Tue 17 Feb 2015 4:38AM

What do we mean when we say "Open"?

AI Alanna Irving Public Seen by 132

We took a stab at addressing this question:

> In recent times, the word open has been used and abused. For us open means aiding and encouraging the human urge to share, explore and improve. Anything that thwarts peoples’ desire to share, explore, and improve is closed, not open. The recent move towards openness in the digital world was enabled by the Internet, as the most powerful communications infrastructure that has ever existed, which was built on free and open source software. This digital movement taps into the underlying human urge for openness that has always existed. OS//OS is a celebration of efforts to consciously reverse practises that deny people the right to share, to participate, to collaborate. We celebrate “the commons”, both physical and virtual, and work to improve commonly-held resources that benefit all, rather than exploit them for our own limited gain.

In his keynote talk, Dave Lane will help give us the language for the next two days. What do we mean when we say open? He'll expand on the thinking above and bring into the room some of the conversation we're having here on Loomio on this topic.

Dave Lane is President of the NZ Open Source Society, and an advocate of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) adoption in business, education and government. He works for Catalyst IT, which in 2012 acquired Egressive, the FOSS company he founded in 1998. Among many other interests, he is passionate about his adopted home, NZ, and would love to see the government and education become far more open for the inherent social, economic, and pedagogical advantages openness offers. He goes to great lengths to use FOSS exclusively himself, he's a fan of anyone who knows what "Commons-based peer production" and "permissionless innovation" are, and he has been advocating for "open" since long before it was cool.


Jaco van der Merwe Thu 19 Feb 2015 5:53AM

One the one end I think the notion of "Open Source" is a bit of a misnomer, as the underlying philosophy has a far wider application. In a sense we've already "won", in that there is a growing expectation for transparency, Open Data & API's, but it's an ongoing struggle - e.g. something we're seeing with TPPA undermining hard won battles we've achieved ridding NZ of software patents. Some of the biggest names in tech base their stacks on FLOSS - even MS now rolls W10 @ RasPi & .NET @ GitHub - but the reciprocation is not always forthcoming.

I think it may be more appropriate to address Free Culture, whereby the Shared Commons should become the norm, infusing the status-quo of other aspects of life & culture.

FLOSS is very important to me, personally, but it's cherry on top.
What I believe is more important, leading up to full FLOSS (as the next is dependent on the preceding), is:
* Open Standards
* Open Protocols
* Open Data
* Permissive Licences
* then Open Source
In many cases, I believe FLOSS is a philosophy people need to come unto their own, rather than being imposed upon them.

Dave Moskovitz touched on some of this in his TEDxWellington talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLCkjfUI_fs

I've also recently picked up an axe to grind, whereby FLOSS contributors work is valued less, simply because they contribute towards the Commons, rather than working for proprietary $BIG_CORP.
I believe that good people doing Good Works - not just developers, but also others contributing to a well-rounded eco-system - should be compensated well (but not exorbitantly), but I have yet to figure out a good model to make this work. This has lead to critical issues in our shared infrastructure, such as poor support & maintenance for projects like GnuTLS, leading to the likes of HeartBleed & ShellShock.
I think a large part of this problem stems form the term "Free Software", and a 'bug' in the English language that implies "gratis" ($), rather than "libre" (i.e. Liberty), unlike other languages spoken by the majority of the world (including very many developing nations), and so I think we may be doing ourselves a great disservice.

Are we on the right track?
I think we're in the right direction (encourage wider adoption of FLOSS), but I think we can do more to ensure those that draw from the commons contribute back (AGPL rather than SaaS?), and encourage share-alike.


Matt McGregor Thu 26 Feb 2015 6:06AM

Hey Alanna - great work with this. A bit late to the party, sorry. It's tough, as you're working with various types of 'commons', which have different vocabularies.

For example,at the end of the passage, you say "work to improve commonly-held resources." In terms of culture and knowledge, I would tend to rephrase this as "expand the store of commonly-held resources" - i.e. putting the accent on growing, rather than improving, the commons. But I realise you are also referring to common spaces, so it might take some rhetorical dexterity to do this!

