July 23, 2009 § 5 Comments
Earlier today at OSCON, Tim O’Reilly announced the creation of Open Source for America – a loose, non-partisan coalition of organizations that will raise awareness about the huge potential for open source in government. The press release frames the big picture opportunity this way:
Open source software may not be a cure-all, but it could save billions of dollars, help foster innovation and empower our government to work smarter.
Concretely, the idea is to connect people who know and care about open source with people inside the US government, to help them understand open source and to contribute back. It feels like that can only be a good thing. And, as a Canadian, it’s something I’d like to see happen in other countries also.
A few days before the launch, Mozilla signed on as a founding member of Open Source for America. While Mozilla is global in scope, it seemed important to lend our name to this new initiative. The next question is: how can Mozilla best be involved and contribute? I’d be interested in people’s thoughts.
PS. Sorry not to announce this earlier. There was an embargo on the announcement until today.
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.
January 23, 2009 § 8 Comments
As I mentioned earlier in the week, education is one of the first program areas where Mozilla Foundation wants to experiment in 2009. I spent some time this afternoon scribbling out an overview the ideas we’re bouncing around. This is what I came up with (bigger version on Flicker):
Frank and I have also updated the Mozilla Education planning wiki with explanations of the ideas in this scribble, and detailed info on each of the activities we’re considering. The high level summary at the top of the wiki page says:
During 2009, we want to experiment with Mozilla Education — helping people learn about Mozilla through an open, participatory and distributed approach to education.
Building on Mozilla’s 2010 goals, our big picture aim is to:
Make openness, participation and distributed decision-making more common experiences in Internet life
We think that education can help us reach this goal by helping more people to:
- Understand and use (Mozilla’s?) open source work methods
- Learn about and build with open web and Mozilla technologies
- Participate in Mozilla and other open source projects
In 2009, we’ll test out a number of small programs aimed at reaching these objectives. They include:
- Seneca Expansion / Virtual Seneca offering Mozilla learning resources and support to students everywhere.
- Madrid Summer Course at URJC, establishing the first formal Mozilla course beyond Seneca and establishing an educational foundation in Europe.
- Online Mozilla Courses that provide learning and engagement opportunities directly to potential Mozilla contributors.
- education.mozilla.org where all Mozilla courseware and learning information can be found.
Over time, we hope these programs will also make a broader contribute to creating a new participatory learning model based around open source contribution … and to work with others who share this vision. However, for now, we want to start with something doable: making a formal link between education, learning and the Mozilla community.
I am posting this in the hope that people will offer initial reactions. While we plan to act quickly on some of this (especially Virtual Seneca), the overall plan is still very much in flux. It’s evolving pretty much daily as we figure out how to put things into action. So, slings, arrows and offers of help very welcome in the form of blog comments (we’ve already got a good list of Mozilla people who want to help). Also, feel free to dig into the wiki. Much more detail there.
Next week, I’ll post more thoughts on why this approach to education is interesting for Mozilla and what sorts of things we might be able to achieve in 2009. This should give people even more to work with and respond to.
September 16, 2008 § 5 Comments
I love meeting practical people working hard to implement big dreams. Noy Shoung is one of those people. He’s trying to infuse open source into how Cambodians enter the computing age. And he’s making some headway.
Noy is the Deputy Secretary General (In Charge of Human Capacity Building and Free/Open Source Software) at National ICT Development Authority (NiDA). Cool title to have. And, one that is hard earned. Noy’s built up a team inside NiDA to localize open source desktop apps into Khmer (a language too small to be interesting to Microsoft), build up open source development skills amongst young people (still early days on this one) and train end users on Linux, Open Office and Firefox (20,000 people and counting). He’s also the major champion behind Khmer OS, a localized OpenSuse distribution.
What’s interesting is that Noy’s headway is built on very practical foundations: most Cambodians don’t speak English, especially outside Phnom Penh. KhmerOS and related applications are the fastest route to computer skills for these people. And, these people want computer skills. So, Noy’s small army of 45 public servants is training people up, with most of the training happening in provinces and smaller cities. He’s also offering training to university students — most of whom show up without ever having used a computer — who can’t afford to go to private computer tutoring schools.
