The Observation Deck » Open source confronts its midlife crisis

“So it seemed like only a matter of time before the companies built around open source software would have to confront their own crisis of confidence: open source business models are really tough, selling software-as-a-service is one of the most natural of them, the cloud service providers are really good at it — and their commercial appetites seem boundless. And, like a new cherry red two-seater sports car next to a minivan in a suburban driveway, some open source companies are dealing with this crisis exceptionally poorly: they are trying to restrict the way that their open source software can be used. These companies want it both ways: they want the advantages of open source — the community, the positivity, the energy, the adoption, the downloads — but they also want to enjoy the fruits of proprietary software companies in software lock-in and its concomitant monopolistic rents. If this were entirely transparent (that is, if some bits were merely being made explicitly proprietary), it would be fine: we could accept these companies as essentially proprietary software companies, albeit with an open source loss-leader. But instead, these companies are trying to license their way into this self-contradictory world: continuing to claim to be entirely open source, but perverting the license under which portions of that source are available. Most gallingly, they are doing this by hijacking open source nomenclature. Of these, the laughably named commons clause is the worst offender (it is plainly designed to be confused with the purely virtuous creative commons), but others (including CockroachDB’s Community License, MongoDB’s Server Side Public License, and Confluent’s Community License) are little better. And in particular, as it apparently needs to be said: no, “community” is not the opposite of “open source” — please stop sullying its good name by attaching it to licenses that are deliberately not open source! But even if they were more aptly named (e.g. “the restricted clause” or “the controlled use license” or — perhaps most honest of all — “the please-don’t-put-me-out-of-business-during-the-next-reInvent-keynote clause”), these licenses suffer from a serious problem: they are almost certainly asserting rights that the copyright holder doesn’t in fact have….”

Community Cultivation: A Field Guide

“Innovators abound in the fields of libraries, archives, museums, publishing, and higher education. Many of these idea generators find ample support for the creation of tools and technologies that enable new forms of knowledge production, dissemination, or preservation as those tools are first imagined and piloted.

However, when these innovators attempt to sustain their creations, external funding and attention often wane. A well-documented “Valley of Death” stretches between softfunded projects and sustainable programs. Without deep knowledge of how to build a support community, and how to manage such elements as resources, communications, engagement, and governance, innovators find the bridge between grant funding and ongoing operations very difficult to cross….

Many potential tools and services wither, not due to shortfalls in demand or shortcomings in those products, but rather to a lack of attention to organization and community building….

We [at Educopia] are now openly sharing the model that we have developed and refined over the last twelve years. Community Cultivation – A Field Guide provides a powerful lens that can provide both emerging and established communities with ways to understand, evaluate, and plan their own growth, change, and maturation. We are offering this Field Guide freely in the hope that it will empower more community facilitators and leaders to invest in the health and sustainability of their own collaborative networks….”

The fight to keep ideas open to all – Open Voices

The internet has dramatically lowered the cost of copying, including illicit copying. When the web was first weaved in the 1990s, intellectual-property owners found their property had, involuntarily, been turned into a common. Strong new copyright rules and draconian enforcement seemed to be necessary to tame the rebellious digital commoners and reclaim the level of control that had existed in an analogue world. 

These arguments found a receptive audience among policymakers worldwide, and copyright’s scope, duration and penalties were dramatically expanded.  Over the past two decades new legal rights have allowed “digital fences” to be used to surround copyrighted works, even if those fences interfered with people’s rights, such as to freely use snippets of content (the legal doctrine of “fair dealing,” known as “fair use” in America). Copyright’s restrictions were also misused to curtail competition, block research on cryptography and produce new online monopolies. Again, the “solution” to the tragedy of the commons—property rights—came with hefty costs.

You could consider the growing restrictions around intellectual property as “the second enclosure movement”. The first enclosures were the centuries-long waves of expropriation of English and Scottish common lands, turning them over to a handful of landowners….

Yet just as Hardin’s argument met with pushback from Ostrom and others in the physical context, there has also been powerful intellectual resistance to the second enclosure movement.  Most notably, some of the problems of the terrestrial commons do not apply to the intangible versions: it is hard to overfish an idea….

Consider open-source software. It is precisely because the licence guarantees that the commons will remain open, and that each new contribution will be shared under the same terms, that people can commit to using it. Imagine trying to get phone manufacturers to use the Android operating system if Google could take it private at any time….

Furthermore, the proliferation of property rights has its costs. The American legal scholars Michael Heller and Rebecca Eisenberg call it the “anti-commons”: the idea that innovation withers because of too many property rights, patent thickets, exhaustive and exhausting copyright licensing procedures and the like. To take one example, the smartphone in your pocket is covered by between 5,000 and 15,000 patents, and potentially by as many as 250,000 when all related patents are counted. …”

Free software/free science | Kelty | First Monday

Over the last few years, as the Open Source/Free Software movement has become a constant in the business and technology press, generating conferences, spawning academic investigations and business ventures alike, one single question seems to have beguiled nearly everyone: “how do you make money with free software?”

If the question isn’t answered with a business plan, it is inevitably directed towards some notion of “reputation”. The answer goes: Free Software programmers do what they love, for whatever reason, and if they do it well enough they gain a reputation for being a good coder, or at least a loud one. Throughout the discussions, reputation functions as a kind of metaphorical substitute for money – it can spill over into real economies, be converted via better jobs or consulting gigs, or be used to make decisions about software projects or influence other coders. Like money, it is a form of remuneration for work done, where the work done is measured solely by the individual, each person his or her own price for creating something. Unlike money, however, it is also often seen as a kind of property. Reputation is communicated by naming, and the names that count are those of software projects and the people who contribute to them. This sits uneasily beside the knowledge that free software is in fact a kind of real (or legal) property (i.e. copyrighted intellectual property). The existence of free software relies on intellectual property and licensing law (Kelty, forthcoming; Lessig, 1999).

