Overlooked Open Source Tools for Libraries

This guest post has been contributed by Nicole C. Engard, author of Practical Open Source Software for Libraries.

I’ve been teaching and researching open source software for what seems like ages, so sometimes I forget that other librarians don’t necessarily know about all of the great open source tools I do. There are a few must have applications for every library (and a few more specialized tools) that I’d like to share with you all.

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Open Innovation at the Open Source Junction

This guest post has been contributed by Ross Gardler of OpenDirective. Ross is Vice President of Community Development at The Apache Software Foundation and a mentor at the Outercurve Foundation. Ross has been active in open development of open source software for over ten years.

Over the last couple of years OSS Watch has run a series of three events called the Open Source Junction (OSJ). These events aimed to bring together academia and the commercial sector to foster communication, collaboration and open innovation and were kicked off by Gabriel Hanganu when I was a member of the OSS Watch team. The second two editions were held after I had left to start OpenDirective. Having understood OSS Watch’s vision for these I continued to participate.

With an explicit goal of building a network to surface new opportunities for collaboration between academic and commercial participants OSS Watch had decided to tackle some significant challenges. Consequently, the OSS Watch team planned to work between events to help build on these opportunities. Each subsequent event sought to broaden these participation networks even further.

Since OpenDirective was created with the express intention of helping to take research outputs to market through open innovation the OSJ objectives are well aligned to our own strategic goals. In this post, at the request of OSS Watch, I will revisit these three events and explore some of the initiatives that can, at least in part, be credited to one or more of the Open Source Junction events. In so doing I hope to demonstrate the value of the Open Source Junction events. In a subsequent post I’ll make some recommendations for future events of this type.

The first Open Source Junction was held on 29-30 March, 2011 and had a focus on “open source cross-platform mobile apps” and “how to manage the co-production of cross-platform mobile apps in an open development context”. The structure of the event was a fairly comfortable one for workshop regulars. Presentations were interspersed with occasional “interactive” sessions that focused on introducing participants interests and skills. Being a two day event the evening social activities were important in building a sense of participation, but in the main this event sought to build a base level of knowledge about one another as well as a basic understanding of common collaboration practices in open source software development. OSS Watch’s own event report concluded that “given the enthusiastic response to the event and the firm prospect of future collaboration, the community’s life force is already looking strong.” Certainly there were a number of attendees who indicated they had new opportunities to explore.

By the time the second OSJ came around on 5-6 July 2011 some of these opportunities had progressed and small sub-communities was forming within the larger OSJ network. The second event focused a little more tightly on specific areas of interest as identified by participants in the first OSJ. The organisers defined the focus as “context-aware mobile technologies”. The OSS Watch report for this event says “a huge array of services [were] offered and requested… aided by the format of the event, with numerous … interactive sessions built in”. Indeed this event was more interactive than the first. This was achieved by having more sessions designed specifically to get people thinking beyond their self-defined boundaries of expertise.

By the end of the second event the stage had been set, the main actors had been identified and preparations for the third event began. It was at this third event the script would be written and roles cast.

Open Source Junction 3 was held almost a year after the first on 20-21 March 2012. This event, once again, built on previous events. However, this time the goal was not to narrow the focus further but instead to introduce a new, but related, topic and potential collaborators who specialised in this topic area. The third event therefore had a broad focus of “mobile technologies and the cloud”. It brought together the mobile skills identified in previous events with a broader set of skills around cloud based delivery systems. The goal was to bring a new angle to the existing community which would offer up previously undiscovered opportunities.

In order to realise the OSJ objectives this final event was significantly more interactive than earlier editions, with eight fully interactive sessions compared to two at OSJ1 and four at OSJ2. The first day consisted of a series of ice-breakers and introduction sessions leading to a second day that was designed to generate concrete ideas for collaboration. These sessions were carefully managed to ensure that where possible, the right people connected to the right people. Whilst there was plenty of opportunity for chance meetings the OSS Watch team had pre-identified overlaps between many participants and worked hard to help individuals discover and explore these potential touch points.

OSS Watch’s event report concluded that “OSJ3 built on the solid foundations of the past events with connections that had been made at previous OSJs, such as Cloud4All and Webinos, taking concrete steps forwards. With the ever increasing focus on interactivity at this event, many new connections, such as linking MAAVIS and Cellularity, were formed. Over the coming months OSS Watch will seek to assist in the further development of these relationships in order to ensure that they continue to feel that sharing early, sharing often is both comfortable and productive. For starters, OSS Watch is working with the OMELETTE and WSO2 teams to explore whether MyCocktail should enter the Apache Software Foundation alongside the Wookie and Rave (which themselves benefited from previous OSS Watch support).”

So it would seem the three events built up a number of promises of collaboration. In researching this post I decided to visit the opportunities identified in the final OSS Watch report. My concern was that events such as these often result in potentials that are not followed up on. In reality full in-boxes quickly force out new plans despite our best intentions. However, on this occasion I’m pleased to report that many of the hottest opportunities have indeed taken measurable steps forward.

