Automatic Merge Failed: Differences that Matter

Femke Snelting

The production of free software happens within a legal framework that guarantees all users the right to run as well as study, modify, and distribute source code for any purpose. It allowed a vibrant ecosystem of networked communities to flourish, forming what Christopher Kelty has described with the term “recursive publics.” Software consists of hundreds of individual files and interconnected libraries that are being operated on by many different people. For managing those multifaceted objects, Distributed Version Control helps to keep track of files, visualizing “differences” between subsequent versions. Distributed Version Control is a type of meta-software that has become the norm in managing code development, changing the understanding of free software production through its orientation toward “forking” rather than “merging” projects. Where the heightened attention for difference could draw collaborators together to discuss and merge conflicts, the mechanisms built into Distributed Version Control makes forking a code base an easier option. Automatic Merge Failed is a close reading of the way “difference” is encoded into software, and insists on its centripetal potential.

Femke Snelting is an artist and designer who develops projects at the intersection of design, feminism, and free software, investigating the many interrelations between tools and practice. She is a member of Constant, a Brussels-based association for art and media. Snelting is currently a fellow in the field of Exact Sciences at Akademie Schloss Solitude.