In considering the issue, most commentators seem to have been led rather directly to similar questions about the sciences. After all, this economy of reputation sounds extraordinairily familiar to most participants [1]. In particular two claims are often made: 1) That free software is somehow ‘like’ science, and therefore good; and, 2) That free software is – like science – a well-functioning ‘gift economy’ (a form of meta-market with its own currency) and that the currency of payment in this economy is reputation. These claims usually serve the purpose of countering the assumption that nothing good can come of system where individuals are not paid to produce. The assumption it hides is that science is naturally and essentially an open process – one in which truth always prevails.

The balance of this paper examines these claims, first through a brief tour of some works in the history and social study of science that have encountered remarkably similar problems, and second by comparing the two realms with respect to their “currencies” and “intellectual property” both metaphorical and actual….”

Notes From Our All Things Coko Meeting in London : Collaborative Knowledge Foundation

“From December 5 – 7, the Coko community and those curious to learn more about us convened in London for presentations, discussions, user centered design sessions, even an update Book Sprint for our PubSweet book. The best summary of the week is to say that All Things Coko truly were on display, and open for discussion!

On the 5th, around 50 attendees from funding organizations, publishers- both society and commercial, service providers, industry consultants and thought leaders came together to learn more about  Coko and be introduced to PubSweet and to view the platforms being constructed using this cutting edge open source infrastructure.


Attendees watched break out demonstrations of xPub-Hindawi, xPub-eLife, eLife’s Libero, xPub-Collabra, Editoria, Wormbase’s Micropubs platform, and xPub-Europe PMC in the high-energy ‘speed-geeking’ sessions….

Key highlights from the day include:

  • There are nine different platforms being built from the PubSweet platform tool-kit, representing four separate use cases: journals, books, aggregator, micropublications
  • There are service providers stepping up to offer Coko software as a hosted service
  • The change in culture in working on shared, open source solutions is a communication challenge, one we can work together to address….”

Socializing Infrastructures #infraQA

“These are some of the questions that GenR has been formulating to explore how Open Science infrastructures can become ‘the new normal’….


  1. What are the forms of governance, ownership, coordination, and communication needed for Open Science infrastructures?
  2. What tools and infrastructures available at hand to researchers now will become part of the new systems?
  3. What are the skills and practices needed by researchers, that can be passed onto colleagues and follower that will enable sustainability? (Hammitzsch and Wächter 2015)
  4. What is meant by ‘software as infrastructure’ and what impact will the adoption of the idea have on science and scholarly practices, and quality and types of research results?
  5. What are the business and economic models, and economic impacts of new formulations of systems guided by the ideas of ‘Socializing Infrastructures’? And what can be learned from other sectors such as the push back against the commercial sharing economy platforms of the likes of Uber, or Airbnb, such as in the movement of Platform Cooperativism to provide an alternative model to Platform Capitalism? (Scholz 2016) (Scholz and Schneider 2017)
  6. What can speed up the pace of change in moving to Open Science infrastructures? Is it: scholarly activism; technological changes and practices, like automation and ‘Infrastructure-as-code’ reducing costs and increasing development cycles; or/and mandates and policies; or government nationalization and/or big investment; new skills and practices; or better communications?
  7. What’s missing in infrastructures? What are ‘the known unknowns’, and how do we find ‘the unknown, unknowns’? (Rumsfeld 1992)
  8. A perplexing question. Why is the realization and implementation of Open Science infrastructures happening so slowly? When there is so much, almost frenzied, activity going on in Open Science from top-down institutional programmes and bottom-up initiatives, almost to the point of bursting. What is holding back the work? …”

Hopkins partners with Harvard and MIT to launch Public Access Submission System (PASS) and support open access – The Sheridan Libraries Blog

“Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries, in collaboration with the Harvard University Office for Scholarly Communication, the MIT Libraries, and with inspiration from Jeff Spies, formerly of the Center for Open Science, have developed the Public Access Submission System, or PASS. The innovative web application helps researchers comply simultaneously with the open access policies of both their funders and their institutions….”

Publishing infrastructure: the good, the bad, and the expensive

“Shared open infrastructure would transform research communication to make it faster, more open, and more complete. But the publishing industry continues to rely on closed, proprietary legacy platforms that put their data and business at risk. This is resulting in a lack of innovation at a time when we need research to speed up and be more accessible. Investment in open and shared infrastructure would radically improve scientific and scholarly communication….”

The good, the bad, and the expensive : Collaborative Knowledge Foundation

In her Crossref LIVE18 Keynote speech this week, Coko’s Kristen Ratan questioned the sense of the industry’s continuing resignation to being locked in to costly, print-based, outdated workflows and technologies (some of which are now owned by competitor publishers)….

Coko’s solution is a community-owned approach to infrastructure – sharing the development of the baseline infrastructure of our systems through open source technology, and innovating on the surface layer….

Kristen proposed: “We need to rethink our approach to infrastructure.  Right now you share only 10% of your infrastructure with services like Crossref and ORCID. Let’s have 90% of our infrastructure shared and 10% that is custom to your organization. That’s all you need in order to differentiate. With most of the infrastructure that is under the hood being shared and open, you can operate much more efficiently and reinvest those savings in innovation.”  

This approach has been transformative in other industries. Kristen referenced the shared infrastructure in industries such as banking and telecom.  Companies who compete head to head at the level of their branding and services are collaborating to achieve shared infrastructure solutions for the sake of their own and their customers’ efficiency. There are examples in open source as well, with OpenStack having almost the same market penetration as the closed source Amazon Web Services for cloud infrastructure….”