February 13, 2009 § 2 Comments
Just now, I was commenting on my friend Steve’s post on The Yin and Yang of Open. As sometimes happens, the comment grew into a bit of a tome. Or, at least something long enough that I figured I should make it a post instead. So here it is.
Great post, Steve. While I am always waving the flag of open, I am also a big yinyanger. Balance is important.
But, for the most part, I think were already surrounded by enough ‘closed’. Getting to balance is a long way away. So, closed mostly doesn’t need our help.
There are exceptions. Privacy is a big one. We’re losing it quickly. And it’s a pretty critical part of the balance. You need the privacy kind of closed in order to protect most of what we value in freedom and openness.
On the elements of open, I think you mostly have them. The three that I stick to these days are:
1. Transparency: Can you *see* inside something, and understand how it works.
2. Permeability. Can energy / labour / ideas / whatever get in *and* out of the open thing you are talking about.
3. Malleability: Can you shape / remix / make something new. This is similar to Zittrain’s generativity. Or, in layman’s terms, it’s hackability.
… and then iterated and tested by talking to alot of people in alot of ‘what’s open?’ conversations.
A fourth item that may be on the list: permission. As in, you don’t have to ask for it to do something. I am not sure it’s quite the right word. But my colleague Jay suggested it as we were talking about what an open mobile ecosystem would look like. It would be one where you don’t have to ask permission to add new apps, invent new services, and so on. Like the internet.
One small area I disagree: you say ‘openness is not in and of itself a virtue’. Something can be virtuous but, like all things, require moderation and balance. Personally, I see both ‘openness’ and ‘privacy’ as virtues, and don’t see much of a contradiction.
That’s all for this sunny Friday. ‘Hi’ to family and all in Durbanville.
And, to anyone else reading this, happy Friday to you too.
February 11, 2009 § 1 Comment
Over the past few months, Pascal Chevrel has been introducing Gregorio Robles to the world of Mozilla. Gregorio is part of Libresoft.es — a unit of the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid that offers a masters degree in free and open source software development. After some discussions and small add ons workshop, Gregorio and Pascal have agreed to develop a Mozilla development course that will run this coming summer.
As a part of my interview series on Mozilla Education, I asked Gregorio to share his thoughts while he was at FOSDEM:
For the non-video-inclined, here is a quick summary of Gregorio’s comments:
- Mozilla is important for education. This is the first time in history where students can learn by working on real live code in an open project. But education is also important for Mozilla. Projects like Mozilla need people who know our technologies, and universities can help solve this problem.
- We already have a masters program on free and open source software, but it is mostly on general topics and technologies. We want to add courses on specific technologies so students can get involved with the community around that technology. Mozilla is a good place to start.
- Our specific plans for Mozilla are to have a face to face week in the summer followed by a longer online component. Students will take on projects where they get to really touch the code and know the Mozilla community.
- In terms of Mozilla’s broader educational effort, the priority should be to get materials done and then to re-use them. I am sure there will be lots of people wanting to use these materials. This will make life easier and make it easier to become a Mozilla contributor.
February 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
Last week in Europe was a wonderful whirlwind. One of the highlights was EduCamp — a small, pre-FOSDEM unconference about the link between open source and higher education. It was a bunch of people I knew (eg. Greg DeKoenigsberg from Red Hat, Leslie Hawthorne from Summer of Code), and a bunch I hadn’t met yet (eg. Ross Gardler from Oxford and Gregorio Robles from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos). Plus a bunch of Mozilla people working on education. All great, and all passionate about the learning potential inherent in the open source development process.
Much of the day was spent sharing info about the projects that people are working on or developing. Some things that struck me as interesting:
- Folks at Oxford are planning to develop simple training for open source contributors to help them become more effective student mentors. The ideas is to help people know what they’re getting into, and what to expect in return, when they take on a student.
- In addition to planning a Mozilla course as part of it’s current programs, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos is also working with a number of universities to develop a Europe-wide masters program in free and open source software development. This would mean standard accreditation and significant numbers of students across the continent.
- There is a group at the UN University in Maastricht doing research on how learning happens in open source projects, and how best to link university students into the process.
I knew about the people behind all of these efforts and vaguely understood what they were up to. But getting together face-to-face always brings things to life more. I was impressed by the things people are working on.