Noy’s next step is to localize Ubuntu and update some of the existing apps (there have been some problems with Suse KhmerOS). He also plans expand the developer and sysadmin tech training that he offers jointly with universities. And, he’s in the midst of updating the government’s FOSS Master Plan. If there are any folks out there reading this who have deep tech skills that they want to share to help with this effort, Noy has put out an open ended invite. It’s a fun and important thing to pitch into.
August 25, 2008 § 2 Comments
As he wrapped up, Aslam Raffee reflected: “We’ve done very well in terms of setting policy, but very poorly at implementation. We’ve got to fix that.” Aslam is one of three people leading to roll out of South Africa’s government-wide commitment to open source. And he’s willing to admit: making it work ain’t easy.
At Open Everything Cape Town, Aslam spent an hour talking with Matt Buckland and Steve Song about how the open source policy roll out is going. The policy basically states that all systems used to run the Government of South Africa must be based on open standards and should use open source software wherever possible. As you can hear the podcast below, he was at once honest about the challenges of making this idea real and optimistic about the future …
On the upside, the Government of South Africa seems to be ‘making the market’ by insisting that all departments have open document format (ODF) capability by the end of the year. Microsoft — which had previously given a ‘no way’ — is now on a fast track to integrating to ODF into Word. It seems there are alot of Word users in South Africa who still want to be able to do business with government. Also, there has been good traction on things like open standards and avoiding lock-in with big tenders in areas like government document management. The result is that these systems are most likely to be open source.
On the downside, there is simply a huge amount of ignorance and entropy. Asked if he could give an example of where they’re struggling to get people to ‘be open’, Aslam cited the Independent Election Comission’s brand new web site. When you go to the site in Firefox (I just did), you get this message:
Welcome to the IEC web site! Our server detected that you are using a Browser or Operating System (e.g. Netscape, Mozilla Firefox, etc) which is currently incompatible with our site.This web site is designed for Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 4 and above on Microsoft Windows. The IEC is currently in the process of enhancing the web site so that it will also cater for other browsers. We apologize for the inconvenience caused. Please click on the image below to download the latest version of Internet Explorer.
Even more notably, the ‘currently in the process of enhancing’ language didn’t even exist until a bunch of people blogged about this on Friday. It’s tough to be proud of your government’s commitment to open standards — and equal access to all citizens — with stuff like this.
The other big barrier to implementation is skills.The number of skilled open source developers and support people needed to roll out the government’s plan just don’t exist. Fixing this is partly a waiting game, as it depends on what the education system does … and what’s taught in classrooms is exempt from the open source policy as it isn’t about ‘government administration systems’.
Thanks to Aslam, Matt, Steve and everyone at Open Everything for making this conversation real. I learned a great deal.
The podcast above just includes Aslam’s main talk and the interview by Steve and Matt. You can hear a longer version including another 20 mins of audience questions here (bad audio in some parts).
July 31, 2008 § Leave a Comment
As the old saying goes: ‘There’s nothing like getting stuck behind a rockslide with 400 of your closest friends.’ Okay, maybe it’s not an old saying yet … but it will be as people mythologize and remember the 2008 Firefox Plus Summit — float planes, candles and all.
And mythologize they should. The brainpower and passion gathered at the Mozilla event was truly awesome. What’s more, it wasn’t just technology brainpower and passion (although it was certainly that in spades). Everyone I met to was just as stoked to talk about broader values like openness, the internet and community as they were about mobile browsers and data in the cloud. This is what drives it all. While this isn’t really surprising, feeling this kind of passion emanate off 400 living, breathing human beings is waaaaaaaaaay more real than just thinking about it in the abstract. Amazing, really.
More concretely: there were many of great conversations at the Summit about both Mozilla’s evolving identity and Mozilla Foundation 2.0. I will post in detail on these topics when I return from off-the-grid holidays in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, thanks to everyone I met for such a warm welcome to the Mozilla community. I am really hoping I have something useful to contribute.