Forum OpenACS Q&A: Response to Open Source and business thoughts

Posted by Jerry Asher on
In various forums recently, both here and abroad, there have been some statements made to the effect that it's hard to participate and hard contribute to the OpenACS project. Perhaps too, that it's hard to find information about the OpenACS project on this website.

Generally I agree with these sentiments. I know that in the past I have wanted to comment on documentation, and been told the best way to do that is to bury the fixes in the SDM. I know that I have asked for new forums, and that's waiting until the current response (70% for, 30% against settles out) (would that our presidential elections had such mandates). I know that I've suggested that bboards are not the most useful form for storing/finding/structuring long term information. I've suggested alternatives tcl wikis, zope wikis, etc., and not much has happened. This is a bit more understandable to me, but not completely understandable. (Must only use openacs technologies, or for the purposes of moving the project forward, is it okay to use the technologies of some of our competition, until our own modules come online?)

I've wanted to propose new projects, new modules, that might be developed in parallel with both OpenACS 3.2.x and OpenACS 4 (ACS Wiki, ACS Search, ACS XML-RPC/Soap). But I haven't. It just doesn't seem that the response from the community will be anything but "start a new thread". As I believe we need more than just forums and can do better than just forums, starting a new project supported by just a new thread seems a particularly poor use of my time. It won't generate a solution quickly. It will be hard for myself or others to find information later on. And it's not the best way I might contribute to the community.

In response to these experiences, I've pretty much determined that new projects that I start will be worked on from my own sites, where I can organize them in the way I see fit, where I can devote necessary resources to them, and where they feed back into the marketing of my own skills. To the extent that I can I will make these modules and their documentation open to the community. And should anyone want to throw in and help out, I will happily create forums, faqs, etc. On my sites though, not here, because I can't.

Now maybe I'm a lightweight. But perhaps my experiences are felt by others in the community. As some evidence note some of the other openacs support sites around the world where one can download openacs patches, modules, or experiments. Some of these sites are on sourceforge, some not. I don't know why the creators of those sites chose to host them elsewhere, but I have no doubt they felt it was better for them to host these sites elsewhere than to host them at I feel that's a shame and a real loss to our efforts. It takes momentum away from this site. It removes the networking effects of hosting those projects and providing the information at this site. And I've joined them.

I would like to see it easier for new initiatives, new projects, new documentation to be formed here. Not elsewhere.

I think the basic problem is, and this is not to get personal at all, but the basic problem is that, understandably, Ben has only so much time to administrate this site and no more, and that results in a very conservative approach to building this site, favoring using existing tools, and favoring not doing things that might compromise security.

My personal preference would be for a more radical/experimental/performant approaches. I would even be okay utilizing less secure technologies even if that meant that on occasion we get 0wn3d and have to restore the server from backup. Now that's easy for me to say of course, I'm sitting in California and it's not my time that would be involved in hoofing it over to Boston to restore any machine. I'm just expressing my preference for using technologies that work today, as opposed to waiting for an OpenACS solution. But I'm wandering now....

Should the community of developers be responsible for how the site looks and operates? That's risky, but I say yes.

Do barriers to community participation exist? I don't know. It might just be my perception. We might run a poll to find out. We might just 0wn up that they might exist and stipulate that as a community we don't want them to exist.

I'll assume that such barriers do exist and that we would prefer to lower them. How? There are many alternatives:

  1. Implement a wiki at this site. Let folks build their own site. Advantages: little apparent effort required from webmaster. Lets site get built using community efforts. Lets projects proceed at the inherent energy of the project members. Disadvantages: the tcl wiki has always felt slow to me. The zope wiki has potential security problems and/or doesn't feel like the zero maintenance answer the webmasters here need.
  2. Use sourceforge for new efforts, and create some sort of project page announcement/signup site over here: or Advantages: good support from sourceforge and it lets developers concentrate on development. PR available from freshmeat. Having healthy support from many projects may increase OpenACS recognition. Disadvantages: dilution of efforts, reduction in apparent momentum at OpenACS, reduction in network effects from registering, participating at OpenACS.
  3. Do nothing. Advantages: secure, and known. Disadvantages: if barriers exist, this does nothing to lower them.
  4. Create a sourceforge module for the OpenACS. Advantages: wonderful. Disadvantages. May have a long wait ahead of us.
  5. Open up this site itself. Create a committee of five to seven with a deadline and the goal of producing a charter and/or bylaws and/or procedural mechanisms for changing this site. Make sure one thing they produce is a mechanism for replacing themselves. Create a new forum for the committee to post potential charters/bylaws/etc. to, that will allow the large community to comment/foment. At the deadline, let the community vote on the various proposals. Turn the keys over at that time.

Is this necessary? Well /directory/browse and emacs tell me that 2581 users have given personal homepage addresses when they registered here. No telling how many are duplicates nor how many folks signed up but didn't give a personal homepage address when they did. It's not absurd to think that with a community of 2581, it might be time to have a more formal organization.

Advantages: a more formal organization may be taken more seriously by the press, by other developers, and not least, by potential users and buyers of our services. A more formal organization may secure better funding, from the aDs, or even the IBMs. Overall, better recognition will do wonders for all of us, from resume enhancement to greater cred from potential buyers. A more formal organization may in fact be more responsive and sensitive to environmental changes than one or two individuals that may not have the time or resources to administer the site. A more formal organization may be more democratic.

Disadvantages: it may be too much overhead at this time. It might be more democratic.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I favor 5 & 1, then 5 & 4.