In terms of knowledge and culture, broadly defined - i.e. works that are by default restricted (or 'closed') by copyright - there are some pre-existing and well-accepted definitions out there. The open knowledge foundation have done some work on this: http://opendefinition.org/ You may not want to be so specific as them, but it's worth checking out.

I suspect some open culture folks would also nitpick the final clause - part of the joy of the cultural commons is that you can 'exploit' the resource all you want (copy, commercialise, remix, mashup) without taking away from what the next person can do. Not saying you should take it out - just being a pest and noting the difficulty of the job!


Dave Lane Sun 15 Mar 2015 11:00PM

Sorry to be so late to the discussion... I had a bit to do with the "definition of Open" on the OS//OS website...

Jaco - definitely agree with many of your questions there. I tend to think that the "Free Software" motivation has been pushed aside in many cases by the pseudo Free (exploit the commons!) approach of many 1st and 2nd generation companies/corporations who are building on FOSS, and releasing OSS when it suits their strategic interests, but not embodying them by actually making their primary products proprietary. To me it's jarringly inconsistent, and seems a lot like fair weather friendship.

Matt, I like your idea of "expanding" the range of resources in the commons. WIll review the website you cited, too - sounds like it's right up my alley!


Dimitar Mon 16 Mar 2015 12:59AM

Isn't open as much about open access to resources as it is "open" opportunities to actively engage in the production of these resources? And if so, then what do you think is the motivating factor to contribute to the production of a public good?


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:15AM

@dimitar1 what do you mean by "resources"? I would've thought that anything that isn't open "all the way down" isn't really open at all... Remember, for those of us who write software, it's just another resource. It's fundamentally no different from the curriculum materials and other textual content/media to which I suspect you're referring. To me, the whole point of this "Open source everything" question is to explore the real ramifications of doing it... all the way down to (and including!) the bare metal.


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:25AM

@dimitar1 - to me, "access" to resources to means "consume" rather than "contribute"... That's not very open at all, from my perspective.


Dimitar Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:27AM

maybe I can explain with an example. In open-source software projects like the R-project you can openly use the packages people coded and which the community leaders tested and approved. However what would you say motivates you not only to consume these but also build (and share) new ones?


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 3:02AM

@dimitar1 in my experience it works like this: there are many and varied resources available to us via the FOSS commons... we may use quite a few, but our finite abilities, time and interests mean that we're likely to be moved to actively contribute to only a few of them to improve them. We might do that for posterity, to give back to those who have donated their time and expertise before, to make a given app do things we need it to do ("scratching our own itch"), or just to have fun. Only a tiny proportion of the userbase for any given resource in the commons might contribute back, but if the userbase numbers in the thousands-to-millions, it's still plenty to ensure the project is vibrant and is constantly improving. Ultimately, our interest in a project becomes greater as our dependence on it (and it's ongoing viability) increases. The more people in this situation, who perceive value from a given FOSS project, the more likely it is to be sustainable in the longer term. The beauty of FOSS is that it exists independently of inherently ephemeral commercial entities - if it has value to someone, they have the freedom to either maintain and improve it themselves... or pay someone else (who has time/motivation/expertise, etc.) to do so. Remember, if there's something wrong with a FOSS application that millions of people use... it still only takes one person with sufficient knowledge, time, and motivation to fix it. Luckily, in many thousands of verifyable cases (e.g. all the 2820 FOSS packages currently installed on this Linux Mint laptop), that's exactly how it works.


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 3:12AM

I should also add, @dimitar1, that contributing to FOSS projects consists of far more than just writing code. Other ways to contribute: participating in the community through mailing lists, writing documentation, testing on diverse platforms and submitting thoughtful bug reports, and even promoting software to others (advocacy)... I'm sure there are other ways, too, that haven't occurred to me :)

The key thing: participating, not just consuming. We're all trained to be good little consumers - the participation part has dimished in our society (witness our "learned helplessness" when things take an unexpected turn, like inclement weather or no 3G reception for smartphone). FOSS is like "slow foods" - embracing the idea that we have a ''responsibility'' to understand at least some of the complex stuff in our world, particularly that which we value the most.


Dimitar Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:43PM

@davelane thank you for your detailed answers.
OS projects clearly differ from conventional ones in the ways which you enumerate above. Do all these differences imply that there is also something different in the means and overall ways that people in OS projects communicate?