The potential for MyCocktail to enter the Apache Software Foundation alongside Wookie and Rave (both of which were represented at all three OSJ’s) was examined by OSS Watch and WSO2 (a participant in OSJ3). At the time of writing this has not progressed significantly, initial explorations indicated that although the project is very interesting there is little motivation within the MyCocktail team. The MyCocktail code is open source and, in theory, could be reused easily by others. However, in practice, long term maintenance is important and it would seem that in this case long term maintenance is unlikely to be present. This is the only one of the three concrete opportunities identified in the report that has not led to a success.

Cloud4All and Webinos have engaged in a number of strategic discussions. These have resulted in the Cloud4All team exploring the use of an Android node.js port delivered by the Webinos team. This work is still at the experimental stages but implementation was started at a recent Cloud4All hackathon event in Austria. Unfortunately Webinos team members were unable to be present at this event although it is still hoped that active cross-pollination, as opposed to passive code-sharing, is possible. This kind of reuse, particularly if active collaboration is undertaken, will bring significant benefits to both projects. It is clear that the initial discovery of this potential collaboration was initially identified and explored as a result of representatives of each project attending all three OSJ events. Indeed, OSS Watch facilitated a “connect session” at OSJ3.

MAAVIS was also represented at all three events, however their emerging partnership with Cellularity was a result of the final broadening of scope in OSJ3 since Cellularity was a newcomer at that time. The Cellularity approach to building a form of private cloud infrastructure using custom hardware and open source software sparked ideas for delivery of the MAAVIS product. A subsequent demonstration of Cellularity’s commercial hardware offering, facilitated by OSS Watch, allowed this concept to be further examined. Also present at this meeting were representatives of the JISC funded DataFlow project.

DataFlow was not present at any OSJ event but synergies were subsequently identified by OSS Watch and OpenDirective staff when analysing event outputs. Both the MAAVIS and DataBank opportunities are still being explored and OpenDirective have submitted proposals for product prototyping to the Technology Strategy Board as a result of these discussions. If successful this proposal will see the prototyping of a new open hardware and software framework that could integrate all three projects in a final marketable product. Watch this space for updates in the coming months.

It is likely that other opportunities were identified by participants at the OSJ events, I’ve only explored the ones I am aware of. However, even if this is not the case and the successes identified above are the only direct results of this work by OSS Watch I think it is safe to say that the Open Source Junction events were a significant success. As OSS Watch enters a new funding period in the coming month I hope to see more events like these.

What makes a community led project work?

This guest post has been contributed by Ross Gardler of OpenDirective. Ross is Vice President of Community Development at The Apache Software Foundation and a mentor at the Outercurve Foundation. Ross has been active in open development of open source software for over ten years.

OSS Watch has been participating in the development of Apache Rave, a ‘next-generation portal engine, supporting (Open)Social Gadgets as well as WC3 widgets’. As Sander observes in this blog, the Rave ecosystem is made up of a ‘diverse range of collaborators’ from both the academic and commercial sectors. These partners are sharing resources in order to build a critical piece of software at lower cost as well as to increase innovation around that product.

A few days ago I posted an evaluation of the Apache OpenOffice project’s journey through the Apache Incubator (all code entering the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) must pass through the incubator). That post looked at what makes an Apache project different from many other open source project. This post repeats many of the same points, but rather than examine them from the point of view of OpenOffice I will examine why predominantly academic team behind Apache Rave chose to go to the ASF.

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Top 10 IP and licensing tips when licensing open data and open content

This guest post has been contributed by Naomi Korn and is based on a series of 10 Minute Blog entries that Naomi has written for the JISC funded OER IPR Support project, for which she is the Project Director. Naomi is the co-author, together with Charles Oppenheim of Licensing Open Data: A Practical Guide.

Editor’s note: This post addresses IP issues surrounding open data and open content rather than open source software. Whilst open data and content is outside OSS Watch’s remit it is, of course, pertinent to the world of open source software and we welcome Naomi’s thoughts and expertise.

1.    Identify the IPR and other legal issues which maybe associated with the data and content you wish to license. For example, even if there are no underlying IPR issues in your data and content, you may be constrained by contractual terms and conditions underpinning the supply of data etc. from third parties to you. You can read more about this at http://www.jisclegal.ac.uk/Projects/TransferandUseofBibliographicRecords.aspx

2. Don’t forget to identify all the layers of rights. There may be more than one layer of copyright materials, other types of IP (such as Performers’ rights) as well as other legal issues (such as Data Protection etc) which will need identifying and managing.

3. Decide how ‘open’ you wish to license your data and content. Issues that may need to be addressed include: – controlling use for non commercial uses only vs. allowing commercial exploitation by third parties and encouraging BCE etc – requirements for attribution vs. the resulting possibility of attribution stacking – controlling reuse and repurposing but sacrificing potential interoperability when blending with content, data as well as software licensed under more open terms.

4. Remember that the more ‘open’ the use and repurposing of your content and data, the greater the risk if you have not cleared all the rights.  This is particularly pertinent for in copyright materials for which the rights holders are either unknown or cannot be traced (so called ‘orphan works’). In these situations, the OER IPR Support Risk Management Calculator can be used to establish an indicative risk score which can be used to help inform decisions relating to risk management.

