Recently in Internet 'open source' Category

Papers on the Information (Commons) Society

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is the UN's information society summit doomed to fail?

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Why UN's information society summit is doomed to fail provides and interesting analysis about why the UN's information society summit might fail.

Here are the two reasons it provides:

  • The first is the United States' position that profit -- or even the potential for profit -- is more important than the goals of the WSIS.
  • The second reason is procedural. The United Nations prefers to operate by consensus. So as long as any one member of the WSIS objects to a portion of the plan, the plan cannot move forward.

I think that both of these arguments are valid. However, they might not be sustainable over longer period of time. If the Internet is to be one of the driving forces for the economical development of third world economies, it would mean that the corporate grip of the Internet may not be able to survive for to long. Simply said, those affected by the Internet would like to have some say about its operation. As the people effected are not western centric any more, there would be more noises such as those heard at the WSIS.

Whether the UN is the right organization for the worldwide manageability of the Internet only time will show. The WSIS attempt is perhaps just a start. Other ventures will be attempted in the near future. Few things must be ensured though: there should be no censorship on the Internet, its economic potentials should be equally available to all around the world. So, as it appears then, the main problem might not necessarily be with the Internet. Better economies in the third world countries will give them more leverage when the next 'WSIS' comes around.

quality open source research resources

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Free / Open Source Research Community presents quality open source research resources, and it is one itself as a result of having collected and organized these research articles.

A must read site for those interested in the interplay of open source software as an actor in the complex network of this thing we call society.

more nonsense: SCO attacks GPL

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I think this is the most irrational nonsense yet to come out of the SCO camp. SCO attacks open-source foundation reports on SCO as stating:

"The GPL violates the U.S. Constitution, together with copyright, antitrust and export control laws," SCO Group said in an answer filed late Friday to an IBM court filing. In addition, SCO asserted that the GPL is unenforceable.

Are they (SCO folks) out of their mind? When did it become a violation (of any sort) to share for free your knowledge, expertise and any other product that may derive from it?

Such sharing could certainly reduce the profits of commercial companies when the open source products in question are Linux, Apache, OpenOffice, etc. But, how does that violate the "U.S. Constitution, together with copyright, antitrust and export control laws"?

Apparently SCO is going for all or nothing, and this route they have taken will get them faster to nothing.

Open Source Everywhere - not just in software

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Open Source Everywhere by Wire's Thomas Goetz.

A must read article elaborating and explaining various aspects of the open source philosophy most widely apparent and spread in software development.

"We are at a convergent moment, when a philosophy, a strategy, and a technology have aligned to unleash great innovation. Open source is powerful because it's an alternative to the status quo, another way to produce things or solve problems. And in many cases, it's a better way. Better because current methods are not fast enough, not ambitious enough, or don't take advantage of our collective creative potential."

Check these open source efforts mentioned in the arrticle:


Some quotes:

"Software is just the beginning … open source is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation."

"But software is just the beginning. Open source has spread to other disciplines, from the hard sciences to the liberal arts. Biologists have embraced open source methods in genomics and informatics, building massive databases to genetically sequence E. coli, yeast, and other workhorses of lab research. NASA has adopted open source principles as part of its Mars mission, calling on volunteer "clickworkers" to identify millions of craters and help draw a map of the Red Planet. There is open source publishing: With Bruce Perens, who helped define open source software in the '90s, Prentice Hall is publishing a series of computer books open to any use, modification, or redistribution, with readers' improvements considered for succeeding editions. There are library efforts like Project Gutenberg, which has already digitized more than 6,000 books, with hundreds of volunteers typing in, page by page, classics from Shakespeare to Stendhal; at the same time, a related project, Distributed Proofreading, deploys legions of copy editors to make sure the Gutenberg texts are correct. There are open source projects in law and religion. There's even an open source cookbook."

"Of course, for all its novelty, open source isn't new. Dust off your Isaac Newton and you'll recognize the same ideals of sharing scientific methods and results in the late 1600s (dig deeper and you can follow the vein all the way back to Ptolemy, circa AD 150). Or roll up your sleeves and see the same ethic in Amish barn raising, a tradition that dates to the early 18th century. Or read its roots, as many have, in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, the 19th-century project where a network of far-flung etymologists built the world's greatest dictionary by mail. Or trace its outline in the Human Genome Project, the distributed gene-mapping effort that began just a year before Torvalds planted the seeds of his OS."