Silvia Zuur Mon 16 Mar 2015 11:28PM

@dimitar1 I think that is where Loomio has a great role to play - just even this conversation is a new way to communicate!


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 11:30PM

@dimitar1 it's not so much that the means of communications differ in FOSS projects, it's that the incentives and motivations to communicate differ. Pride in one's craft (technical correctness), reputation, and posterity are the main motivators rather than profit maximisation (and, by corollary, minimising cost/time spent)...


Dimitar Tue 17 Mar 2015 11:44AM

how about the idea of an open-government? From your experience would you say OS communities are self-governed (and if so how on earth is that achieves as it sounds very messy) or is there clear leadership and strict hierarchy ?

Note: I speak about governance because every organization should have some vision, mission and values which usually define the aims and means of governance.


Greg Cassel Tue 17 Mar 2015 3:33PM

This comment is based on the dialogue between @dimitar1 and @davelane here, in case you wanted two more cents. :)

Governance 'needs' may vary greatly based on the perceived nature of a community or constellation of communities. One can define communities descriptively and/or prescriptively. I don't advocate strict definitions.

I'm rather focused on infrastructural governance matters related to vision, mission and values. Such issues are important IMO for all sorts of social organization, even such potentially loose and 'free' types as discussion groups and information networks. I guess that a truly FOSS software project/community could be described as a sort of information and/or action network? Does that make sense to you @davelane ?


Greg Cassel Tue 17 Mar 2015 5:05PM

For personal context, my one (co-administered) group Bridge the Divide is a rather 'loose and free' community as I used that term above. BTD is quite ambitious in a mostly unorganized, organic way. I've begun to think of it as a rehumanization project.

To some people, BTD is simply a group or a community, but I'm acutely aware that there's always at least a little implicit and explicit power structure in online groups. There is form in such groups, regardless of whether or not the form is formalized beyond the group description and the assignment of administrative controls. At BTD, we take our vision and principles seriously. We've long struggled to articulate our vision and our form in a way which causes the least possible coercive harm. (I'm an 'anarchwishtic' thinker. I think that all coercion causes harm, and must be justified with respect to creating greater overall freedom and opportunity.)

At BTD, we try to facilitate a generally respectful and supportive environment, along the lines of public sphere theory. We want people to feel safe enough to discuss controversial subjects with uncommon depth of thought and feeling. I'd like to think this is part of an 'open society' future.

BTD is considering new administrative policies and procedures which strongly emphasize the role of all peers in promoting the community's mission and values. We're hoping to develop an organic clarity and consistency for the critical, but deliberately minimized, role of group administrators. That role is based in consensus deliberation and decision process. Anyone please feel free to check out the policies and procedures ideas here. Feedback is welcome.

Looking beyond that discussion group, I have the same basic views on 'legislative' and 'judicial' governance matters in general. I advocate collective hierarchies (of stakeholders) and inclusive team-based initiatives, instead of personally concentrated authority. I support radical freedom of information, and the emergence of collective intelligence through openly known processes.
I think these principles ought to hold for a wide range of open source projects and, and an increasingly open society on all scales of social organization.


Dave Lane Tue 17 Mar 2015 9:55PM

@gregorycassel BTD looks interested based on my superficial glance... I think that you're right about FOSS community power structures and the lack of formality... they do tend to organise organically. Projects and communities succeed or fail based on whether the "culture" that emerges is compelling to a critical mass of participants or not. In most of these communities, leaders emerging based on motivation to make progress and available time to contribute. Most leadership is of the "well no one else was doing it" or "I had time and interest and didn't even realise I was being a leader" variety... To my way of thinking this is the best sort of leadership. Some communities are small and tight-knit, others are sprawling and inclusive. There are many different emergent FOSS community cultures out there, and it seems that more than a few can be successful. I guess the key thing here is that FOSS communities are not much different from any other kind of spontaneous groups of people. What makes them a bit different is that their activities are better documented than many types of groups, with informal artefacts of their collaboration and culture like website content, news releases, issue queues, source code and comments, software roadmaps, changelogs, and mailing list discussions being available for all to see and study without requiring anyone's permission.