5. Risk Management is increasingly important in the provision of access to open content where it may not be clear who created what and who owns what rights (if any). An organisation’s relationship to risk management should be supported from the bottom-up, by a realistic understanding of the nature of the work and its proposed use, and by the top-down recognition that an organisation’s understanding and acceptance of necessary risks, needs to be agreed, captured in policies and where possible, mitigated. This is an important component in the development of an appropriate corporate governance framework to support the delivery of open content and open data.

6. Consider how the licensing of your data and content relates to the licensing of other types of materials such as open source software, and whether one broader licence, such as the Open Government Licence which covers data, software, content etc might be more beneficial than multiple licences.

7. Clear permissions with any third parties (as per 1 above), making sure that permissions that are sought are either the same or more than the permissions that you then grant under your selected open licence – never less! The support video profiled on the OER IPR Support webpages can provide more insight about this issue.

8. Remember, open licences are often irrevocable, global and in perpetuity, so make sure that you are happy with what you intend to do with your data and content before you licence it out. Worst case, openly licensed resources can be removed from the web etc., but permissions granted up to that point cannot be revoked.

9. Get permissions in writing, such as emails etc from any third party rights holders. Verbal permission is not adequate.

10. Extract key information relating to third party permissions and store in a suitable system which is centrally accessible to prevent the ‘siloing’ of core rights management information. This is particularly important if projects are funded for a specific period time, such as JISC Projects, but where the permissions to use the materials may be subject to certain limitations and/or crediting requirements etc, as well as ensuring that there is a place to record rights holders contact details in case further contact is required.

An open letter to OSS developers: thank you!

This guest post is contributed by Donna Reish, who writes on the topic of best universities.

Dear OSS developers,

I wanted to write to say thank you for the work that you do. Thank you for the hours you put into your projects. Thank you for developing them and updating them. Thank you for keeping them free! And thank you for thinking up and creating the tools that make my job easier.

As a freelance writer, I cannot earn a living without having excellent tools: a working computer, pens and paper, internet access, image-editing abilities, and a word processor. The health of my business depends on how well these tools work for me as I complete my projects.

At the same time, I’m appalled by the cost associated with some of the options out there. Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Office Suite are both quite expensive, and I have a hard time justifying diverting my money to pay for those when my income is already squeezed as tightly as it is.

Instead, I have found that products created as openly as possible and provided for free have done wonders for my business. I’m speaking, most specifically of course, about OpenOffice.org, which, as you well know, has a writer program that more than allows me to accomplish all of my basic writing tasks.

I think one of the beautiful things about open source applications, like OpenOffice’s word processor, is that they integrate with other applications almost seamlessly. In the case of word processors, I can save a document that I’m working on in such a way as to allow someone with Microsoft Word to read and edit it just as easily. When I coordinate with my clients, I don’t have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to make the file a certain kind in order to help them read it or edit it. As someone who doesn’t quite know how computer programming works, I treat such compatibility like a miracle on earth!

Another open sourced application that I’ve found incredibly helpful for my freelancing business is GTD-free, an open sourced productivity application that basically helps me implement the ‘getting things done’ method of personal productivity management. When I freelance, I often juggle multiple projects, many of which have different deadlines and requirements. I need to have a great method of keeping all of it tracked in one place. I used to use a Moleskine notebook, but I found that the exercise of constantly writing down things was getting to be a task in and of itself. The switch to this application made my life so much easier.

Finally, I know I owe open source developers a lot, but if you have better suggestions regarding productivity apps, feel free to share your comments! I’ve been really happy so far with the tools I’m using, but I’m always looking for ways to improve.

Anyhow, these are some of the real world benefits for which the work you do is indirectly responsible! Thank you again.

Donna Reish

Editor’s note: Donna’s letter is an excellent example of someone acting in the evangelising role. The evangelist is an important role within an open source community and is discussed, along with all the other community roles, in the OSS Watch briefing note ‘Roles in open source projects‘.

OSS Watch Open Source Junction, Oxford, 28–29 March 2011

This guest post was written by Michelle Pauli, who also wrote the live blog at Open Source Junction.

‘More people pooling more resources in new ways is the history of civilisation’
Howard Rheingold

Open source software features, in some form, in just about every mobile device. This has created huge opportunities for innovation, communication and collaboration, and there is wide interest in mobile apps in the developer, consumer and business world. Yet, so far, there have been few attempts to bring together commercial and academic developers working on mobile apps in order to build partnerships based on lessons learned from open source development.

Open Source Junction, with its goal of building a sustainable community of stakeholders interested in mobile technologies, did just that. The first in a series of planned events, this two-day meeting focusing on cross-platform mobile apps gathered participants from all sectors to not only discuss innovation and collaboration but also take the first steps towards making it happen.

Open innovation

The 21st-century model of an organisation is ‘default to open’, declared Roland Harwood of 100% Open, citing Wikileaks as a topical example. Setting the scene for the networking elements of the event, he explained that open innovation is less about the ‘what’ than the ‘who’. It recognises that not all the smartest people work for us, so we need to move from the conceptual position that value lies in what we hold in our heads to the understanding that value lies in who we have around us. Or, as 100% Open put it, ‘innovating with partners by sharing the risks and rewards’.

Quoting the writer JG Ballard, Roland suggested that ‘the future reveals itself through the peripheral’ and said that we all need to be better at spotting what’s coming from outside our own sector. ‘Talk to lots of people and don’t stay in your own bubbles,’ he urged.