The Beginning of the End of the Internet?

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From The Beginning of the End of the Internet?:

"The Internet as we know it is at risk. Entrenched interests are positioning themselves to control the network's chokepoints and they are lobbying the FCC to aid and abet them. The Internet was designed to prevent government or a corporation or anyone else from controlling it. But this original vision of the Internet may soon be lost. In its place a warped view that open networks should be replaced by closed networks and that accessibility can be superceded by a new power to discriminate is emerging."

Scary thoughts.... but indeed very real...

other facets of open source

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In response to George's entry Open Source as a Social Movement I would like to add that open source should be looked beyond the software space. Open source software is just one manifestation of the open source philosophy, and the open source as a social movements is yet another manifestation of the open source philosophy--in a way more abstract than the open source software given the practical results, its products, as explained in Open Source as a Social Movement.

The 'source' in open source can mean different things to different people and contexts, depending on the level of abstraction and/or pragmatics:

  • to the software development is the code

  • to the publishing function it the content therefore the 'open content'

  • to the access function is the process of communication, therefore 'open access'

  • etc...

Independently of the various manifestations of the open source, there appear to be two important factors in trying to understand and elaborate the various manifestations: the open content and open communication, aided by the concept of translation. I have elaborated many of these items in the corresponding entries [follow the links] as well as in the following two categories: Open Content and Open Communication, The Open Source Philosophy, and Actor-Network theory & methodology.

From a more social perspective, in the open source Internet as a possible antidote to corporate media hegemony it is argued that the open source Internet, as a result of open source movement, manifests itself as a possible antidote to the corporate media hegemony, not only in the US but also throughout the world.

open source is not about hackers and anarchy

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In the July 7th, 2003 edition of HBS Working Knowledge, in The Organizational Model for Open Source, Mallory Stark interviews Siobhán O'Mahony who is an assistant professor in the Negotiation, Organizations, and Markets group at the Harvard Business School.

The article raises and discusses the possible negative implications of nonprofit organizations around the open source software activities, as well as the implications of corporate actors’ involvement in the open source software production.

In one of the responses O'Mahony states:

“Thus, hackers who contribute to the open source community are often intrinsically motivated.”

The article appears to equate to some extend the open source software production with hackers and hacker culture. While it is undeniable that ‘hackers’ have contributed greatly to the pool of open source software, open source is more than just what hackers contribute. It would not be surprising to hear that many who contribute to open source software do not consider themselves hackers, at least not in the sense and connotation the word ‘hacker’ is understood by the general public.

Even in Eric Raymond’s definition as it appears in this article, defining “hackers as those who love programming for the sake of doing it, for the sake of obsessively solving a problem”, it is hard to necessarily and exclusively equate hackers with contribution to the open source. Perhaps, many contribute to a particular open source software package for reasons (many of them) totally different than obsessiveness. Social contribution is one of them … not all contributors to open source are obsessive programmers … Besides, some who love programming do it obsessively by working for a company for a pay.

Peer recognition is purported as one of the main reason for contribution to open source. Needless to say, all people, everywhere, would like to be recognized for the work they do, whether it is open source of closed source.

Further, I’m a bit not clear as to where (and why) is the contradiction in crating nonprofit foundations to help in ‘managing’ the open source activities:

“So I suppose what can be considered to be contradictory is that many community-managed open source projects have incorporated and created nonprofit foundations with formal boards and designated roles and responsibilities”.

Open source is not about anarchy; at least it does not appear to be so. Thus, unless orderly communication, collaboration, and coordination can be achieved without a formal organizational structure, non-profit foundations can play a role to moderate the activities of the open source software productions. After all, software production requires order, planning, and understanding of roles and responsibilities, be it open source or closed source.

what after open processes and open content?

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In O'Reilly Gazes Into the Future of Open Source Peter Galli presents some of O’Reilly’s thoughts about the future of the open source. What is most interesting in O’Reilly’s presentation at the Oscon conference is the recognition that the open source is more than just about software. The open source software is just one practical instance of the open source philosophy. The article is not clear about the why, how and what they mean by paradigm shift:

“The new rules governing the Internet paradigm shift are based on the fact that an open architecture inevitably leads to interchangeable parts; competitive advantage and revenue opportunities move "up the stack" to services above the level of a single device; information applications are decoupled from both hardware and software; and lock-in is based on data and not on proprietary software, he said.“

However, they are perhaps on the right track suggesting that the competitive advantage in the future will not come from the proprietary hardware and the software, but from the higher levels in the information services products. The openness inevitably will lead the competitiveness in the upper stacks of information service delivery process.

