Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Open source motivations and "success"

One of my research projects that I proposed relating to open source considered how to know if an OSS project was a success.  You can refer to comments that he wrote at the end of the post I created proposing research projects for my Open Ed Researcher badge see post here)
On Tuesday Dr. Wiley shared this slashdot link to an "ask slashdot" posting in April 2003 where someone asked what makes an OSS project successful.  I believe that the question and responses include some interesting metrics regarding what success is.   
I think this same consideration identifies with the issues that arise when you are trying to “evaluate” the success of social welfare programs.  Some see funding in its role as the allocation of scarce resources that might be more effectively spent on other programs or needs or in other ways.  If this is the nature of the evaluator, then success would be defined through some kind of an effectiveness (benefit) vs funding (cost) analysis.  The determination of effective is in the eye of the beholder.

Others might have an “evaluation eye” that sees the fact that the program “helped” a person/organization/community so it was successful.  But the determination of what “help” is may be in the eye of the beholder as well.  The fact is that we all have different ways of determining whether things are successes and one man’s success is another man’s failure, or at least insignificant in their considerations.
This class has been interesting to me in so many ways.  I have appreciated the review of the open source movement, its motivations and its history.  But I am reminded of the review of journal issues project that we did in Rick West’s foundations class in IP&T here at BYU.  That project had us review 10 years worth of issues in one academic journal related to distance education.  I found it interesting how certain topics in the journal Distance Education appeared, flamed very hot, cooled, and almost became yesterday’s news in the course of the decade we reviewed.  Some things that were important in years two through five were almost refuted by the issues that were developing in years nine and ten.  

Perhaps this is always the cycle of research and discovery.  I believe it probably is.  At some point our hot new idea will likely encounter a circumstance where it does not work and which we did not anticipate or suspect.  Now our great new thing has to die, or at least becomes dormant, because it may not be great enough to endure.
I guess that is what I was trying to assess when I was thinking of a project to evaluate Sourceforge projects and see what their patterns of contributions were, as well as its duration.  If something lives and breathes through all it encounters, gaining life and being sustained by others who become its companions, then perhaps it is a more “successful” OSS project.  But the Slashdot link makes perhaps the most pertinent point about defining success.  You had an itch and what you did scratched it.  Even if no one else (including yourself) ever contributes again, that project was a success because it solved the problem it was intended to solve when it was created.

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