What would life be like if everything you did was signed? Every action, every professional accomplishment, every faux pas you ever committed would have your name on it. Whenever someone wanted to see what you accomplished in your career, it could be recalled in detail. There would be no spin doctoring, no fudging the details, no claiming victory when there was nothing but defeat in sight. Naked truth would be in the open for all to see.
Is this frightening? For some folks, yes. Complete accountability would be especially terrifying to those who seem to make a living by moving from job to job before they can be held accountable for the mess they caused along the way.
But complete accountability is a way of life in the open-source community. People involved in open source really do sign everything they do. Your name becomes your brand. Maybe some people will choose colorful nicknames for themselves, but when it comes to the things that really matter, anonymity is in very short supply.
As a result, quality tends to run high. After all, if everyone will get to see your work -- bugs and all -- you had better make certain that what you do is top notch. Quality truly is job one when there is no corporate PR engine to come along afterward and gloss over your shortcuts. When you have to sign your work, reputation becomes desperately important.
Compare this scenario to the world of closed-source software. The names of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individuals are routinely covered up by the name of the software company. The amazing brilliance, rank stupidity, or stifling mediocrity of these people is obscured by one corporate banner. You have to hope that it was one of the brilliant people who designed the database engine that runs your business, rather than the guy who left a backdoor in the code that caused your Web servers to go down for three days last month.
How does knowing the names of software providers help you? Well, would you rather buy an oil painting created by an unnamed member of Global Artists Consortium, Inc. or one painted by Vincent Van Gogh? Would you rather watch a sports team that removes the names of the players from the uniforms and scorecards, and doesn't inform you when key players have left the team, or would you prefer to watch a team when you know the names of every player and can look up the performance record of each individual for every year of their career?
Sure, you can trust in the company brand. We all do it every day. But we really trust the people we know by name.
Knowing the names of the people who write your software doesn't give you a list of people whom you can blame when things go wrong; it gives you a list of people who are highly motivated to see that things don't go wrong in the first place. And that is exactly the kind of quality we want.