Perhaps the content will matter more as it should… but then, what happens when the open source philosophy is applied to the content as well? Where will the competitive advantage come from if dealing with open content? Perhaps the processes around the content creation, organization, delivery and sharing? How about when this process becomes ‘open process’ as well? Interestingly, some of this open process is imbedded in the open source software already… hmmm…

technologies for Free Speech

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From Hacking for Free Speech:

"The free exchange of information over the Internet has proven to be a threat to the social and political control that repressive governments covet. But rather than ban the Internet (and lose valuable business opportunities), most repressive governments seek to limit their citizens' access to it instead."

"To do so, they use specialized computer hardware and software to create firewalls. These firewalls prevent citizens from accessing Web pages - or transmitting emails or files - that contain information of which their government disapproves."

"Hacktivism's approaches raise a number of interesting questions. Can hacktivism really work? That is, can a technology successfully complement, supplant, or even defy the law to operate either as a source of enhanced freedom (or, for that matter, social control)? On balance, will technological innovation aid or hinder Net censorship?"

In response to the 3rd quote from above, whether the technology can “successfully complement, supplant, or even defy the law to operate either as a source of enhanced freedom (or, for that matter, social control)”, the appropriate framework needs to be applied. From the technological determinism point of view it is apparent that the technology does exhibit characteristics that would make it as a source of enhanced freedom or as a tool for a social control. Which in turns leads us to social constructionism to understand how these technologies are constructed in the first place, and why have they acquired the attributes and the properties they have?

Certainly, the appropriate framework cannot be exclusively social constructionism or technological determinism. It has to be a mixture of both as information technology does not exists in isolation—it has been created as a result of the social structures that initiated it (for a purpose) and it has been embedded afterwards. However, once the information technology becomes part of the social ecosystem (this is an iterative process in itself), depending on its properties (whether they are restrictive or exhibit characteristics of open communication and free exchange of ideas) it will project is properties onto the structures within which it is embedded.

Thus, one might see the open source technology as instigator of open communication and exchange of open content, precisely for the reason that it has been build with such attributes and properties.

It is not hard to see that a technology which does not provide the functionality for its end users to freely communication among themselves cannot be used “as a source for enhanced freedom” (i.e. TV as a one way communication tech). In turn, the open source internet manifests itself in many ways that lets the users communicate amongst themselves without control from a third party. Perhaps this positions the open source Internet as a possible antidote to corporate media hegemony.

In Google, Blogging and the Australian Web Model it is argued that:

"... Different to the States, the Internet and more specifically the web [in Australia] is dominated by large companies. In America the web is seen to be a place where the one-man-band and large companies can co-exist and to a large extent it is the little person who drives the agenda for the web rather than a large company."

"In contrast with other countries, there is relatively little real information developed for the Internet by grassroots people."

It is indeed apparent that in the States large companies do co-exist with the ‘one-man-band’. However, the coexistence is not at equally comparative levels and it does not appear that ‘it is the little person who drives the agenda for the web rather than a large company.’

This is not to say that the ‘little person’ does not have the venues to drive the agenda for the Web. Indeed, the open source Internet does provide the capability and the potentials for the little person to drive the agenda. However, just because the capability is there, it does not seem it is exercisable. For one, large companies in the US that are involved in one way or another with the Internet (access or content providers) are interested ultimately about the bottom line (i.e. their profits). Needless to say, if the little person’s agenda does not fit the agenda supported by the large companies, the ideas, opinions, and thoughts of the ‘one-man-band’ will be suppressed from the public discourse by means of restricted access and restricted content distribution.

Having said the above, I should emphasize that I do believe that the open source Internet as we know it today does posses the properties and the attributes to empower the ‘little person’ or the ‘one-man-band’ to impose certain agendas (to some extend) on the large companies. In the open source Internet as a possible antidote to corporate media hegemony I have argued exactly this. The open source Internet, as a result of open source movement, manifests itself as a possible antidote to the corporate media hegemony, not only in the US but also throughout the world.