He had some powerful examples of companies that had opened up and reaped the rewards. These ranged from Lego’s inspired tolerance of copyright infringement that has made its Mindstorms range such a success, to Local Motors, a car sales company where customers have a hand in building the cars (think ‘beer and welding evenings’). He also namechecked Mozilla and Android to demonstrate that open source is mainstream business now.

A slight note of cynicism entered the discussion when Roland was asked if, with some of the ‘customer-led innovation projects’ he described, there was an element of companies trying to get customers to do their marketing work for them. ‘It’s a fine line,’ he admitted. ‘But it is also possible to have a more two-way relationship with customers so that it is not just a one-way street based on selling.’

In any case, with open innovation, coming up with ideas is rarely the problem. The hard work lies in making them happen and the challenge is to not only recognise a good idea (which is crucial at the start of the process) but also to recognise the effort involved in taking it forward.

Culture clash?

One of the reasons why implementing a good idea can be hard work comes down to clashes of cultures. There can be inertia and distrust between innovators and corporate bodies and collaboration can be perceived as risky. Roland described the ‘airlock solution’ that his organisation has pioneered to reassure both parties that ideas can be discussed in a confidential and ‘safe’ space.

Gabriel Hanganu, community development manager at OSS Watch, brought the issue home to the particular audience at Open Source Junction by focusing in on academic/business partnerships. He cited some fascinating surveys, including one conducted among UK academics by the Advanced Institute of Management Research, which found that academics are five times more likely to be entrepreneurial than the general public.

Another, a 2010 survey by UK Innovation Research Centre, found that most academics engage with industry to further their research. They are also interested in the impact of their research – its practical applications. Few academics engage with industry for purely financial gain and, increasingly, they are looking to build research networks.

On the industry side, there is a general distrust of academic business ability: it is felt that academics cannot, and do not want to, conduct outsourced research delivered in short timeframes. But, said Gabriel, industry needs to accept universities as equal partners, valued for their strengths.

For Gabriel, the key is practice-led transformation: it is not enough just to change perception of each other’s sector or have policies to work towards a common goal – you need open development to create the change from within.

An example of this kind of creative partnership in action came from the University of Oxford’s John Lyle, with his presentation on Webinos. This is a European Union project to produce a cross-device runtime environment for web applications. The idea is that fragmentation increases when you move from mobile to TV, laptops, navigation devices, etc. – at the moment, you can’t play a game on your mobile, walk into your house and seamlessly transfer your playing experience to your TV, for example. Webinos aims to resolve this by delivering an open web platform to allow apps to run across mobile, home media, PC and in-car devices.

Some hard questions were asked about how similar Webinos is to other projects around open web apps and the feasibility of trying to generalise a user interface, but the really exciting thing about Webinos is its success in bringing together a wide, pan-European, cross-sector consortium. It consists of 22 founding members from nine countries and the industrial partners include Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Deutsche Telecom and BMW.

As well as Webinos’s founding partnership, John said that the project is committed to creating ‘a worldwide open source community driving and using the results’.

How will that be achieved? Although 15% of Webinos’s funding has been earmarked for community-building, John was warned by Gabriel that ‘in our experience people talk a lot about building community but not a lot happens until the end, when funding has run out and it’s all unsustainable. At OSS Watch we advise people to think about sustainability right from the start.’


So, given that the aim of Open Source Junction is to build a community, what does that mean and how can it be done?

Ross Gardler, manager of OSS Watch and vice-president of community development at the Apache Software Foundation, tackled the topic head on and pinpointed the importance of a governance model: it is the structure that underpins how decisions are made, who makes them and how; conflict resolution and sustainability.

There are two extremes of open source governance: benevolent dictatorship and meritocracy, with the main difference showing up in how conflicts are resolved. Benevolent dictatorship requires ‘genius’, including very strong interpersonal skills; meritocracies do not have that problem, but they can stagnate if not managed well.

But, whichever you go for, said Ross, ‘it is extremely hard to build a community. So get on with building it and stop agonising about it!’

According to Stephen Walli, technical director of the Outercurve Foundation, the ‘campfire rule’ is that we’ve understood communities ‘since you had a campfire and I wanted to sit beside it’ and so open source communities are nothing new. But, again, the governance system needs to be resolved early on.

It is also crucial to make it as simple as possible for people to get involved: ‘The magic can happen on day one but you have to tell people what you want and how they can do it – you have to make it easy for them,’ he said.

Businesses often look to foundations as IP packagers and liability firewalls so they can grow their community more easily. The nine biggest open source projects in the world are based in foundations, Stephen added.

Sander van der Waal of OSS Watch offered some guidance on easing the open development process and advised that there are two essential collaboration tools: information and communication. A good issue-tracker system is crucial to both of these, along with a functioning mailing list.

The positive impact that successful community-building can offer was amply demonstrated by Scott Wilson from CETIS at the University of Bolton. He described how the Wookie widget project started out as a tiny deliverable worked on by a small number of people from one organisation funded from one source for a fixed time. Thanks to its entry into the Apache Incubator, it is now a viable, sustainable piece of open source software and the result is better software than they could have created alone, more interesting research opportunities, far greater impact and a wealth of new partnerships. It has even made money, and did so quickly.

