User:Vesper/FSOSS 08

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Here's the stub for my FSOSS 2008 paper. ^^;;

Workshops I attended:

  • ohai! art! - Pure Data Workshop

Presentations I attended:

  • Enabling Healthy Open Source Communities: Case study -- Thunderbird
  • Protecting You with Exploit Me
  • The Convergence of Open Access and Open Source

Paper finish date: Nov 4, 2008

Building the Thunderbird Community

The presentation summary can be found here:

Topic Summary

The presentation was unique. David Eaves played the role of an interviewer, tossing questions about the development of the Thunderbird community and how it compared to Firefox. Dan Mosedale answered those questions as a true Thunderbird community builder. It then became an open discussion about events that slowed Thunderbird's growth and techniques to speed progress along.

The Delphi effect was mentioned as a concern among the Thunderbird community builders. It revolves around the idea that out of a pool of hobbyist developers working on Thunderbird, only a few are selected to become money-earning employees. Would the others become jealous or grow resentful? Would there be complaints that the choices were unfair?

To this day, there have been no major uprisings against the employed. The highlighted opinion of the still-unemployed follows this logic: "There are developers who have been with the project since the beginning, and have major contributions to the code base. It's about time they are recognized for their work, through employment."

Speaker's Background:

David wasn't hired to be a programmer. He is a professional negotiator, who irons out relationship issues within a budding community.

Dan is one of the leading coders on the Thunderbird project. He has been around to watch the project grow, and has seen ups and downs in community growth.

Views on Open Source:

Open Source is open discussion. It is the ability to have an atmosphere where you feel free to share your ideas.

This freedom of expression requires that someone listens to your ideas and responds thoughtfully. Users won't feel free to generate and share their ideas if no one is around to listen and react. Initially, the Thunderbird community failed to grow because the end users were voicing their opinions on the forums while the developers avoided the forums like the plague. The end users wanted to help make a better product. The developers just wanted to get work done, and felt that there were too many voices to deal with in the forums. The motives from both sides were pure. The result was a dying conversation.

This freedom of expression also requires that your ideas aren't rejected indiscriminately (via trolling). Trolls must be dispatched tactfully. Sometimes, off-topic posts are in the best interest; those users simply feel that expressing the idea while it exists in their mind is more important than double-checking the community's forum structure. To harshly reprimand these users will quickly scare off future input, thus damaging the felt freedom of speech. Thunderbird has had relatively few such incidents, thankfully.

Oddly enough, open communication does not mean that all conversations are held in public. There are times when individuals need to talk privately through e-mail or irc queries. One-to-one talks will often allow both parties to feel more comfortable with exploring ideas and concepts, when public discussion would bring fear of ridicule and resentment. In that case, public discussion actually suppresses communication, and defeats the concept of open discussion.

Open discussion is complete when sharing these developed ideas with the public, once both parties feel the ideas are ready for general consumption. This is one point that surprised me, not because it was a foreign concept, but because it was described so elegantly.

Opinion on the Presentation

I liked it.

It brought the process of community building down to earth, so I could relate to it more. Before the symposium, I thought of open source community building as an arcane process, wrought through arcane magic by wizards who possessed an inexplicable mystic ability to solve disputes instantly. It seemed to be a process that happened gradually over eons, and through an impossible sequence of miracles.

Now, it feels like a process which is difficult but possible. Building a thriving open source community requires good negotiation skills, not just good coding skills. On that concept alone, the type of success Thunderbird enjoys can be duplicated.

The way David and Dan presented a person-to-person skit was a brilliant method of delivery. It removed the illusion that Mozilla developers were inapproachable legends and connected them with the audience. They immediately seemed like real people we could relate to and interact with.

After that skit, there was no doubt that David is a master negotiator, and that Dan is a veteran in interpersonal relationships.

Open Source versus Open Access

The presentation summary can be found here:

Topic Summary: Open Access

Leslie Chan introduced us to Open Access (a topic that most of us are unfamiliar with) and how it is starting to change with the introduction of new technologies such as Open Source.

Open Access is the free and unrestricted availability of research to the public, be it in libraries or over the Web. Publishers gain prestige by publishing papers in well-known journals, and the publishers (who sell the publishing service and the journals) get filthy rich. It is a concept that has been around for decades, and works well with copyright laws.

The Open Access cycle of knowledge works like this:

Professors do research in universities, and achieve great discoveries. The results of these findings are then published into a journal, which costs the professor a major fee. The publisher then exudes possession over this research, forbidding the professor from spreading that paper to third-world citizens or even the paper's co-author. The publishers then charge the university an exorbitant price for a few copies of that journal, which sit on a library shelf.