Dave Lane Thu 19 Mar 2015 12:24AM

On another note, I was just made aware of this very well written article in the New Yorker recognising the 30 years of "Free Software"... I consider it essential reading for those who want to know where the "open" revolution started... http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-gnu-manifesto-turns-thirty


Megan Salole Wed 25 Mar 2015 10:12PM

My thoughts on OPEN BUSINESS:

I think that we need to redefine metrics for success to be able to engage fully with the potential for Open Business.

A key shift is distributed benefits, rather than profit maximisation for shareholders.

At this moment in time the dominant success metric is financial, rather than being able to say that a business is hugely successful because all employees are paid a living wage and are involved in the decisions that affect them, that there is transparency about the impacts of that business etc.

So the question for me is how does society reward businesses that tend towards open? What mechanism will create this impetus?

My instinct is that Government procurement plays a crucial role in this. The now defunct Govt3 programme was enormously successful - because the Govt contracts are worth so much and private businesses were clamouring over each other to prove their sustainability credentials so that they would be considered for these lucrative contracts.

Once the business is on a track to measure and monitor performance, this moves the bar for all businesses.


Denjello Thu 26 Mar 2015 12:13AM

@gregorycassel +1 for "anarchwishtic". Took me a second to pronounce, but its just brilliant. You are now the official name-giver of "anarchwishism", and the posterity of this thread will prove that.


Megan Salole Thu 26 Mar 2015 9:41AM

Here is a practical question - if we were to open source the photography and documentation of the event, what would be the best place for people to post to?

Instagram is clearly not open source... Should we be posting to flickr with Creative Commons licensing https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ ?

What should the protocols be for people not wanting to be photographed or their likeness open licensed? Anyone got strong opinions/ideas? @davelane ?

I'd love to do some timelapse - especially of the graphic facilitation. Does anyone have any expertise/interest in this?


Dave Lane Thu 26 Mar 2015 10:23AM

Flickr, though not open source itself, does a pretty good job of supporting Creative Commons licences... Instagram (and Flickr and many other web services) is built with and depends on open source software, but is not itself open source... For what it's worth, I use Flickr for a private family photo collection.


Silvia Zuur Thu 26 Mar 2015 7:33PM

@megansalole @davelane I think it is a great idea! We will have a professional photographer - but crowd sourcing the images that people take during the day would be awesome!

How does it work on Flicker - can you just have a hashtag and it all complies in one place.

Wonder if @simonjarvis has some ideas?


Dave Lane Sun 29 Mar 2015 8:29PM

@megansalole interesting questions about measuring the success of businesses. I agree that assessing them purely on financial performance is very short sighted and, I believe, creates very perverse (and socially detrimental) incentives. Are you aware of this? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_bottom_line - Don't know much about it myself yet, but apparently some interesting TBL processes have been developed here in NZ (although it hasn't focused on "openness" as such, so far as I know).


Megan Salole Sun 29 Mar 2015 10:37PM

@davelane that's a good idea to appeal to the TBL folk and ask that open values be included.


Simon Jarvis Mon 30 Mar 2015 9:30PM

@silviazuur @megansalole tweet wall is a possibility: https://tweetwall.com/tour


Dave Lane Mon 30 Mar 2015 9:32PM

@megansalole of course, we also have to determine what "open values" are :)


Charmaine Meyers Mon 30 Mar 2015 9:51PM

@megansalole and @davelane I would be interest to know what the TBL processes developed in NZ. I am pretty sure TBL does not have a focus open, I am thinking of it from the point of view of a Chartered Accountant, I had a look at the GRI (Global reporting imitative) which produces Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, that Accountants use. but there are many other ways to do it. https://www.globalreporting.org/Pages/default.aspx


Dave Lane Mon 30 Mar 2015 9:53PM

Given the context, @charmainemeyers, I note the irony of the Globalreporting site being sponsored by Microsoft...


Matt McGregor Tue 31 Mar 2015 2:43AM

@megansalole @davelane & @charmainemeyers FYI, the Creative Commons mothership has launched a project researching open business models: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/45022

Note that 'open' for CC primarily means 'openly licensing the stuff you make', though orgs that use open licensing often embraces other forms of openness.