But what can also damage a community beyond repair? Filthy lucre, said Ross. ‘Money ruins everything! Do not have money inside your community! It does not have any place there. It has to be an even playing field. If someone can buy influence then your community is broken,’ he emphasised.

Business sense

While money may cause problems within the governance of a community, it’s also the reason that open source communities need a business model to be sustainable.

Nick Allott, founder of NquiringMinds, raised some eyebrows in the audience with his claim that ‘code is a liability not an asset’, because, as Ross concurred, maintaining software costs money. ‘You have to account for that even if it is open source,’ he said. ‘Someone has to fix the bugs and get the servers back up and all sorts of things and that costs money. You have to generate some money and so someone somewhere has to have a business model. It might be to make money or it might be to reduce costs. If you do not do that then you will fail.’

What kinds of business models are out there? Quite a few, it seems. Potential business models include advertising, dual licensing and packaging for hardware and services (such as warranties, support or customisations). In the mobile app space, people are making money from app sales, upgrades and in-app sales, advertising and server-side revenue. However, the mobile app market is too young for anyone to really know the future – we don’t know what will be commoditised and what the healthy revenue streams will be in five years.

Nick took a look at some of the murkier methods used by bigger business in the open source space, based on growing the ecosystem, controlling the ecosystem and devaluing competitors’ assets. ‘Open source is not always nice and friendly,’ he warned. ‘There are ways to make revenue from open source, but the big players play a different game – to reduce costs and take out competition. Open source can have profound ecosystem effects: you can kill business overnight.’

Of course, there can also be partnerships that are not based on profit. Iris Lapinski of the educational charity Apps for Good offered an inspiring take on collaborative mobile app development with Transit. It’s a Bengali translation app that came out of a course run in Tower Hamlets with a group of girls who realised that there was a problem with communication between their English-speaking teachers and Bengali-speaking parents. Apps for Good brings in experts, from business executives to designers and developers, to work with the young mobile entrepreneurs on a voluntary basis.

Native v web…

Transit will be a native app, unlike most of the apps featured in case studies during the event. The native app v web app dilemma was a thread running through many discussions.

According to Tim Fernando from Oxford University Computing Services, who spoke about the very neat Mobile Oxford app and its associated Molly open source project, ‘If you are working in education, native apps are quite a dangerous route to go down because of renewing code each year, app store commitments and so on.’

App store terms and conditions are certainly an issue for open source developers. However, when asked ‘Are app stores evil?’, Rowan Wilson of OSS Watch took a measured line.

‘They are not evil by default – arguably Maemo repositories were the first app stores,’ he said. ‘The concept itself is not necessarily undermining to open source. Where they are not the sole channel of distribution the problems are significantly reduced. But they do introduce a new form of fragmentation and it can mean that you do not necessarily look outside the one marketplace you see when you get your device.’

Despite the appeal for developers of the web app over the native app, it was also recognised that apps for the iPhone appeal as a ‘shiny new thing’ to vice-chancellors.

Mike Jones from the University of Bristol, whose MyMobileBristol web app provides time- and location-sensitive information for students (such as the nearest available computer terminal and the next bus to the halls of residence), commented that ‘people ask “is it on the app store?”’ and it doesn’t need to be but they think that to access something it has to be on the app store. There are also people in the university who worry that the university does not have a brand presence on the app store.’

Where next?

One of the most important elements of the event was the ‘speed dating’ session, in which participants introduced themselves to each other and sought synergies between skills and needs and projects. It was the first step in developing the nascent Open Source Junction community and a number of potential partnerships were identified immediately.

In the closing session, OSS Watch’s Gabriel Hanganu identified three key areas for the future of Open Source Junction – open development, sustainability and marketing – and said that ‘depending on how these are addressed, the community will live or die’. Given the enthusiastic response to the event and the firm prospect of future collaboration, the community’s life force is already looking strong.

If you enjoyed reading this report, you may also like to see Michelle’s mini-interviews with some of the attendees.

Further reading


Open Source Junction blog (including live blog, slides and photos)
Programme and speaker bios

100% Open
Apps for Good
Mobile Oxford
Outercurve Foundation

Further information from OSS Watch:

App stores and openness
Free and open source software in mobile devices
Open innovation in software
How to build an open source community
Roles in open source projects
Wookie: a case study in sustainability

Fixing the Web with the help of the open source community

This guest post was written by Dr Gail Bradbrook, who works for Citizens Online, a charity that promotes digital inclusion.

Fix the Web is, in the jargon of the day, a crowd-sourcing project with the aim of changing the face of web accessibility. It is led by Citizens Online, the national charity I work for. A couple of years ago, we did some work with the EC on their strategy for digital inclusion (the use of technology by disadvantaged people).

At a European level, the progress on ensuring that all disabled people have a good internet experience was shockingly bad. EU countries signed up to a Riga target in 2006, which said that by 2010 all public sector websites should be accessible. I don’t think they have (dared!) measure it this year. In 2007 it had improved by only 2%, so they are moving their target to 2015.

