I’ve Been Grokked

I just noticed that someone reached my blog by clicking on a link at groklaw.net, suggesting that the main page of Groklaw had a link to this blog.

I just paid a visit to Groklaw, and learned it was true. I have been grokked!

Chappaqua-20071021 055
Hi, PJ!

As I write this, the “Groklaw Latest News Picks” has as its first entry:

On Education, Innovation, OLPC, And Open-Source

I used one of the new OLPC machines last week while attending the K12 Open Minds Conference for 2007 (k12openminds07) that was held last week in Indianapolis, Indiana.

While I used the machine for only a few minutes, I came away very impressed by it, in part because of my recent thinking about the growing importance of open-source to education, and the shared sense of adventure and hope that I found at the conference….

I have been waiting for close to three decades to see an application of computer technology to improve education that was comparable to PLATO in its potential impact.

I finally think the search has ended. That would be last week, when I first had a chance to use a real OLPC….Though OLPC is still in its early days, I do think it will not fail, and that it will prove to be an enormous success.-

Dave Shields,The Wayward Word Press

Goodness, gracious. I have been grokked — by Pamela Jones, the one and only “PJ.” What an honor!

So let me send a few grok’s back to PJ.

I started in my current job helping to manage IBM’s open-source activities in early February, 2003.

Just over a month later I saw an article in one of the Linux news sites that a small company called “SCO” had filed a suit against IBM. I then sent a note some colleagues.

A few months later I noticed the appearance of the Groklaw site, and I have followed it religiously ever since. For example, I recall that when I went to Toronto in August to celebrate my aunt’s 80th birthday, I didn’t take along my laptop, and so had access to the internet only via a machine in a motel lobby, and Groklaw was one of the three or four sites I visited to see what was up.

I know that I was not alone in using Groklaw, and I’ve been told that many IBM attorneys were frequent visitors. I expect that was also the case for the attorneys working for the Dark Side.

I have continued to follow the site quite closely, though now that SCO seems doomed to extinction — the latest news being that SCO might be bought for Wall Street pocket change — I follow Groklaw less closely, but I still visit it at least once every two days.

I have given several talks on open-source these past years, and I have made mention of Groklaw of many of the, as an example of the use of the open-source development model. [1]

I find Groklaw a notable example of the open-source development model and culture in that it uses all the same principles, and has the same culture, as the most successful open-source projects. Groklaw differs from Apache only in that its community releases information and not source code. Otherwise it’s all there: release early, release often; a central web site; a way for anyone to contribute by posting a comment; an army of core volunteers who contribute by attending court sessions, taking notes, and sending them back to PJ for review and posting; a very well-designed web site; frequent news updates; and so forth.

Groklaw has an exceptional leader. All I know about PJ is what I have read about her. I understand she is about my age (I’m in the my early 60’s); she is a paralegal, not an attorney; she started this project on her own initiative; and lives in Westchester County, as do I, though I don’t know where.

She has put an extraordinary amount of effort into this project, and to my knowledge has done all the work on her own time and her own dime, making her a fellow volunteer, though she works in amassing and sharing information about open-source legal issues, while I work in promoting the use of open-source in education.

She is a wonderful writer, just wonderful. She has a clear voice, a great sense of humor, and many of her posts show both hard work and detailed scholarship.

PJ is a great educator. I have gained a much deeper appreciation of the law, and of the people who devote their careers to it, by following Groklaw .

Yes, PJ takes pot shots at the business folks involved, as I also take pot shots at Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer because they are not members of the open-source community. But she does not take pot shots at the legal folks.

Her respect for the law is evident whenever she writes about it. She treats both sides fairly and treats with equal respect the attorneys, judges, and court employees.

Most stories about the law –whether fiction on nonfiction — are about criminal cases. The only detailed, accessible, and well-written of a civil suit I can recall is A Civil Action.

My guess is that in the years — and perhaps even decades — to come, much of her writing, as well as that of the many contributors to Groklaw , will be frequently cited in introductory courses in law schools, and SCO v. IBM will be frequently used as a case study because of the immense amount of information that has been compiled about it.

