Wednesday, June 22, 2011

OR11: opening plenary

See also: OR11 overview

The opening session by Jim Jagielski, President of the Apache Software Foundation, focussed on how to make an open source development project viable, whether it produces code or concepts. As El Reg reports today, doing open source is hard. The ASF has a unique experience in running open projects (see also is apache open by rule). Much nodding in agreement all around, as what he said made good sense, but hard to put in practice. Some choice advise:

Communication is all-important. Despite all the new media that come and go, the mailing list still is king. Any communication that happens elsewhere - wikis, IRC, blogs, twitter, FB, etc - needs to be (re)posted to the list before it officially exists and can be considered. A mailing list is a communication channel which is asynchronous and participants can control themselves, meaning read or skip it at their time of choice, not the time mandated by the medium. A searchable archive of the list is a must.

Software development needs a meritocracy. Merit is built up over time. It’s important that merit never expires, as much open source committers are volunteers who need to be able to take time off when life gets in the way (babies, job change, etc).

You need at least three active committers. Why three? So they can take a vote without getting stuck. You also need ‘enough eyeballs’ to go over a patch or proposal. A vote at ASF needs minimally three positive votes and no negatives.
To create a community, you also need a ‘shepherd’, someone who is knowledgable yet approachable by newbies. It’s vital to keep a community open, so not to let the talent pool become too small. To stay attractive, that you need to find out what’s the ‘itch’ that your audience wants to scratch.

The more 'idealistic' software licenses (GPL and all) are "a boon firstmost to lawyers", because the terms ‘share alike’ and ‘commercial use’ are not (yet) clear in juridical context. Choosing an idealistic license can limit the size of the community for projects where companies play a major role. A commenter added that this mirrors the problems of the Creative Commons licenses. In a way, the apache license mirrors CCzero, which CC created to tackle those.

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