We are probably at about 40% in the UK, according to Socitm research, but of course that is just the public sector. The private sector is not as ‘good’ and there is clearly still a long way to go. Using the latest (2008) WCAG2.0 standards (the basis of the recently launched BS8878) would seriously diminish (to nearly zero!) the number of accessible sites. What struck me was that the attempts to rectify this situation were very top-down, useful, but nonetheless limited attempts to draw up standards and promote them, build business cases, etc.

I asked myself where the voice of the average disabled person was in this and what role social media and ‘good geekery’ could play? (I’m a self-confessed ‘Geek Groupie’ at Stroud’s Barcamp!). Fix the Web was born out of those considerations and discussions with stakeholders. We got some funding from the Nominet Trust to take it forwards. I was always certain that the open source community would be central to the success of the project (though I had to stop referring to you good folks as ‘hactivists’ because people thought I was proposing something illegal!).

The simple idea is that we want to make reporting inaccessible websites as easy as possible for disabled people. They can highlight any problems they are having in less than 60 seconds, then quickly move on, without the burden of finding the right person to contact, and then constructing a considered email or filling out a form (which may finish with an inaccessible CAPTCHA!).

People can choose from a few options when reporting a problem: using a form on the site (http://www.fixtheweb.net), via twitter (#fixtheweb #fail, url and the problem) or by emailing post@fixtheweb.net. However, my ‘dream’ was a clickable toolbar that would capture the website details and provide the easiest option. Steve Lee from Full Measure brokered an introduction – as part of his OSS Watch support activities provided to ATBar – to the folks at Southampton University who are developing the ATbar (formerly funded by TechDis). The development team of Sebastian Skuse, Dr Mike Wald and E A Draffan from the Learning Societies Lab at Southampton, have collaborated with Fix the Web to create a special Fix the Web button on the toolbar, not only making the reporting process as fast as possible, but also opening up the project to the 2 million current users of the toolbar.

The idea of the toolbar has also been supported by JISC-funded OSS Watch, which provides advice on the use, development and licensing of open source software. The team aims to build a community around the project and take it forward through its recently awarded JISC REALISE project. Over the last five months, there have been over 1.8 million ‘toolbar hits’ on the ATBar.

The underlying ethos of Fix the Web is about raising awareness across the spectrum of understanding on this issue. So those who are clueless will get to hear about it, those who forget to consider it will find it further forwards in their thinking, those who know something will learn more, etc. And it is about empathising with people and the barriers they face, whether in knowledge or power or current budgets, and working with them, rather than naming and shaming.

It would be great to get more open source folks involved in the project. You don’t need to be an expert in web accessibility to join in, but you may improve your knowledge by doing so. Volunteering takes place online, in your own time. This is very much about a lot of people doing a little and over time collectively helping to Fix the Web we all love.

Daniel Pink’s Drive: open source model is key to future development

This guest post is contributed by Alvina Lopez, who writes on the topics of accredited online schools.

What continues to surprise me most about open source software (OSS) development is how the particular mindset OSS embodies has seeped into an incredibly diverse range of discussion that transcends software itself. Daniel Pink‘s latest book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is the latest example of how OSS has served to concretely demonstrate truths about human behavior.

The basic gist of Pink’s book is that business models of the 20th century have it all wrong in terms of what drives employees to perform better. Pink argues that for workers whose jobs require creative skills the kind of work that represents an increasing majority of jobs in America and the UK now that repetitive tasks are being more frequently outsourced, money is a poor motivator. Rather, by delving into the latest research in neuroscience and behavioral science, Pink suggests three things that motivate creative production: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Pink defines autonomy as having greater freedom at work. Given the chance to be self-directed, Pink demonstrates, workers will approach tasks they’ve designed themselves with greater enthusiasm. Pink cites the company Google, which requires that all employees spend 20% of their time working on whatever they feel like doing. Google has noted that some of the company’s most innovative ideas have grown out of their 20% rule. Mastery, according to Pink, is the desire to become highly skilled and knowledgeable in a specific skill or set of skills for its own sake. The final piece of the motivation puzzle is purpose: knowing that what you are spending your time doing is reaping tangible benefits for others.

When looking at Pink’s scheme, it comes as no surprise that he offers the open source software revolution as the golden model of true human motivation in action. Those of you in the OSS camp know full well the personal fulfilment derived from working on a project in which you are given an opportunity to join a community, collaborating with others freely and openly, working on your own time to master your craft, and helping others out in the process.

Although many open source software developers subscribe to the open source mindset, Pink points out that few look at the bigger picture. In an interview published on OpenSource.com, Pink noted:

‘I think that people who are involved in open source sometimes don’t realize how extraordinary it is. [...] If you had presented it in business school to some strategy professor saying, “I’ve got this new business model for creating software, and here is how it goes: A bunch of people around the world who don’t know each other get together and work for free. And these are highly skilled, technically able people who decide to do really tough, sophisticated work for free, and they give away their product”, it would have seemed ludicrous. And the fact that it worked and it worked so well, and the fact that it has challenged if not toppled other software products that are created in the more conventional way, ought to give us some hints about how we structure firms, how we organize workers, and I think deep down what really motivates people to do amazing things.’

In the final analysis, Pink’s book about motivation demonstrates why OSS is so successful, and how the model can inspire and inform both businesses and individuals seeking fulfillment through work. It’s an engaging read that will remind you why and how OSS plays such a pivotal role in the development of expanding human capability.

