Open source technology has existed almost as long as computers. Technology is considered to be "open source" when the software code that is used to make it work has been specifically designed for easy access. This transparency allows for communities of programmers to examine the source code, and to make changes or enhancements to improve the technology.
It wasn’t until the 1990s and the commercialization of the Internet that open source technology became mainstream. The technology was further pushed into the limelight as Internet access became more affordable for households and increasingly available for free at many schools and libraries. As consumer tech knowledge increases, open source code will likely continue to be a popular option for programmers.
Open source technology, in its truest form, is any code available to the public with few or no copyright restrictions on how it can be changed or used. As social networking increases, however, open source technology has evolved into several subsets. The blog, message board, and journalistic subsets of open source technology make it possible for even the novice computer users to become part of an ever-changing Internet community.
Blog communities are perhaps the most recognizable form of open source adaptation. WordPress® is one of the most successful and widely used open source blogging platforms of all time. As an open source platform, WordPress® and its competitors allow users to manipulate the freely available code to create aesthetically unique blog templates. Additionally, users unable to read the source code can still benefit from the technology since the open source medium allows for increased user interaction and well-maintained forums.
Internet users also benefit from open source message boards. Basic message board coding is widely shared among programmers. This makes it possible for first-time Web designers to copy and paste the code without any prior knowledge of HTML.
Similar to the emergence for blog culture and community message boards, grassroots journalism regularly uses open source technology. This type of open source application makes journalistic websites available to everyday users for uploading text, images, or video. So-called "citizen journalism" is a burgeoning business, with some major news affiliates paying active Internet users to provide blog commentary or advice columns.
All types of open source software are commonly used by start-up Internet companies. Even though granting holistic access can limit the resale value of the code, it does provide a virtually cost-free method of tweaking it and eliminating bugs. Successful open source code is used and adjusted by interested Internet users until most of its glitches are fixed. As such, open source code can be moved from test, also called "beta," software to publishable software very quickly.
Most larger companies simply perform in-house beta testing, and the technology is rigidly copyrighted. In the case of certain niche Web giants like WordPress® or LiveJournal®, however, open source technology provides for a more unique social networking experience. As social networking sites become more popular, open source will likely also enjoy increased usage and notoriety.