Monday, August 20, 2007

Open Source, Spectrum of liberty

I just read Stefano Mazzocchi's post "On Version Control Architectures and the Fear of Displacing Innovation" he paints an eloquent picture of a tension which I'm sure is familiar to most, if not all, contributors to open source projects. How far do we have to constrain what we let each other do in order for our project to have a discrete identity which exceeds the sum of its parts, and at what point towards the libertarian end of the spectrum does our project loose coherence and become equal to or even less than the sum of its parts.

Stefano says "how many potential contributors did we miss because we didn't give them commit access soon enough" and I know exactly what he means. I'd like to broaden the question though, and ask why we choose to encumber ourselves with unweildy processes and centralised infrastructure?

I recently proposed that Apache James could lower the bar to publishing news stories if we used a blog. The ASF doesn't provide any blogging infrastructure, and if we used an off-site service, such as blogger (as used to publish this blog), it would be a "turnkey" operation and not involve Apache infrastructure in any effort. However my proposal has been met by a resounding "Hmmm... I'm not sure..." with most of the reservations being around hosting official content off-site. To me there seem to be many concrete benefits and very few drawbacks with out-sourcing this function and I was surprised that others didn't share my point of view.

So reading Stefano's post made me wonder, why *do* we feel that we have to control the infrastructure in order to "own" the project? Why do we want even to consider expending our limited resources on hosting for ourselves services which we can have for free?

Ok Initially we had to own the infrastructure so that we could operate the services we needed, and, yes, today we could argue that we want to retain full control over certain key services, websites, email, source control. But I always believed that the Apache Way was about community, proven processes and best practice, a brand and some world class products.

Don't take this the wrong way, I know that ASF infrastructure is vital to the ability of the projects to operate, and that it will never be possible for me to repay the people who set it up and who volunteer to maintain it on our behalf, but I never really thought the infrastructure was anything other than the key enabler. We have dozens of people hosting mirrors of our downloads, and no one complains about that, why would they, it benefits everyone.

Using a no-cost off-site service doesn't IMHO automatically compromise your reputation or undermine the moral authority of your message.


Stefano Bagnara said...

I agree: mirrors are like any other service. If we are ok with oursourcing mirroring, our main distribution channel for our CORE products, then why are we so scared about using third party tools/services as utilities?

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