The Ubuntu Developer Summit

This guest post was written by Alan Bell.

Picture the scene: a sunny morning in a peaceful Belgian forest, rabbits playing on the grass, birds in the trees full of the joys of spring. This was the setting for the Ubuntu Developer Summit for the ‘Maverick Meerkat’ release. Three hundred or so people were assembled for a week of decision making sessions shaping the next version of Ubuntu. There were Canonical employees (Canonical is the company that produces Ubuntu), delegates from other companies and projects and also a bunch of assorted geeks from the community who were sponsored to attend. I was very pleased to be one of these.

The proceedings were opened by Mark Shuttleworth (the project’s self-appointed benevolent dictator for life, or sabdfl as he is known online), who talked about Unity, the new light version of Ubuntu that will be pre-installed as a fast-booting, touch-optimised desktop for netbooks and tablet computers. Mark went on to talk about the release of the next version, which was expected at the end of October this year (hence the 10.10 version number). He then visibly shocked the release team by announcing he wanted the release date to be 10/10/10, partly as a tribute to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 101010 in binary is 42 in decimal!

The summit itself was unlike anything else I have ever attended. I will attempt to describe how it works. Firstly, it isn’t a conference or tradeshow and there are no sales pitches. It is a series of working meetings, lots of them. The schedule is published online at http://summit.ubuntu.com/uds-m and for each day you can see what meetings are going on in the 18 rooms available. The schedule is planned in advance, but it isn’t set in stone; sessions are added, removed and rescheduled throughout the week. This sounds a bit chaotic, but it seems to work. The rooms are laid out with microphones in the centre, which record the session and stream live to the internet. Those who want to actively participate in the session sit in the middle; those mainly there to listen and learn sit further back.

On the first day, I ended up running a session as one of my blueprints got scheduled. This was on the topic of the Alfresco document-management system and the future plans for it in Ubuntu. I was a bit unsure how the session would go as I was arriving at it with nothing but open questions; however, to my astonishment, all the right people turned up and provided the answers! We now have a solid set of work items to process in order to get Alfresco and Ubuntu working well together.

I attended several of the sessions on accessibility. Ubuntu was one of the most accessible Linux distributions a few years ago, but has not moved on in this area as much as might be expected. The accessibility team is now being revitalised with new leadership and new projects to work on. One new initiative is to create a set of design personas, well-documented fictional characters who use accessibility software and hardware to operate their computer. These will be used for encouraging application developers to consider the needs of all their end-users and to educate them on the best practices for designing accessible applications. I am also going to be looking at ways to use accessibility software to improve the productivity of currently able-bodied people – the more people using these tools, the more potential contributors there are. Perhaps using text-to-speech for instant messaging or microblogging updates would be a less distracting means of delivering this information, or maybe improving the navigation of the screen using the keyboard would give a productivity boost.

As well as technical sessions, there was a track based on the development of the community, which is a critical part of any open source endeavour. Ubuntu has a large and growing global community and it is fascinating to see how the dynamics of the community change as it grows. As part of the community track, I made some suggestions on how to improve collaboration between local user groups and small businesses when running promotional events and I will be continuing a project to improve the management and production of minutes for the many online meetings. The growth of Ubuntu in the education sector was also discussed, with several meetings on the Edubuntu project, including a discussion of a collection of applications aimed at higher level education.

It was an inspirational, exciting, friendly and exhausting week. Can’t wait for the next one.

Group photo of the UDS attendees

The 300+ attendees of the Ubuntu Developer Summit

Guest post: 2010 – Threats to copyleft

This post is by Patrice-Emmanuel Schmitz, Director for European institution studies at Unisys Belgium (Brussels). His team is in charge of the www.OSOR.eu (Open Source Observatory and Repository), the Free/Libre/Open Source information platform and forge launched by the European Commission for public sector projects.

Combining freedoms and copyleft in the Gnu GPL licence (invented by Richard Stallman) was the cornerstone of free software. This is now questioned due to the proliferation of incompatible copyleft licences.

After counting 1,800 free software licences used in hundreds of thousands of projects, the Black Duck company patented (Patent US 7,552,093 B2) the technology for controlling the use of open source licensing in a multi-source development process (meaning combined works, elaborated from multiple free components under different licences).

No need to say that patenting proprietary technology to solve copyleft licences incompatibility may not be seen by everyone as a major achievement!

Lamenting on licence proliferation or blaming new licence authors – who all call upon the best reasons of the world, looks useless. It would certainly be reasonable, as recommended by Bruce Perens, to deal with only four permissive and copyleft licences, but this is wishful thinking. New licences are presented every week by FLOSS authors and communities, and no benevolent dictator will limit human innovation regarding licensing.

The heart of the problem does not lie in the number of licences, but in their incompatibility. I do not think that licence proliferation is a failure of the FLOSS movement, it is rather the entire contrary: a testimony of the attractiveness of FLOSS models. In reality, licence proliferation illustrates the failure of a certain model of strong copyleft, as it was initiated by the GPL in the ’80s and – unfortunately – reproduced by nearly all subsequent copyleft licences. Once necessary and successful, this model looks not adapted anymore because it was copied and – seeing the Black Duck patent – one may question (like Ernest Park has done) if the way copyleft is applied does not generate today more jails than freedom.

