Forum .LRN Q&A: Response to Request for Comment: dotLRN Technology Governance

Posted by Lars Pind on
Thanks for both software and proposals to both parties.


If you draw them up, it's very clear that the main difference between these two proposals is that Al's has an Executive Board (EB) and a User Advisory Board (UAB), while Ben's does not. The Technical Advisory Board (TAB) and Gatekeeper (GK) structure is identical in both proposals.

What this means is that Al's structure has a clear accountability built-in: The TAB is accountable to the EB, which is accountable to MIT and the community. The UAB formalizes the input of the user organizations. In comparison, I don't see anything about accountability in Ben's plan, except his reference to the right to fork. Who's Ben's TAB accountable to?

Is that good or bad? I don't know. There are two parts to it. (1) Is this extra structure and overhead going to contribute positively, and (2) do you trust MIT with this power. I honestly don't know the answer to these questions.

I think there's truth in the fact that most of the customers that we can't sell to today don't care so much about software, they'd like a brand, a name that they can trust. MIT and .LRN and this body could give us that.

On the other hand, there are a couple things on my mind that I haven't seen addressed yet. One such very serious thing is .WRK. There's wide-spread interest in the community about building an intranet-suite called .WRK, based on much of the .LRN infrastructure. I, for one, have a strong interest in this.

How would this .LRN governance structure fit with that? Would it (a) say that .WRK belongs to .LRN -- i.e. .WRK users may get a seat on the UAB, trying to convince the EB and the TAB and the GK to include .WRK-specific features into the .LRN distribution. Or (b) say that we don't care, you can fork if you want, just don't call it .LRN. Or (c) say that we should move as many features common to .LRN and .WRK into the OpenACS distribution, and encourage the .WRK community to set up a structure similar to the one for .LRN to govern the development of .WRK.

My hope would be option (c), but I'm not sure what Al, Ben, and others are thinking. Comments?

This touches on an issue of what exactly people think that .LRN should mean. How big is the .LRN part of .LRN, and how big is OpenACS. Right now, there's a lot of code in the .LRN repository that I hope belongs to OpenACS, such as the portals, the portal wrappers around all the applications (forums, file-storage, etc.), the whole group/community framework, etc. All of that is, from my perspective, so fundamental to a collaboration software toolkit, which is what I view OpenACS as being, that it belongs there. That leaves a relatively minor list of things, such as a homework drop-box, administrative pages for setting up departments, subjects, classes, etc. for .LRN. Plus, and that's what I find the important part, whatever variations are needed in how functionality is presented is needed in the educational environment.

I'd like to know where Al, Ben, Don, and others stand on this.

Also, I'd really like to hear something more concrete about who would be on which ones of those boards.

Finally, there's something obviously notable in the tone of those proposals. Ben is clearly coming from a hacker culture, the bazaar, and Al is clearly coming from a bureaucracy. Don't know what to read out of that, except for the obvious, but it's making it harder to compare apples to apples. Or perhaps it's making it easier, don't know.