Talks/FLOSS Overview and Research

From WikiDotMako

This talk was initially given at Leah Buechley's class on Design for Empowerment on November 13, 2009. The talk was 45 minutes in length.


  • Very briefly introduce my own qualifications and biases;
  • Overview and background on FLOSS with an emphasis on:
    • The key people;
    • Key moments, principles, and documents;
    • The famous debate of free versus open.
  • Social science research on FLOSS with an emphasis on how this debate has research and my own take:
    • I'll show some examples from my own work on FLOSS;
    • ...and talk about how I'm integrating design with social science.

My Background[edit]

My background is in work on free software projects over 16 years(!) in a variety of projects:

I've made a transition into academic research on the same subjects:

  • Anthropological work on the cultivation of ethic in FLOSS communities
  • More recently sociological work on community dynamics in FLOSS

My Biased History of FLOSS[edit]

Early History[edit]

  • RMS Printer story / MIT AI Lab (familiar to many people)
  • Emacs Software Sharing Commune
  • Free software was a reclaimist movement for freedom
  • Strong orientation as a social movement calling for control and autonomy

As so there is no ambiguity. I'm in this camp and this is why I do what I do.

Early Structure[edit]

Open Source[edit]

  • Open Source is born of frustration with free software personality and its posture with business interests and the late 90s tech bubble and the DotCom boom
  • Open Source Initiative started by Eric Raymond (author of Cathedral and the Bazaar), Bruce Perens and others
  • Open Source Definition
  • Motivations emphasizing the pragmatic benefits of fee software
    • OS can be seen as a development methodology
    • "A inherently better way to produce better software"
  • "Opposite of a schism"

Going Mainstream (ups and downs)[edit]

  • Perhaps the major breakthrough was with Netscape releasing code to their browser in 1998
  • Many other companies ended up getting carried away in the boom (VA Linux (LNUX has single biggest IPO) (Krantz and Henry, 1999)
  • Dotcom Bust
  • Reemergence of people who care about liberty and freedom (or institutional independence and autonomy)
    • Social movements again
    • Governments in Europe/S. America/etc.

Academic Work[edit]

Most academic social science has basically started where Raymond left off (e.g., von Hippel or Lakhani). i.e., Most researchers start from, "Isn't open source great? How can we understand its success?"

But this statement takes that success for granted.

  • But there are a few awkward facts about this (e.g., Healy and Schussman)

In other words, by focusing only on the most successful projects, we are selecting on the dependent variable. From another perspective, we are measuring openness (or open sourceness) in legal terms while many of the most important barriers may be organizational.

I'm religious about free software issues from an ethical position. But I don't believe it's inherently better. I'm concerned instead with how we make it better. I'm interested in looking at the variation in project success and in the barriers to cooperation, sharing, reuse, and recombination -- all those things that von Hippel has already showed can play an important role.

Some snapshots or postcards from my work:

  • Quality and reliance on individuals in Debian
  • Cultivation of ethics in free software communities
  • How free became open and everything else under the sun

My current work:

  • Looking at community dynamics in scratch
  • Trying to connect things back into design implications
  • "Experiments" in real online communities