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Opening up the Open Source InitiativeMatthew Aslett, May 23, 2011 @ 11:28 am ET
One of the ironies of open source over the years has been that the organisation formed to “educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source”, the Open Source Initiative, was
itself *perceived to be* something of a closed shop [see the comments for clarification on this point].
That is set to change as the OSI has publicly launched its plan to encourage greater participation by shifting to a membership model and elected board members. The plan was announced during a session at the Open Source Business Conference (slides) and is part of an effort to focus on the second half of the organisation’s mission statement: “to build bridges among different constituencies in the open source community”.
As OSI director Simon Phipps explains in an interview with The H, the plan is to begin welcoming existing open source-related organisations into an affiliate programme, staring with non-profit open source foundations (hopefully by OSCON), followed by for-profit organisations (but not corporations) and government bodies. There will also be a separate Corporate Advisory Board for corporations, and a Personal Affiliate Scheme for individuals.
The exact plan for voting rights and the board election process is still to be decided but a complex arrangement involving an electoral college formed of delegates from groups of affiliates and the OSI’s working groups has been proposed.
The complexity seems to have been born out of two requirements: a desire to ensure that working group participants are not out-numbered by affiliates, and to ensure that the OSI cannot be subverted by any single affiliate (or more specifically corporation) gaining too much power.
Protecting the OSI from subversion is clearly an important goal, although having read the proposal and discussion it does seem to me that this is receiving more attention than is perhaps strictly necessary (as an aside Henrik Ingo has proposed supermajority voting requirements to shield the Open Source Definition from being unnecessarily tinkered with which to my mind provides the security required without associated complexity).
Arguably, a fate equal to the subversion of the OSI would be irrelevance. Rather than assuming that organisations will seek to over-run the OSI, I believe more attention should be being placed on ensuring that organisations will seek to join. The OSI remains well-respected, but I believe that for many of the different constituencies in the open source community it is not entirely clear what it is that the OSI contributes beyond its traditional role of protecting the Open Source Definition and approving associated licenses.
During the launch presentation Simon Phipps made a good case for the increasing relevance of the OSI (such as its involvement in the investigation of the sale of Novell’s patents to CPTN) but the launch was very sparsely attended, even taking into account the business-focused audience and the fact that it was a late addition to schedule, and media attention for the membership plan has been thin on the ground.
For those already involved in the OSI its importance is self-evident. It is those outside that need to be brought in, however, and I know there are some that will need persuading that the OSI remains relevant if they are to give their time – and also their money – to join.
The expanded membership scheme is likely to require full-time staff that will need to be paid for, and it seems likely that the OSI will need to raise funds either through the affiliate schemes or corporate advisory board.
Deciding the nature and involvement of that Corporate Advisory Board is something that hasn’t been addressed as yet and could pose a significant challenge as different people will have different perspectives about what business entities and strategies are considered acceptable in relation to open source.
For example, during the opening remarks at the OSBC presentation Simon Phipps made reference to companies with “dubious” business strategies attempting to “game” open source.
While I am sure Simon was expressing his own views, rather than those of the OSI, he is clearly not the only person involved in this process with that perspective (hence the concern about subversion).
To be clear, there was no direct suggestion that such companies would not be welcome, but if the new OSI is to “build bridges among different constituencies in the open source community” it will be important to avoid any comments that could be seen to be discriminatory.
Open source means different things to different organisations, such that opening up the membership of the OSI was always going to be a complicated process. The plans for the affiliate programme are well thought out (if arguably overly complex) and it is understandable that corporate involvement has been set aside until the end of the year.
Previous attempts to create a membership/affiliate scheme have floundered, so the OSI board is to be congratulated in its progress so far. Anyone interested in joining the process should start with the slides which include the relevant links and contact details.
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