What makes the open source Internet as a possible antidote to the corporate media hegemony? It is its open nature: open content and open communication. Unless the access points and other ISPs start policing anything and everything that is published and communicated via personal web pages, blogs, and e-mails, the possibility will always exists for the masses to communicate, organize and set the agendas for the discourse and therefore push large media corporations to seriously address them. This however requires a critical mass. And, unless the agenda of the critical mass is in line with the ‘profit’ agenda’s of the large corporations, they will be pushed in the sidelines, away from the eyes and the minds of the public discourse.

In any case, it is quiet apparent that the use of the open source Internet has provided a venue for the ‘little persons’ to make a difference and be heard. The blogging has provided another genre and a unique venue for the ‘little persons’ to communicate and set the agenda(s).

Certainly, so far the large media corporations have appropriated any such capabilities and properties of the Internet exclusively for ‘profit making’. How is this different than Australia?

Is blogging any different such that to escape the ‘profit making’ machinery of the large media corporations? Only history will tell…

open access and ISPs

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In FCC official: No need to regulate ISPs CNET reports FCC official as saying:

"There is no need for the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules to address concerns that high-speed Internet service providers will favor some Web sites over others, an agency official said on Friday."

Is FCC sleeping or something? It is very obvious that internet service provides (as access agents) care only about their bottom line (profits!) and do not want potential profits to surf away to their competitors or to other content providers with whom they do not have mutual agreements.

The main concern however is that if the ISPs are not required to truly provide an open access (i.e. roaming the internet space without restriction) to their customers, the access to the non-for-profit and other activist organizations' websites would suffer. The ISPs could also use their power to restrict access to websites critical of their business practices.

Further, discrimination to content access might also negatively effects innovation:

"The threat of discrimination against content undermines investment and chills innovation," said Mark Cooper, research director at Consumer Federation of America. " We cannot risk having the monopolist destroy the innovative environment of the Internet. It's just too big of a risk to the public interest."

how to make 'freer information' be better

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The paradox of the information society, or should I better say paradoxes (depending on the viewpoint and sense used for analysis), are more then evident. Bloch perhaps believed that freer information access will enable better historical research: “Our civilization will take an immense forwards stride on the day when concealment, raised to a rule of action and almost to a bourgeois virtue, shall give way to the desire for information which is necessarily the desire to exchange information” (Bloch, p.70).

Unfortunately, information is still controlled by the ‘bourgeois’ of our time and historical research is as hard as before, maybe even harder since the means for information control have increased in sophistication, dampening any positive effect due to the abundance of information. Actually even the abundance has its negative consequences—the difficulty with the concept of relevance. Certainly the Internet provides some hope due to its apparent openness.

However, the real and true freedom of information can be assessed by the degree to which the distribution of information is based on open communication, i.e. free and open access, and many-to-many communication without oversight by the ‘power(s)’. If “in fact, one of the greatest challenges facing the historian is the extend to which his or her research relies on unpublished materials” (Powell, p.172), how does the task of the historian change if all materials are published?

The new information society will perhaps require new tools for researching the past. This could be taken as challenge by information science for it to provide the tools for discovering the tracks and identifying the links in light of free access and open communication within the appropriate context.

Bloch, M. (1953). The historian's craft by Marc Bloch. New York: Vintage Books.

Powell, R.R. (1997). Basic research methods for librarians. London: Ablex. (Chapter 7: Historical research)

…we have no other device for returning through time except that which operates in our minds with the materials provided by past generations” (Bloch, 1953, p.57)

In this short, yet a very significant quote aimed at historical research, Bloch (1953) succinctly states at a high level the methodology appropriate and suitable for a historian to follow and presents a basic but significant tool a historian ought to use, as well it identifies the critical and basic investigative unit, i.e. “the materials provided by past generations” (p.57). Even though the quote is related to historical research aimed at researching history as it is understood and described by the field of history, i.e. “true historical research, or historiography or intellectual history, is concerned with analyzing and interpreting the meaning of historical events within their context” (Powell, 1997, p.166), Bloch’s description of historian’s craft is perhaps applicable and utilizable in many other fields that undertake the task to investigate and make sense of materials not immediately available in the spatial and temporal present as described by Powell: “History has two dimensions…. Historical time, or the chronology which takes into account the spacing of events and/or patterns…. [and] Historical space or where events occurred (i.e., geographical location)” (Powell, p.166).

digital open access systems

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In enunciating the third law (“EVERY BOOKS ITS READER”) Ranganathan states that this law: “would urge that an appropriate reader should be found for every book” (p.258). The implication would be to build a digital open access system where users can remotely browse and access all digital information objects in a digital library.

