It’s “Revise, Remix & Redistribute” not, “Repeat, Redo & Replicate.”

I just updated my desktop from Ubuntu Lucid Lynx (10.04 LTS) to Precise Pangolin (12.04 LTS) and like always after any new version or functionality from Ubuntu (Linux), excited by the new features, I can’t help but leap up on my soap box (well, to be honest, my “high horse“) to bemoan the lack of awareness and adoption of Linux on the desktop–OK really to chastise and ridicule many in IT (especially decision-makers), but especially those working in and with open communities of practice who don’t eat their own dog food.

“Offinity”

Many proponents of openness, for example adopters, developers or users of an open source software application, or, members, contributors and collaborators within an open community of practice, are really proponents of their specific initiative–not the broader open source initiative (please note, no caps used here). That is, while many folks will go on and on (and I do think they believe what they are saying) about the value proposition of open source development, i.e. “the promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in,” they do not apparently place the same value, or recognize the efforts of other open projects or communities. Their appreciation of open source is an affinity interest in the very personal project they have invested in as a user of the software and a member to the community. Are you a Boston Bruins/LA Kings/NY Rangers/Winnipeg Jets fan, or a hockey fan?

Indeed I would go further and argue many invested with a project presume their community’s approach to openness (i.e. governance, community-building, decision-making, development, licensing, etc.) is superior to other similar projects and communities. Openness, for many, appears to be is less about the development methodology (of both the product and community) than it is about aligning the project–and themselves–with the trending interest in openness as described by Michelle Thorne, David Wiley, ReadRightWeb, CNS News, and many more: sort of like, “If you open it they will come.”

This–a personal affinity for specific projects and employing open for it’s promotional (vs. production) value–is what I call “offinity.” Everyone seems to be yelling, “look what I made, you can join me,” rather than “what are you doing over there, and can I help?” Too many are promoting their own “open” project, rather than genuinely raising awareness and participation in open source methods through collaboration and contribution. Offinity in a sentence: “Boy, Pat really has an offinity for Instructure Canvas.”

It’s “many eyeballs…” not “many projects…”

Speaking of learning management systems, I currently know of almost 50 open source LMS options, with more coming out all the time. There are multiple (163) open source content

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management systems as well. In addition to software development, a variety of other initiatives and communities have emerged/evolved implementing the “open source model” to co-create and share resources (content, learning objects, technical standards, government policy and more), for example: Massive–Ahem!? “Open”–Online Courses; Open Access;  Open Content; Open Courseware; Open Culture; Open Education; Open Educational Resources; Open Government, etc. etc. etc. Yet too often the very folks professing the value of openness (and thus their open projects) as a development methodology that increases quality, drives innovation, decreases development time, reduces costs, and so on, are themselves reluctant to fully embrace, by joining rather than creating, open products and services. Why are there 50 open source learning management systems and 168 open source content management systems? Imagine if the hundreds of participants working across all these applications focused on just a few ones–isn’t that the goal of open source development: many eyeballs, not many projects?

Now I would never expect there to be only one project for each product and I can easily imagine the need for a few, based on various technologies (e.g. languages and frameworks) that enable contributors with different skill sets to participate and contribute or even the market segment (are there functional/usability/implementation differences between an LMS for K-12, higher ed. and professional development?). However, we’ve reached a point where innovation and quality is diluted by multiple redundant/repetitive efforts. This is antithetical to the value proposition of the open source development model where many contributors, collaborating around common bugs, issues, problems create better tools and distribute those tools freely to collect feedback to refine, refactor and enhance the resource. More projects means fewer eyeballs per community.

If a=b, & b=c: a=c…

Extending on the idea that many have a centrist view of open source, that is, “I’m going to create a new…” instead of “I’ll join your…”, are those who do not embrace open projects outside their domain. I think most folks would call bullshit if Linus Torvolds showed up to present at LinuxWorld using Windows 8; or Martin Dougiamas taught online through Blackboard; or the Drupal community site ran on Ektron? I don’t want to call anyone out by name, but next time you’re at OSCON; LinuxWorld; DrupalCon, the Apereo conference; a MoodleMoot; the Open Education Conference; the World Open Educational Resources Congress or any other meeting of an open community of practice, look around at the crowd attending the conference, and especially those presenting, to see how many are actually using open source products, services, resources or artifacts (i.e presenting their “Benefits of Using Open Source” presentation via Microsoft PowerPoint on a Mac). Probably not enough.

It seems like, to me, there would be some sort of transitive property for open source. If the logic of those promoting an open source project is, “my project is open source, open source is good, therefore my project is good,” then “your project is open source, open source is good, therefore your project is good.” Now I will be the first to admit that not all open source projects are good–either feasible (meet user needs) or viable (a healthy community). My point is that if you think folks should consider your project because of the merits of open source development then you should also do others the same curiosity However with so little folks actually interested in openness, but rather promoting their open product, we just don’t see the level of adoption we should with all open initiatives. Basically, if I can be blunt, you’re a hypocrite if you get up in front of your peers to proclaim the superiority of your  project because it embraces open principles and practices, arguing it is those principles and practices that yield better products, but you yourself have not adopted other open resources. “Hold on, let me open up PowerPoint to tell you about how bad commercial software is.”

The next-first, best thing you can do…

Obviously the best thing you can do to increase the awareness and adoption of your open project is to eat your own dog food, that is use your software/resource/service yourself.* But the next first best thing you should do is stick your wet nose in your neighbor’s bowl as well. This is not zealotry: “Open Source or Die!” Adopting and participating in other open source tools/resources is a valuable tip for improving your own project; both the product/resource and the community as well. Becoming a member of other open projects and communities of practice helps you build your own. By participating in other open initiatives, as a developer you might pick up a new trick, learn about a new technology, find the solution to a shared problem, find a peer to collaborate with, etc.; as a community member you might discover new/better ways to promote your project, raise funding, drive adoption, foster collaboration, refine governance, run a conference–or even, introduce/integrate your own awesome project with another.

So let’s make it simple: here is the link to used laptops on eBay, here is the link to Ubuntu compatible machines, and here is a link to the Ubuntu OS download (obviously any Linux flavor will do). Can’t wait to bump into at the next conference.

* The first best thing to do for open source is actually find and join an existing project and make it better, rather than creating one, but for this post, I am assuming the horse is out of the barn.

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4 comments
  1. I like this line: “Hold on, let me open up PowerPoint to tell you about how bad commercial software is.” I confess I’m writing this comment using Windows 7. Is it a cop out if I try to explain this away by saying, following Emerson, that “”A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?”

  2. pmasson said:

    Well that would mean you have a little mind, which I know is not true.

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