One of the live issues in the software world at the moment is whether or not open source code can have long-term sustainability. That is, if there is no clear proprietary ownership can a user be sure that the code will be maintained and developed over a long period? Back in October I was commissioned to write up a workshop hosted by Oxford University’s OSS Watch service that looked at some of these issues. The article, “From a trickle to a flood”, has now been published.
One of the big issues is the methods, or models, that are used to create the code. There are a number of models that are being explored by different open source groups but the Oxford event focused on just one: the open (sometimes called the ‘community-led’) development model.
In this model a diverse community of developers and users work together for the longer-term benefit of the product. The argument is that sustainability can be achieved through the development of a wide and diverse community, a kind of eco-system, which nurtures and supports the code over the long term. The model works with what Harvard Internet lawyer Yochai Benkler has theorised as commons-based peer-production, a process by which everyone who contributes also gets something back that furthers their interests. One of the keynote speakers, Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, described it this way: “It is a bunch of folks, working together, with diverse motivations, and who are not bound by any strong tie – we don’t for example work for the same company…” He goes on to say that: “it is not just grabbing software, attaching an open source licence to it and dumping it somewhere. It is more about understanding and working with others. For me, it is the natural way to express oneself in a connected world”.
For people who are not used to working in this way I think these are quite hard concepts to grasp. There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that Gianugo was talking from the heart. He really believes what he says and lives the open development method as a kind of credo, which is what makes it so fascinating.