I’m happy to report that the 14th article in the Open Source Expanded column of IEEE Computer has been published.
Open Source Community Governance the Apache Way
Open Source Software, Distributed Computing, Documentation
Isabel Drost-Fromm, Apache Software Foundation Rob Tompkins, Apache Software Foundation
Computer vol. 54, no. 4 (April 2021), pp. 70-75
Abstract: An open source project without the people is a dead project—or at least one that is fairly deep asleep. While all successful open source projects understand that they need to build a community around their project, the exact options for doing so differ.
Yesterday, the Open Usage Commons (OUC) foundation announced itself. It is a non-profit which wants to ensure free and fair trademark use of the open source projects under its guidance. My Twitter feed was quick to denounce the OUC as a vanity foundation. It certainly is not. A vanity foundation serves to aggrandize its creators, and a name like “The Great Company Open Source Foundation” would then be apt. This is not the case here. Rather the OUC makes specific statements about trademark enforcement, so it has a purpose that is not vanity. Just what is that purpose, and why did existing foundations not fit the bill?
Most open source these days, certainly the most widely used open source, is developed by companies. Open source, by definition, is competitively non-differentiating, so companies can join forces in its development. To so do peacefully, however, they need good governance that preempts conflicts among the participating companies. Such governance is usually provided under the auspices of an open source foundation, of which the big three are the Apache Software Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, and the Linux Foundation. Despite these existing foundations, many companies interested in developing a new open source software keep opting to create their own consortium.
Today, Nikolay Harutyunyan presented some of our work on openKONSEQUENZ, a user-led open source consortium that develops software for local energy distributors. Below, please watch the talk (local copy); the talk is based on the same-name research paper.
Companies without expertise in software development can opt to form consortia to develop open source software to meet their needs, as an alternative to the build-or-buy decision. Such user-led foundations are little understood, due to a limited number of published examples. In particular, almost nothing is known about the ecosystems surrounding user-led foundations. Our work seeks to address this gap, through an exploratory qualitative survey of openKONSEQUENZ, from the German energy sector. We find that the technological goals are quite homogeneous, independent of a participant’s role in the ecosystem, but that economic conflicts exist between foundation members and supplier companies due to the consortium’s efforts to transform the software market structure to limit dependency on specific vendors.
Abstract: When companies opt to open source their software, they may choose to offer the project to an open source foundation. Donating the software to an open source foundation offers a number of advantages, such as access to the foundation’s existing tools and project management. However, in donating the software, the company relinquishes control of the software and grants other foundation members—including competitors—the same rights to the software. Using a multiple-case study research approach, this paper examines how foundations manage conflicts of interest in the open sourcing donation scenario. We find that foundations primarily use a set of well-defined mechanisms to prevent such conflicts from arising, and that the use of these mechanisms can depend on the foundation type.
Keywords: Open source foundations, sponsored open source, commercial open source, open source software, conflicts of interest
Reference: Weikert, F., Riehle, D., & Barcomb, A. (2019). Managing Commercial Conflicts of Interest in Open Source Foundations. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Software Business (ICSOB 2019). Springer Verlag, pp. 130-144.
I’m very much interested in the governance of open source projects, in particular if these are user-led projects. With this post, I’m proposing a basic terminology to talk about the formal organizational structure underlying the governance of such open source projects.
The most important long-term trend, and my number #3 for the foreseeable future, is the sponsorship and management of open source software development by users, not vendors. The trend towards ubiquitous digitalization is leading users of software to take their software fate into their own hands, establishing informal communities or incorporating as non-profit user consortia to manage the development of the software they need. The Eclipse Foundation has been picking up this trend, supporting it with what they call Industry Working Groups; the Linux Foundation is also supporting this. Open source like this will not remove the need for commercial support, but it will reduce the effects of vendor lock-in, because products that are built on community open source can be switched more easily. Continue reading “My Top Three Trends for Open Source in 2019 (3/3)”
We are researching the governance of open source software foundations. We are specifically interested in what we call open source user consortia, that is, open source foundations where the users of the software are in the driver’s seat.
An open source software user consortium is a non-profit organization (foundation, consortium, working group) created for the purpose of funding and managing the development of non-differentiating open source software made available to foundation members and the general public. Its purpose is to establish a software ecosystem in which vendors and suppliers can provide products and services on an equal playing field to the software user companies. User companies are everyone who needs software and who is not a software company.
We are currently sampling what’s out there (and there is plenty, see recent prior posts on the topic). Examples are the Kuali Foundation or the openKONSEQUENZ consortium or the OpenMDM working group. For sampling, we want to understand the differences between these organizations.