The fact is, the results of research aren't landing in the hands of those who need it, and the publishers are exacting a monopoly over this precious information. Research is only available when libraries purchase it.

Topic Summary: What Open Source can do for Open Access

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is that university libraries are comfortable with paying publishing fees. It is difficult to convince the libraries to divert some of their funding towards "open source" solutions.

Chan then began to describe how some sites charge for access to certain journals, while other sites offer the same information for free. Publishers will often seek grants for their publishing work: some grants require the publisher make the journals available on reputable free-access servers. All of this is good progress towards true Open Access

Throughout the entire presentation, I wasn't sure what Open Source had to do with Open Access. The journals themselves can't be open source, since they aren't made of code. The servers that host free access don't necessarily use open source code.

Speaker's Background:

Leslie Chan is a lecturer at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus. His work brings scientific journal access to developing countries around the world.

Views on Open Source:

OS is (possibly) a tool whose most notable use is to balance out the costs of Open Access.

I have the feeling that Chan equates "Open Source" with "code that is free to access for all". He seems to extend this concept beyond code, to include journals as well. Thus, the "Open Source" focus of his speech relates to journals accessible freely on the web.

Chan doesn't appear to have any views on the Open Source community, or on how Open Source projects are developed. Source code wasn't mentioned once during the presentation, nor was open collaboration among peers to get tasks done.

Opinion of the Presentation

I was disappointed.

I was expecting a new viewpoint on what Open Source meant for the world. Instead, I got a brief introduction on what Open Access was, and how it affected the economy of post-secondary institutions. I understand that efforts are being made to move the monopolistic dominance away from the publishers and towards online libraries that spread the journals to a larger audience. I don't know how successful it has been, or if it affects Seneca, or if it involves any open source projects or communities.

The presentation aimed to compare "production, sharing, reputation management, and sustainability models" of both open access and open source. He covered these topics for open access, but not for open source. That comparison, the crux of the talk, did not occur.

It was probably a timing issue. The speech was halted mid-topic. Chan simply did not have enough time to cover the topics in sufficient detail, but felt that detail was a duty that could not be ignored.

Comparison on Open Source Opinions

David and Dan treat Open Source as a community, and promote its growth as such. They encourage the open participation of the public while steering growth in a constructive direction. With an excited community, member output will increase in quality, and new members will be attracted to the project.

Grow the community, and the code shall prosper.

Chan treats Open Source as a type of publication license. It defines how material can and should be distributed among the public, rather than the process by which journals are made. When everyone can access the journals (and not just the students of universities that can afford them), the true purpose of open access will be realized.

Make the journals open, and the community will prosper.

These sets of opinions don't seem comparable to any fine degree. One deals with the community, while the other deals with the license to spread information freely. They are neither mutually inclusive or mutually exclusive.

David and Dan view open source as the process of building a community. If the community didn't grow, Thunderbird as a code project wouldn't grow fast enough to hold an identity against such popular clients as Microsoft Outlook and Gmail.

I am still not entirely certain how Chan views open source, but he is certainly not part of an open source community, nor has he witnessed the growth of one firsthand. It simply tends to be a cheaper method of distributing information, and has potential to replace the publishers who overcharge and provide relatively low distribution of information.

These two opinions are the difference between looking at OS from the inside, and looking at OS from the outside. Knowing the difference leads to a healthy understanding of what Open Source is.

My Current Views on Open Source

Before I started DPS 909, I thought Open Source was simply a new method of programming. If you wanted a new hobby, you could look into OS. I wasn't exposed to any major OS efforts, and I dismissed it as a style of coding.

By the end of FSOSS, I've realized that Open Source is making a difference in big ways. When viewed only as a coding style, software projects are already making incredible progress beyond their proprietary counterparts. Firefox has evolved to the point that even Internet Explorer winks at it.

Were my views affected by FSOSS? I definitely had an informed view of OS before the conference, thanks to Dave Humphreys. The paper by Eric Raymond was pivotal in correcting those views; Open Source would not exist without the community building process. I'd like to think that my views were developed in class and strengthened by the examples of OS communities represented at the conference.

The Thunderbird community was an amazing experience. I've never witnessed a community whose main purpose is to nurture the growth of the community. I had been told that OS isn't just about managing code, but David and Dan have really driven the point home.

I wasn't touched by the concept of open access. If I needed information, Wikipedia and Google are always available through the web, and they both provide sufficient detail. For anything more sophisticated than what Wikipedia and Google can provide, I would seek a professional opinion. If it deals with medicine, I would need a professional opinion anyways to obtain a prescription. The use of journals just seems to be lost.

In general, my interest in the Open Source lifestyle has grown. I'd really like to dive deeper into the communities to further my understanding; it isn't something I fully comprehend yet.