Daily Archives: September 18, 2006

On Blogging. The Future is Now

As I write these posts I occasionally have an idea of what I will say next and if you look back you will see me commenting about a future post. Indeed, in some cases I have used one post to set the stage for a subsequent post.

But I write these posts using WordPress (WP), and WP by default lists the most recent posts first. This is a common web convention, to present the most recent news first. But it also means those efforts to set the stage are to no avail, and it’s quite likely you will have read a page I have yet to write before you read this one.

Now WP has a plugin architecture and there are probably ways around this. I also recently noted that another piece of software has an option to present oldest posts first, or at least to simply easily allow reading posts in that order.

If I were very clever I would write the future posts now and the past posts in the future, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that, so I’ll just stick to the conventional order.

Full Public View

I’ve been working for several months as part of a small team within IBM investigating ways to enlist IBMers with open source skills to volunteer to make their skills available part-time — and on their own time — to work with educational and non-profit organizations to help improve the communities in which we all live and work.

Some folks on the team have a background in open source, others don’t. Indeed part of the fascination has been the mutual process of education that has gone on, and I plan to share some of the lessons we have learned in future posts.

But let me begin with one very important lesson. Last week I was copied on an e-mail thread about work being done by a small team that plans to engage in some open source activity by making a new donation to an existing project. This was being done as a private discussion.

While private discussions are normal within business, I believe they should never be the norm when doing open source business. Indeed, I sent the following note to our internal mail list.

I just spent more than an hour writing a note on the importance of doing all work in full public view when working on an open source project. I expect many of these thoughts apply to volunteer efforts with non-profit and educational institutions.

Here are some excerpts from the note, the parts that make the general point and don’t reveal the details that prompted my note.

I ran IBM’s first OSS project during its first year. It was a very educational experience. That is the good news. The bad news is that I had to learn all this while running the project, and looking back, the project suffered because I could have done more had I known more.I won’t bore you with all the details here, but the single most important thing I learned is the importance of carrying out all project discussions in full public view, via mail lists.

Because if existing or potential members of an open source project sense something is going on behind the scenes that they don’t know about, then you — and the project — will pay a price. Because they will know they are not part of a team, but one of the “outsiders” being directed by the “insiders.” That will be enough for some to leave, and for others to not even consider joining the project.

Here as in many areas perception is everything. You have to go out of your way to be public even though it’s more work. It is one of the prices you must pay to be effective in OSS.

…But If you take a look at the really successful OSS projects, you will find that *all* discussions are via mail lists. Linux, Apache, Eclipse. It worked — and is working — for them. It can work for us.

Becoming an Open-Source Project

I’ve been working on the concept of open-source-volunteerism for several months, for the most part inside the IBM firewall. I’ll write more in future posts about the origins of this effort and why I believe this presents a very exciting opportunity.

I resumed my blog and wrote the numerous posts that closed out “Release 1” and started what I’m calling “release 2” as I realized it was time to move outside the firewall, to engage the community and seek a wider audience.

In doing so I plan to play by the open source “rules” as I understand them, as open source is about much more than just freely available code. It’s also about the development model that has resulted in the creation of so much high-quality code in open source form.

So look at this work as an open source project. If you find me not playing by the rules, please let me know. If you want to help out, just dive in — all are welcome.

But before you start posting let me anticipate one objection and try to answer it right off the bat.

Question: Dave, this is a blog, not a project. How can you run an open source project using just a blog? You’re at the helm, the most we can do is post comments.
Answer: Right you are. I agree completely. I hope to move to the open source infrastructure you have every right to expect. I’m blogging away here just to kick off that effort, and am intentionally doing all work going forward in the open so all can see what’s going on.

We’re going to work in full public view.

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