      We're aware of how Linux distros/forks came into being, thanks.

  • by hal2814 (725639) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:41AM (#28390753)
    So that makes Hans Reiser the 6th Doctor, right?
  • Don't forget The Valeyard [wikia.com].

    The Valeyard is a future and presumably final regeneration of The Doctor who turns to EVIL in order to extend his life.

    See also Twiki [slashdot.org].

  • by ikirudennis (1138621) * on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:45AM (#28390789) Homepage
    I find the "Dread Pirate Roberts" Model to be the most effective model for open source.
  • Of course, this analogy only goes so far, since Doctor Who (as stated in Season 15, with Tom Baker) only has a total of thirteen regenerations and then death is permanent.

    • Twelve regenerations, thirteen lives. The Thirteenth Doctor was last seen frightening the hell out of the government in the company of a large number of Gurkhas. Of course she was the Doctor from a rather different part of the timey wimey ball, so it's anybody's guess whether she's actually going to have will been existing now.

      (Thanks to Dr. Streetmentioner for that last bit of grammar).

    • I'm pretty sure that they'll find some way to grant the Doctor an extra set of regenerations, or something. It's not like they're going to just *stop* the series because an actor decides to pursue other interests.
    • by daveime (1253762)

      I think you'll find the *body* only has 12 regenerations ... the Master managed to hop into another body when on his 13th "life", even if it was the horrible Anthony Ainley who bore no resemblance to Roger Delgado except that they both had a beard.

      It just a shame that they used up Derek Jacobi so quickly in S3E11, the depth of blackness in those eyes made for me the best Master since the 70's.

      (I wear my Doctor Who Nerd badge with pride, as someone who was cowering behind the sofa at age 4 or 5 hiding from S

  • The "Hawkeye Pierce" model of open source is still my favorite.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by owlnation (858981)

      The "Hawkeye Pierce" model of open source is still my favorite.

      You jest perhaps... but you are on to something there!

      Hawkeye disrespected petty bureaucracy, rebelled in general against closed-mindedness, thought laterally to solve problems, had fun, and always thought of the patient's need first.

      That sounds exactly like the right way to run any organization!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by osu-neko (2604)
        Actually, it's an excellent model for personal behavior, but I'm not sure if it works for an organization. Herding cats is trivially easy compared to herding Hawkeye Pierces. Any cooperation and coordination between them is ad-hoc and short-lived. No one can be a member of an organization, or claim to be qualified to lead one, while calling themselves a "maverick". :p
  • It could work if all your projcts were episodic in nature. If you never had to revisit old code or have more that one person work on a project at a time. Think your favorite fast food place, they change managment constatly but because the problems they face never last more that a shift at a time it works out
  • Does this mean open source projects will have to start worrying about the Daleks? EX - TER - MIN - ATE!
  • So does this mean the other Doctor born out of the original's severed hand last season would represent a fork? Which I guess would make Rose a developer who defects. . .
  • I suppose this would make Sally Sparrow as the program feature everyone using once during the beta testing, but left out of the final RTM version.
  • Menudo (Score:3, Funny)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Friday June 19, 2009 @01:46PM (#28392461)

    Key members of the project being replaced after a certain amount of time would be more aptly named the Menudo Model Of Open Source.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menudo_(band)

  • by nausea_malvarma (1544887) on Friday June 19, 2009 @02:00PM (#28392673)
    As long as were drawing models from science fiction, may I suggest a "Last Starfighter" system of open source? We scatter special arcade games all across the world. Kid's think they are playing a simple game, when in reality they are training to become project managers of the future in the war against closed source and proprietary software. Also, Richard Stallman gets a spaceship.
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Thats called Crowd-sourcing, and CNN and the other news outlets have been using blogs for that for the past few years already.

      Fortunately Stallman will never get a spaceship, his fat lazy hippie ass is hardly space worthy.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Friday June 19, 2009 @02:10PM (#28392807)

    Thanks for pointing out that using such a fucking horrible idea in your TV show is a horrible fucking idea for your OSS project as well.

    I absolutely can not fucking stand the change of the Doctor. I understand the plot device, I understand that it makes it easy to replace the staring role if theres a problem, and I still think it is the most retarded plot device in the history of man, well short of that giant space worm in StarWars.

    Just like the TV show, this sort of thing isn't a GOOD IDEA, its a great backup plan, but is fucking retarded if you plan on doing it on a regular basis, intentionally or otherwise. Bringing in new blood and ideas is fine, new leadership every few years is a good way to get no where as they all step in and prevent the work from the last guy from being completed because this new guy has an entirely different view of the world.

    • Bringing in new blood and ideas is fine, new leadership every few years is a good way to get no where as they all step in and prevent the work from the last guy from being completed because this new guy has an entirely different view of the world.

      So you're talking about the U.S Presidential Office model?...

  • At least big enough project could vote for new leaders. And those who vote are those who most contributed to the project. Could it work?
  • Classic
    LOL
    Best nutter^H^H^H^H Doctor evar !
  • They can't find the first episode of Dr Who or many of the early versions have been lost. Is this the model they we want to bring to Open Source or it is already here.
  • Because "Lotuslands" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "Torchwood".
  • As long as they both use the same programming languages, one science researcher can pick up a colleague's software project relatively seamlessly because they are by assumption studying the same reality (string theorists excepted, of course, but even they have a 1 in 11 chance). The nature of the physical world they're trying to study imposes some "agreement" on developers in science to a greater degree than elsewhere, much like a Sci-Fi program with at least one season of back story, or a spy story with se

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