Wednesday, December 19, 2007

eduspaces back from the dead

With the decline of eduspaces (and a mini-rush of various people trying to offer their products as an alternative) there has been a fair bit of disquiet and soul-searching about how OSS might relate to education when we start to rely on it.
Well, that was all so yesterday. Josie Fraser's just twittered that eduspaces (the name? the franchise? the whole shebang - looks like the latter) is going to be taken over by a Canadian not-for-profit TakingITGlobal . See the announcement on the eduspaces site and read an interesting article by Brian Kelly of UKOLN which raises issues around whether we should plan for free services to disappear, rather than just assuming they'll go on for ever. Ben Werdmuller's post on The Open Source Misconception is gone from his Elgg blog, but it's still available (for now) in Google's cache. I've saved it just in case... here it is quoted:

The open source misconception
November 22, 2007, 1:39 pm
Some of the most curious responses we've had to the open source Elgg project have centred on the conceit that being open source means that it is somehow like a natural resource that belongs to everybody. This is not the case. It means that the code is viewable and that you can modify it to meet your needs.
Open source is a process by which, in theory, better software can be produced. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't; actually, the most prominent open source projects, the ones that everybody knows and can reel off by heart, tend to be commercially funded and supported, and the core developers employed full-time. That's not to undermine open source itself - it just means that the almost socialist, distributed process by which everyone thinks it works isn't always the case.
In all cases, software is not developed by magical elves. It doesn't appear like water, for free. People have to put time and hard work into creating it. They'll do this for different reasons; some for the love of it, others because it forms the basis of another part of their business, yet more to disrupt markets - and so on. What we've found is that, even though you're giving the software away for free with no commercial return, people will very often treat you like they've paid for the service. Elgg in particular has no funding beyond Curverider, despite a common misconception that it's the recipient of public grants or affiliations.
In reality, the group behind the project, whether it's a group of individuals linked by a common purpose or a commercial company, should be treated no differently to a standard firm. (Think Red Hat.) The model by which the software is produced is different, but the processes that allow it to exist are not. They may well have different approaches, but the assumption that the software is a public service - presumably inferred from the fact that open source projects are usually free to download - needs to be squashed for the good of the whole community. That goes for both producers and users: the software needs to survive.

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