Hi All (and Ben in particular), :o)
I've been reading this exchange over my coffee for the last few mornings with some interest. And although I'm reticent about contributing, I do find myself fascinated by the substance (a little morbid maybe)...
Disclaimer: I don't know the details of the governance intimately, I don't use or (at the time of writing) have any plans to use dotLRN, and I *really, really, really* am very much on the fence on this one and have no position to back/assert
But what I do have is a number of observations and questions that I think may be relevant, and that I would really like to find answers to..
I, like Ben, speak my mind, do as I my will dictates and so have (possibly) a good deal of sympathy with his postion.
So here's my somewhat random, and throw-away observations...
- Open Source is wonderful thing because it takes many forms, but retains many solid principles. i.e. peer review, knowledge sharing, communal approaches and so on....
- Open Source is not a 'completed' or 'stable' business OR development model. I agree there is much to suggest it is, and much to indicate that it may even become the dominant form of delivery, but at present (as with much in computing) this is anecdotal and 'gut' based.
- Open Source is about freedom, and its freedom therefore that creates good software, breaks boundaries and acheives new heights. It also therefore stands to reason that its a discipline that attracts visionaries, revolutionaries and ideologists...
- ... But its proving itself as a viable business method. And when commerce becomes involved the necessities of trade apply. Things like moderation, compromise, management and direction/structure. This (as of the time of writing) is still the case for business.
- Combining the two previous cases is tricky... in fact its very tricky... and seldom do other industries succeed.
- Academics are good thinkers but poor do-ers.... Business people are good executors, but poor visionaries. Ok I accept thats a blanket generalisation... but its true in the general sense.
- Software management and delivery in the non-private sector (education, locel government etc) is notorious for things like delays, wasted funds, late deliveries, systems that don't work and projects run by over-regulated committees (perhaps a side effect of public money/lack of commercial pressure.
- The same in the commercial breeds Microsoft... I hardly need say anything more.
- Software developers are a strange professional bunch, by comparision with many industries. They are part construction worker, part artist, part scientist, and quite often part philosopher... Almost a precident!
Ok I'm not going to go on endlessley, as I don't intend to justify/argue these points.... so why bring 'em up?
As you can see software development is *still* an industry very much in its infancy!... We have a lot to learn, lots of new things to discover.. and perhaps most importantly a profession to define.
Its perhaps one of the few areas where bright people can make a significant impression on the world, by themselves, and with little to restrain them... Draw the parallels if you will with the industrial revolution in the later part of the 1800's... You really can be a Stephenson or a Brunel... its the birth of a communication and knowledge industry and therefore a time of revolution, explosion and invention....
I admire the attempts to create the governance, and as with other elements of our industry, its early days. You really do have to break eggs to make omlettes! And from that perspective I really everyone to view new initiatives as exciting challenges and experiences. We can't predict the outcome, so we must pursue it...
But..... and I really do mean a big but......
If there's one thing critical to the success of software, the one thing surely guarantees failure in its absence, and thats people, good quality people, visionary people and people with the desire to move it forward.
No matter what happens going forward, no-one should under-estimate the effect of loss of 'intellectual capital'.
Many people contribute to this community in one way or another. But I don't think I have to spell out the fact that there are several key individuals here, who, if lost from the general thrust of the community, would spell its decline and ultimately its demise.
I'm no millionaire, and I'm in no place to claim to be a successful businessman... but every time I get close to success, every delivery thats a 'good one', and every project thats succeeded has always been down to a few key players. A few special, motivated people who've moved it from mediocre to maginificent.
And greatness stands on the shoulders of giants. I, my company and my professional salvation (how poncy is that?) I can largely attribute to Mr. Greenspun... I'm not saying I agree with the guy, I'm not saying he didn't make the most collosal commercial f**k up, and I'm not even saying that the software he initiated was originally all tha good.... but when he was gone, so was aD....
My previous company suffered the same fate. It's success swung around one or two individuals.. without them its an empty shell.
So do I have some sort of conclusion? Yes.
dotLRN needs governance. However it needs governance that includes the right people and does not disenfrachise. It doesn't matter, it *really* doesn't matter whether either form proposed is right or wrong, the point is it is not now inclusive.
And I don't see it moving forward without Ben. Not because I agree with his approach, not because the existing approach is wrong, but ultimately because its the people, not the system, that count. And nothing that governance can provide (I avoid the word 'create') will compensate for that.
My personal interpretation of whats been written (and I can only base it on that) is that there is far too much resistance, far too much intertia and far too much stubborness, both sides :(
For example, Bens somewhat development-centric view of this is far too narrow, and seemingly inflexible.
The Executive Boards approach is too much, to quickly and in one step. Much is made of the fact that they 'financed' the product. But even I can see that by agreeing up-front to the open source nature of the development, that argument holds no weight. You knew in advance you were making this kindof 'public' property, but seem to now fear what the 'public' might do with it? This risks stifling the creativety and freedom that creates that kind of distinctive open source software.
Its this simple.... no-ones got it right yet. If the scheme can't appeal to the most involved parties, then its not workable.. its got to be back to the drawing board.
Ultimately of course it doesn't matter to me, due to my limited interest in dotLRN. But is suspect it matters *a lot* to several others.. A solution should be found.
The issue or Ben or Don or MIT/Sloan.. might irritate you, but the solution is not to say 'well we offered our terms and he wouldn't accept'. Even if Ben is mis-guided (not suggesting he is) you do need a solution that includes him. If you haven't got one, then you need to keep trying till you have. Yes dotLRN has a window of opportunity, and it won't last forever. But it certainly won't succeed without the software! No amount of academic committees and rules will acheive that. Its better I feel, to keep the project moving and, until a satisfactory system can be created, leave the governance where it still is... on the drawing board. I am one of the strongest supporters of governance, and coordinated effort, but not at the expense of the only real resource... people.
Quick aside. Ben, I'd be very, very interested in understanding your view of what open source principles really are, and how open source works best. This issue vexes me a lot, and I think its fundemental to the success of my business (I expect its the same for you). I'd be keen to know your thoughts, but mail me privately, don't won't to open up another grand debate ;)