From another point of view EVERY DIGITAL INFORMATION OBJECT ITS READER/USER could mean that there must be a purpose behind digital library’s acquisition (or buying licenses) of a particular digital content. If a user/reader for a particular digital content is not always in sight, what is the point in a digital library to ‘carry’ it? But then, here is the challenge: who determines and knows what digital collections a digital library should ‘carry’ when its scope and user base is potentially more versatile due to the global nature?

Ranganathan, S. R. (1957). The five laws of library science. London: Blunt and Sons, Ltd. pp. 11-31, 80-87, 258-263, 287-291, 326-329

On Open Access

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The Open Access page at the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) presents a critical viewpoint about the need and the necessity of open access in the midst of the corporate attempt to control all major access channels.

Besides the need for open access, there is a need for open content and open communication if there is to be a viable and substantial public discourse on digital democracy.

The open-source Internet?

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In some of my previous entries I’ve suggested that the actor-network theory and methodology can be used as a mode of explanation in elaborating the interplay between social structures and information (and IT in general). The factor ‘openness’ emerges as the main ingredient in the elaboration when using actor-network theory to explain how actors in a given topology can affect other actors, and also at the same time being affected by them.

The explanatory power of the actor-network methodology relies on the fact that in the same topology both human and non-human actors (elements, structures, processes, etc.) are treated as equally able to affect and influence each other. The affect is carried via the links between the various actors attempting to inscribe their attributes and properties into other actors with congruent properties and attributes (see: Translation).

So, is the Internet open-source?
Or, a more appropriate question would be: is it possible to produce an open communication medium such as the Internet without the open-source software?

Basing this argument on the actor-network theory and methodology and the openness factor, had the software that was used to build the Internet been a closed source software hidden from outside scrutiny, the resulting product, the Internet (whether we see the Internet as a mass medium, a publishing phenomenon, a set of communication tools, etc.) would not have been as open as we see it today. Why?

To use the actor-network language and the openness factor, the closed-source software is almost totally closed in both aspects: its content and its communication. With a closed content (i.e. the code) it is much harder to build compatible and interoperable software tools and much harder to make people use it. Modification to the closed-source software is limited to a very small group of people whose agenda is driven by the bottom line: profit. This suggests that the not so open content and not so open communication about the content is indeed a stagnating force in the exchange of ideas, thoughts and opinions, and innovation in general.

The open content and open communication concepts (with their attributes and properties) are indeed positively responsible for the openness of the Internet. Whether the open-source software is directly responsible for the openness of the Internet, or both the open source software and the Internet openness are both results of the open source philosophy is not very important.

In any case, the open content and open communication concepts have inscribed their properties and attributed onto the openness of the Internet (with varying degrees depending on the various form and flavors the Internet is being used) and also onto the open source software.

In Open source on hold in Oregon the Business Software Alliance, a software industry representative, claims that the Oregon state legislature encouraging the state institutions to consider open source, will "squelch software innovation, does not take into account hidden costs such as maintenance of open-source software and might actually harm the high-tech industry in Oregon."

The claim that open source with squelch innovation has been use by proprietary software makers without any viable argument or any research. If nothing more, the history has shown that open source has been a source of major innovations surrounding the Internet and beyond.

In addition, it is puzzling at best to understand why are the proprietary software makers against such legislature encouraging the consideration to use open source and not in any way mandating it?

The other point made in this article by the proprietary software makes it that such legislature "might actually harm the high-tech industry in Oregon."

Well, the proprietary software makers should realize that the competition in the real world of software development now includes a factor that was previously absent. Why not let the 'market forces' decide whether open source should be used by the various government institutions?

Among other concerns, it is precisely the issue of cost (relevant to market forces) that the Oregon bill is addressing: "Rep. Phil Barnhart, the bill's author, claimed the law is necessary to help agencies cut costs, to enable better interoperability among IT systems and to increase opportunities for Oregon's high-tech companies and workers."

It appears that the proprietary software makers’ lobbying efforts to block the use open source software in themselves are hurting innovation in software development by trying to remove from the ‘market’ a real competition.

By Mentor Cana, PhD
more info at LinkedIn
email: mcana {[at]} kmentor {[dot]} com

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