☞ Transparent Government

☂ Sentinel Principle Article Available

My article proposing using openness sentinels – the existence of an open source co-developer community working on an implementation as validation of the openness of a standard – is now available in the Essays section.

☞ Freedom and Long Life

  • But the observation that I found most telling was that the governance model has actually freed up blockages in the decision-making processes. This is despite initial concerns expressed by some project members that a governance model could be unnecessary bureaucracy.

  • I’m on a panel at OSBC this year. It’s the first time I’ve been back to OSBC for ages – if you’ll be in San Francisco that week let me know.
  • Autocompletion brings liability
    Seems that now Google has agreed to fix search results for China, the Gulf states and others, the capability is established and they will need to also fix them for anyone else who takes offence at the roll of the dice and can afford a hot lawyer.
  • If you had any connection with the BBS movement in the heady days before the endemic Internet, you’ll know about Kermit. Columbia has finally decided it’s not a viable business and by the looks of it they are considering making it open source – excellent choice.
  • Festival Bell: Fairport Convention
    Fairport are still going strong four decades on, and this new studio album is pretty good, with strong tracks written by Chris Leslie and Ralph McTell and other good stuff too. Makes me want to go to Cropredy again…

☆ Balancing Transparency and Privacy

Beautiful WindowOne of the keys to a successful open source community is appropriate transparency. A community with strong values around transparency will also be likely to respect its participants privacy. Such a community will also be unlikely to have a copyright assignment benefiting a commercial party. Here’s why.

An open source community arises from the synchronization of the individual interest of many parties. Each person:

  • comes to the community at their own (or their employer’s) expense,
  • seeks to derive from the commons at its heart software that fulfils their individual interest and
  • freely brings with them their own abilities and contributions.

No-one is owed a living by anyone else – communities do not have business models, only the participants gathering in them do. Participants with a business interest in the code express that interest elsewhere, if it’s a truly open community.

To create an environment where people are willing to synchronize their individual interests and collaborate over code, there has to be transparency. But that doesn’t have to extend to the lives of the participants themselves. Your motivations for being involved in the community are of no relevance to my life because our relationship in the community depends on code. The code, the community and how they interact are transparent, but motivations for participating in it are opaque. My reasons are up to me alone and yours up to you. They’re private and irrelevant because the code speaks for itself. And by implication, you have no right to force acceptance of your business model on me.

Thus in a healthy open source community, I’m free to maintain my privacy around my motivations and how I’m funding my involvement if I wish. On the other hand, I’m able to work in an environment of transparency where all the code is known, all its origins are known, all its defects are potentially known.

That combination of transparency with privacy is, in my opinion, a primary characteristic of an open-by-rule open source community. Communities without the rule “if it didn’t happen as a matter of open record, it didn’t happen” are closed, regardless of the software license. Open source is about transparency at the community level but also about the privacy of the individuals involved.

The interface between the two is where a formal community/contribution agreement is relevant. To maintain trust, enable development transparency and permit individual privacy, it’s reasonable to ask every participant to sign an agreement promising to stick to community norms, especially with respect to the originality of contributions and the possibility that they are associated with parallel-filed patents.

But it’s not reasonable to give any one participant the exclusive advantage of aggregated copyright for them to use privately. Doing so breaches the transparency-privacy boundary, damages trust by enabling opaque behaviour with the community commons and introduces private business-model reasoning into the community where it doesn’t belong.

I’ve heard arguments such as “we have to be able to make a profit” or “we contributed the original code” to justify copyright assignments, but these are personal not community arguments. Your need for profit is yours, not the community’s, and if you didn’t have it nailed before you started the community and irreversibly licensed the code under an OSI-approved license, that’s your problem. Your business need is no reason for me to surrender my copyright to you, so please don’t demand it. There is no amount of contribution on your part that permits you to demand anything from me.

That’s why, as a participant in Project Harmony, I’m only interested in the variants that grant equal rights to everyone. There will be more news about this soon – watch out for it.

[Expanded from a comment I made in FLOSS Weekly 39.  A helpful research paper on this subject is The Role of Participation Architecture in Growing Sponsored Open Source Communities]

☞ Leadership Change

  • Pamela declares victory, resists the temptation to diversify and announces Groklaw will no longer publish original articles. Personally I think this is a great loss for the wider software freedom community; an investigative community venue is definitely needed to counter the mesh of conspiracies I know are the daily work of industry lobbyists and standards professionals.
  • The OSI Board has now elected officers and committee chairs for the 2011-12 year.

☆ Protei – Open Hardware Robot

Here’s a Kickstarter project that deserves your attention. A worldwide group of experts and enthusiasts is designing an autonomous marine robot that can be unleashed in fleets on an oil spill and sweep it all up from the surface of the ocean. Their design and working are completely open, so anyone anywhere can build and improve the design. It also potentially could be set to the task of clearing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

They will use the Kickstarter money to build a full-scale working prototype. All round excellent project by the looks of it – you can find out much more on their web site and you can sponsor the project on Kickstarter – take the time especially to watch the video on Kickstarter.

⚡ Investment

☞ Open Source Data Points

  • OSI Board reponds to FCO Questionaire concerning CPTN Transaction
    The OSI Board was asked by the German cartel authority for further comment on the acquisition of Novell’s patent portfolio by CPTN (Microsoft, Apple, EMC, Oracle). With their permission, the newly-seated OSI Board has published its response.
  • 5th Annual North Bridge Future of Open Source Survey 2011
    The forces of commercialism in open source would love you to share your insights in this annual survey.
  • The move by the new masters in Congress to de-fund all the things in the US that have been recently installed to create more transparency speaks as well of their effectiveness as it does badly of those trying to use budget cuts as an excuse to remove them.
  • Jomar observes that the companies previously excited about open standards have significantly cooled their passions lately. My assumption is that’s because Google is now seen as the primary threat vector by those companies and Google is well able to use both open standards and open source to its advantage.

☞ Distracting Reading

  • The end of OpenID?
    Very interesting analysis on LWN suggesting that OpenID’s big problem is it leaves users in too much control and thus is no use to web sites who insist on quietly gathering and exploiting your identity information.
  • Keen on Kyrgyzstan
    Beautifully-written blog by Dennis Keen, who has the unbelievable task of studying eagle hunting in Asia on a Fulbright Fellowship. Read especially his fascinating Eagle Babe article from last November.
  • EU’s new copyright leader doesn’t believe private copying should exist
    The worrying appointment of Maria Martin-Prat as head of the European Union’s “intellectual property” unit. The unit itself is a pretty worrying thing to exist when there’s so little in common between copyright, patents, trademarks and trade secrets apart from their collective role in removing citizen freedoms in the digital age). But her appointment is especially worrying as she used to be a lobbyist for the recording industry, so this is an act of putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

☝ The Sentinel Principle

If we try to define what an “open standard” is, we’ll probably find the definition being gamed by well-funded corporate interests within a short time. But what if there was another way to get an indication that a standard was problematic? I suggest using a sentinel. Read about it on ComputerWorldUK.

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