collaboration and compromise: engaging foss contributors in the age of cloud computing

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Compromise and Collaboration

Engaging FOSS Contributors in the Age of Cloud Computing

Leslie HawthornOpen World @lhTwitter: @lhawthorn11 November 2012

Cut teeth in the FOSS world managing the Google Summer of Code programSpent a year in academia at Oregon State University Open Source LabFor the purposes of this talk, consider these remarks focused on engaging student contributors

The Ecclesiastes Principle

Daniel Boyd Has the cloud really changed everything?

We have different definitions of cloud computing.No one knows what technologies will die and which will prevail.How can we claim something changes everything if we dont even know what it is?People have always sought and provided knowledge, so can we argue that all is new in mentoring in our communities just due to a technical shift?

Simplicity Sells

Yutaka Tsutano is not so much that technology has shifted, it is our expectations of it.We now live in a world where users and developers expect things to just work, to be beautiful, to seamlessly integrate with their other devices. And they do so by having these tiny computers in their pockets greater than that possessed by early computer scientists in entire rooms.

laihu Features Trump Freedom?

To paraphrase from Benjamin Mako Hill, for advocates of software freedom the first feature they select for is freedom and all other features are secondary.Our mentees experiences do not reflect this as a reality. Following on from our smart phone example, in discussions of Android vs. Apple, the discussion rarely focuses on open vs. Closed. In fact, ironically now the debate is on mapping technology and Apples new offering that incorporates open source maps vs. Googles mapping tech. When we hear about developers and Android, its openness is cited as a negative too hard to develop for since the platform is fragmented across so many devices. Freedom is not a discussion topic at all.

Mentoring in the
Age of Instant Gratification

Id argue that were not so concerned about mentoring in the age of cloud computing, but the age of instant gratification. The digital native of today grows up in a world replete with proprietary tools that promise to all them to share and be more connected, yet these tools are not FLOSS. How are we going to effectively engage them if we do not meet them where they are?And does engaging our audience using the tools with which they are most familiar make us fundamentally flawed and hypocritical?

blakespot traditional contribution mechanisms can seem old-fashioned at best, outmoded at worst.Id argue that we must do the work required to meet digital natives where they are, or we may not meet them at all. Our traditional contribution mechanisms IRC, mailing lists, issue trackers lack many of the bells and whistles our would-be mentees are used to. If we do not reach out to them through the silos they engage in, we will not be able to engage them with the philosophies of software freedom at all.

Its Not All Bad, Right?

We live now not just in the age of cloud computing, but its close cousin the age of social everything social media, social networking, social coding. Taking an example like Github, perhaps the future doesnt look quite so dire. Github has, after all, taken the promise of cloud computing and applied it to free software its now dead simple to share code, take patches, etc. Yet the underlying platform is not FOSS, but the primary objective sharing continues.

Whither Freedom?


Do we have hope forscratching our own itch in a world that just works?Shere does the de-emphasis on software freedom lead us from a social perspective? Do the values inherent in software freedom also provide us with further protections as citizens in the community of humanity? Can we expect the open source model to continue to exist and thrive and for innovation to continue when weve moved from a world of scratch your own itch to it just works?

Simplicity and Gratification
The Implications of Compromise

Mike Licht

brought to you by tacocopter.comThe difficulty with instant gratification and things that just work is how seductive this pathway can be. Consider the recent FAA ruling that unmanned aerial vehicles - drones - are soon to be approved for commercial use in the U.S. As a lover of privacy and someone against the proliferation of citizen surveillance, this news scares the heck out of me.Yet enter the lure of instant gratification TacoCopter offers to deliver me tacos, via UAV, all requiring only my credit card number and address. I dont want to live in a surveillance state, but I sure do love tacos. And I dont even have to go get them. And theyll be delivered by this awesome helicopter drone thingy ....

You get the idea.

Simplicity and Its Discontents

With simplicity comes the risk that we will no longer know how to manage our own destinies.For those of you who havent seen The Matrix Reloaded, this image is a particularly poignant scene between one of the Councilors and Neo, where the councilor lets Neo know both the ironic fact that machines below Zion are the only thing that keep humanity alive even as machines outside seek to kill all humans and that no one is left alive who knows how to maintain them.Id argue that this is the greatest risk of instant gratification, cloud computing, its impulse to abstract away from systems and enable people to do cool things that just work, instantly, and with a minimum of overhead we may find ourselves in a position not too long from now when we have no talent who can effectively maintain the foundations of our technical world.

Compromise is Inevitable*

Mindful Choices and Narratives are Vital

San Jose Library am not advocating that everyone in the room immediately cease all use of non-free software. I havent done so and I wouldnt want to be a hypocrite. Instead I will argue that mindful choices and sharing the full history and narrative of free software has great value. When choosing a non-free solution to anything be it how I get my lunch or how I communicate via the internet I am mindful of that choice, that it is a choice and I am deliberately sacrificing freedom for instant gratification, simplicity and something that just works. Often, thats enough to give me pause and to continue plugging away.

Likewise, we must have mindful narratives about the FLOSS movement, its history, its path and progress. What have we given up to see greater corporate adoption of open source? What have we lost by not insisting that all code or information, data, etc. - must be free?

Compromise is Not Quite Inevitable

Free software alternatives
teach your mentees.

Many tools exist that are free software implementations that can be used instead of proprietary tools. Seek these out, use them, file bug reports and work to improve them. Our need for new technologies will never change, but we need not accept a world in which proprietary software and removal of user freedom is inevitable.

And remember, if you dont talk to your mentees about free software, who will?


Thank you!

The Legal Bits

The Big Blue Button, Github, Google Hangouts, Skype, StatusNet and Twitter logos are property of their respective owners.

The image from the film Matrix Reloaded is copyright Warner Brothers and sourced from

The image from is copyright TacoCopter, Inc.

All other photos courtesy of the many Flickr users who make their creative works available at no cost under Creative Commons Licenses.

The Legal Bits, contd.

This presentation is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.

Please use, remix, share and enjoy!