According to my first study for the European Commission, the Gnu GPL v2 was used in 85% of the FLOSS projects in 2001. With a copyleft that was – maliciously – said “viral” by some, meaning that compatibility is always “upstream” (to itself) and never “downstream” (to other licences), the adoption rate of the GPL should have been universal in 2010, confirming analysts’ assumption that “it is good for the community if people use a single copyleft license [1]”. However, the exact reverse happened: the GPLv2 (reducing) is still used in 50% of projects, the new GPLv3 reaches little more than 5% and other licences are proliferating.

The fact a dozen of licences are used by 90% of the FLOSS projects does not help very much, as the implementation of free solutions (which are often combined works) is done through integrating many components. It is enough to find only one incompatible licence to compromise the distribution of these solutions.

The current situation is damaging for other reasons: it creates endless discussions on what could be considered as integration in combined works (dynamic or static linking) and it feeds disputes. To preserve their communities from schisms, gurus and acolytes urge followers not to use any other copyleft licences, whatever their specific merits or advantages could be. It is time to admit that the strategy of keeping a “captive asset” of licence users was not successful for avoiding proliferation, and that it is not the most appropriate way to reinforce the freedom, collaboration spirit and consistency within the fragmented FLOSS world.

In Europe, the recent – OSI approved and copyleft – European Union Public Licence (EUPL) meets some initial successes due to its compliance with Member States’ law and because it has equal value in the 22 languages of the Union. It has been selected by the German Federal Agency for Information Technologies, it is the licence of choice in schemes published by the Dutch NOiV (see on the www.OSOR.eu site an English version of this scheme, translated by a member of the Swiss administration), a dedicated EUPL site was created in Italy, etc. In Spain, the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce (where the public agency Red.es is located, in charge of information technology) provides the following in call for tenders (software specifications):

“In case the contractor integrates in the development that is the object of the contract with modules or elements owned by third parties, he must first obtain from the legal owners the licences and rights necessary to transfer the ownership of the development to , which will submit it, including the elements that are performed under the contract (such as fonts, dll, scripts, etc..) to the public licence EUPL. In any case the total and final result of the development and the overall project will be subject to a licence EUPL.”

Applying such provisions excludes strong copyleft components from the delivered combined work: all original developments are allowed; all “permissive” components are allowed (BSD, MIT, etc.); all “weak copyleft” components are allowed (i.e. LGPL), but no Gnu GPLv2 (or V3) components (except if the copyright owner is entitled to dual license the component under LGPL-like terms, for the purpose of addressing the contractual specifications).

The EUPL itself has an innovative approach to solve copyleft licence conflicts: it publishes a downstream compatibility list (to other licenses). It is allowed to integrate EUPL components in a combined work that will be distributed under a compatible licence. The concept is not new, as the FSF applied it with the LGPL a long time ago. The LGPL (now LGPLv3) is convenient for software libraries aimed to produce combined or derivative works: if the library is propagated on its own, it must be under the provision of its original licence (LGPL), but if the library components are part of a derivative work, this work can be licensed under another licence, while the original library remains LGPL. The EUPL compatibility is exactly the same, but its copyleft effect is stronger than in the LGPL (because compatibility is restricted to a limited and published list of other copyleft F/OSS licences). Therefore it is not a weak but – say, a “tolerant copyleft”.

Such flexibility removes incompatibility barriers and restores developers’ freedom, while keeping it in the limits of the desired copyleft effect.

While the EUPL solution may be considered as a conceptual progress, its tangible impact will stay very limited as long other copyleft licences will not give some reciprocity: the quantity of available EUPL-ed material is quite small today, compared to the mass of components that are already available under the GPL terms. Extending the list of EUPL compatible licences (i.e. by adding the still missing GPLv3) will not change the issue resulting from the Spanish specifications, where the government requires the facility to distribute the received combined work under the single licence of its choice (the EUPL in this case).

Solving problems related to the proliferation of copyleft licences requires setting up interoperability provisions between these main licences. It will create, and focus attention, on a kind of “circle of trust” where the original copyleft licensing condition of a software will never be changed, but where – just to take an example – a GPL component could be part of a combined work that the recipient (let’s say the French or the Spanish government) could distribute as a whole under the provision of the copyleft licence of its choice (i.e. CeCILL or the EUPL) provide these licences are allowed in the compatibility list.

The Gnu GPLv3 includes (in its section 13) the exact provision corresponding to the above need, but it is directed to the AGPLv3 only. The intellectual effort to extend this provision in direction of a small list of interoperable licences seems easy to deliver. The reciprocal condition must be added: in the example above, the combined work could be also (as the need may be) distributed under the provisions of the GPLv3.

This could be a way out to the deadlock where we are, due to the proliferation of incompatible licences.

Looking for alternative? Pay a Black Duck patent licence!

Patrice-Emmanuel Schmitz – www.OSOR.eu

[1] R.T. Nimmer, Legal issues in Open Source and Free Software distribution, The Law of Computer technology, Ch. 11 (1997, 2005 Supp.) (“Two different copyleft licenses are usually “incompatible”, which means it is illegal to merge the code using one license with the code using the other license; therefore it is good for the community if people use a single copyleft license (GPL)”).