The last bit of the day was brainstorming simple actions that might keep the energy around teaching open source going. Top ideas from the flip chart included:
- Plant a flag in the ground, and come up with a name for what we’re all working on (‘teaching open source’ and ‘open source education’ don’t really to work).
- Figure out how to tell the story of why open source projects are such great learning environments, and about efforts to make the link to formal education. (Chris Blizzard claims ‘tell the story’ is his answer to everything)
- Develop a simple way to map what people are doing in the open source education space. Maybe this is an online survey?
- Write compelling (and critical) case studies of people teaching open source in colleges and universities. Maybe this is an O’Reilly book?
- Create a blog planet of everyone who attended, and others working on open source and education.
- Develop a monster.com-style site for open source interns.
Truly a brainstorm. But some good ideas here. And some similarities to ideas that came out of the Teaching Open Source track that happened at FSOSS back in October. There is another meeting of people working on open source education happening in Chattanooga next month. It feels like there is momentum building around this whole idea. Hopefully that means some of the ideas above can turned into something real.
February 10, 2009 § 15 Comments
On Saturday, I gave a keynote at FOSDEM called Free. Open. Future? My goal was to encourage people think of free and open as concepts that extend beyond software, and to spark a conversation about the ideas / design frameworks / mental maps we’ll need to make sure complex spaces like mobile and messaging are open in the future. The slides are here:
If you don’t feel like flipping through the slides, the basic line of reasoning goes something like this:
- Free software and open source have been successful in part because there is a clear mental map and values. RMS‘ four freedoms — use, study, modify, copy — and similar ideas make up this map.
- The mental map that guided free software has also contributed to the creation of an open web. Transparency (study) and remixability (modify) are particularly critical to the web feeling and being open, and have started to bleed into more than just the code that makes up web pages but also into how regular users experience the web when they remix content and reconfigure their online tools.
- The challenges we’re about to face in coming years are complex, and it’s clear we will need more than just use / study / modify / copy to chart our future course. If you just look at mobile, we need to figure out what ‘open’ means not only at the hardware and software level, but also in cloud services, carrier pricing, end user rights over their devices. There is a great deal to sort through if we want to get anywhere close to the success we’ve had with free software and the open web.
All of this ends up with a question: what new ideas can we add to our mental maps to make sure we can take free and open even further? Similar to the mobile scenario above, the current state of online shows why this question matters. David Ascher pointed out in his FOSEDM talk that things like Facebook and Twitter now make up a huge percentage our online conversations. Yet they are mostly closed and walled off, much more so than standardized email. If we want messaging to be a part of the open internet we’re building for the future, we need some sort of shared (but probably quite rough) mental map that includes criteria to answer ‘is this approach toonline messaging open?’ Without this, it’s hard to build innovative products will win win in the marketplace, which is critical to ensuring that ‘open’ wins. The same is true for spaces like mobile and cloud computing.
I gave a couple of quickly hacked together ideas on what I think our future maps need to include, and listed them near the end of my slides:
- Strong values, freedom beyond just code
- Great free software, that people love to use
- Users as hackers, anyone can bend anything
These aren’t necessarily the most important ideas, except for maybe the last one about ‘users as hackers’ — that’s critical to the future of open innovation. And there are definitely places like the Mozilla Manifesto that have key elements for the mental map we need. However, my main goal here was really just to spark a conversation.
And, I must say, I failed dismally at that goal. One question from the floor, and it was off topic. Some good comments from Mozilla people afterwars. But the conversation I wanted.
On the plane to Munich, I asked a fellow FOSDEMer about this — someone who works in big car company and also attends Chaos Computer Club every year. I figured he’d have a good perspective. His response: “You made some inroads. Ideas like these take time to settle in, and make cracks. But you also need a broader audience. Ask more people.”
Funnily enough, simply throwing my slides online yesterday sparked a few replies. One about the importance of open innovation. And another about the value that comes from ‘acting’ online, simply being a contributor to the openness of the web by posting content. Interesting.
So, taking my flightmate’s advice, this post is another chance for people to answer: what’s on your map? What are the critical ideas that will help us succeed with free and open in the future? If you think these are interesting questions, comment away.