Moreover, all that information has been published on the internet and is available at no cost.

This case is unique in that it was about open-source. PJ started alone, but she made the key decision to follow the open-source model, publishing everything and welcoming contributors. She was thus able to assemble a team that used the internet to collect the information that in part helped to defeat an attack on both open-source and the internet itself.

I do not think we see its like again.

Some may argue that the folks in Redmond may have a different view.

But I have another view, one that I must state is just my own personal view, since I happen to work for IBM.

I’m sure Groklaw played a role in the outcome of the suit, in that we all know attorneys on both sides were both reading it and using every shred of information they could on the site to help their cause, or to ward off an attach.

However, the real contribution of the Groklaw team has been to provide an immense amount of education about open-source, licensing, copyright, associated legal issues, and so forth.

That education has made many more people comfortable with open-source, thus making them less susceptible to over-the-top attacks such as “open-source is a cancer.”

Perhaps the most valuable part of this education has been to demonstrate the open-source model at work, relentlessly applied day after day, with no member of the community taking advantage of another.

I think that Groklaw as an open-source project is unique in that –as best I can tell — it has been done without the use of any email lists, but as dispatches from the field to a central editor who publishes as much as is deemed fit.

All this has been done completely in the open, so the results of this education will always be available.

I thank PJ and the team for all their great work.

We all should.

One Comment

  1. Posted October 26, 2007 at 12:22 | Permalink | Reply


    This is so touching. I deeply appreciate you writing this. You have no idea how often I’ve wondered about whether anyone knew what we were trying to do, and you captured it perfectly.

    Yes, no email lists, although I do get a lot of email, that’s for sure. We do have a members-only arrangement for when there are work assignments, asking for volunteers, or to work on copyediting something, for example, or when I want to know how they feel about some decision I have to make. That’s mainly because it would bore the general readers, and also it’s something we only began after there were a lot of attacks on the site, to at least have some peace. But that’s now about 12,000 members, so it’s still open.

    My hope is that someone will notice how much the general public really wants to know about legal developments and how deeply and sincerely they care, so that eventually everyone can obtain legal documents without cost. That is my dream, to spread accessibility to all.

    I know that costs on PACER are minimal. But Groklaw spends thousands every year on documents, and so I know how quickly that 8 cents a page can add up. And it’s hard to find things. You have to know what you are looking for to actually find it. There aren’t easy categories to help a nonlegal person find his or her way around. What I dream of doing someday is at least a complete IP collection, so every important, and unimportant, decision in the US in that category is available to the world.
    With everyone now conceivably a publisher, thanks to blogging, and because software developers in FOSS are
    often individuals and small groups, I think everyone needs to know how the law works. That was my beginning premise. And we’re not there yet!

    : )

    PS What you “know” about me isn’t accurate. Everything you read comes from those trying to damage my reputation,
    who did not stoop to pay detectives and possibly journalists, judging from SCO’s creditors’ list, to try to find me and I suppose smear my good name with more precision. I hope that is all they intended, but I don’t know really. No friend of mine ever reveals any information, so as to protect me and to protect my concept of Groklaw — that people respond best to the message if they know least about the messenger. It’s a concept I first understood by reading “Understanding Comics” by Scott Mccloud, who points out that everyone in the world can relate to a happy face icon, because it’s not any particular nationality or even sex. But add black hair, and you lose the identification on the part of blonde folks, etc.

    So my concept was to avoid being a “star” and to let the group work amiably without all the divisive things that can get in the way. Being humans, there are so many of those! So no politics, no religion, no personalities. That’s how I envisioned it. I also like privacy and never wanted or want to be a celebrity. And I’m glad I did that, decide to be nobody, as it turned out to be a protection, but that was the creative idea behind the decision to be pj.

    Anyway, thank you for such kind words. Sometimes it really helps to know someone sees what you are trying to do and really sees it.


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