Alanna Irving Wed 8 Apr 2015 3:14AM

@davelane instead of posting a separate Loomio discussion for your keynote talk (as I have been for some of the others) I have updated this discussion to reflect your keynote. Hope that works for you! There's already such a rich discussion here that I didn't want to fork it.


Dave Lane Wed 8 Apr 2015 10:06PM

Fair enough @alanna. I'll flesh out my thoughts on it over the next couple days.


Dave Lane Thu 23 Apr 2015 11:13PM

Obviously, I didn't do much fleshing prior to the conference... For those who weren't there, my talk (and speaker's notes are there - hit "s" when looking at the slides) is at https://pres.lane.net.nz/what-is-open


Greg Cassel Fri 24 Apr 2015 12:40AM

Loved the notes from your talk @davelane , and the "Openwashing" article link! So glad you were part of OS//OS 2015, and I'm looking forward to video footage (probably sometime soon).


Dave Lane Fri 24 Apr 2015 12:42AM

Many thanks, @gregorycassel, I thoroughly enjoyed myself - revitalising to be amongst such principled, upstanding folk.


PAN & BAM | Creator: Stephen Chernishov Fri 8 May 2015 12:02PM

Open means that one person has insight, and they have to get it out.
Genius flows, issues are identified, investigation & planning is done, creation is started, developments, and then when that one who did something can outwardly see that this vision/dream/conviction/idea/grand scheme is WAY TOO BIG & impossible for them to do, or even 100 people -
Then they get to the place where they must invite the world to be involved and open it up.

eg: I openly shared a book a few years, ago and published it because I realised that no one government department, business or team of well paid gurus could make it (it is too big, too important, and highly subject to change)..


Isabella Cawthorn Sat 11 Jul 2015 9:30AM

Kia ora koutou

I didn't have anything to add at the time but have been reading bits and pieces about manifestations of "open"... This has a bunch of philosophical discussion and interesting field studies of Wikipedia



Greg Cassel Sat 11 Jul 2015 3:15PM

That link certainly offers valid critiques of implicit power structures, @isabellacawthorn1 , particularly at Wikipedia. On a related note, I personally think that every adult human should read The Tyranny of Structurelessness which is 45 years old now! Personal trust and credibility are invaluable concepts, but they've been too broadly associated with irrational tribalism and privileged inequalities of creative resources.

I truly think that our evolving peer-to-peer networking tech and culture can help us to evolve a truer democracy and 'natural selection' of information, ideas and actions, along with self-organizing principles which foster personal freedom and collective opportunity on all scales of collaborative activity.

Hmm, maybe 'open organization' and 'democracy' can be nearly synonymous?


Nadia Webster Tue 18 Aug 2015 3:50AM

Give feedback on the Open Government Partnership - closes end of August 2015

New Zealand is part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a group of countries working to make government more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.

The NZ government has created a 2 year Action Plan showing how it’s going to promote open and transparent government in New Zealand. They’re asking for feedback on the Action Plan, to find out if New Zealanders think that the government’s meeting the OGP goals.


Danyl Strype Wed 23 Mar 2016 7:45AM

The OGP are doing another round of consultation ending in June 2016.


Cam Findlay Wed 30 Mar 2016 4:10AM

Our signing up to the D5 charter is interesting too as it specifically mentions Open Source as one of the principles. Would be interesting to hear about how D5 and OGP fit together and what initiatives can help us achieve good things in both.


Dave Lane Wed 30 Mar 2016 4:14AM

When asked what progress the NZ gov't has made on moving towards the goals of the D5 Charter, Hon Peter Dunne said "my officials are looking into it"... I've got a call in to the GCIO to discuss it (as Dunne's main "official")... but he's on annual leave until next week. Seems like the NZGOAL-SE has some nice tie-ins (being discussed in an adjoining Loomio Group...).


Dave Lane Wed 30 Mar 2016 4:17AM

For the record, if the gov't doesn't mandate the use of open standards for all gov't software/IT procurement, everything else is just rearranging the deckchairs. Thankfully (from the risk averse gov't's point of view) a few other countries have already taken that plunge with positive results, e.g. the UK and Netherlands... My case is here: https://openstandards.nz


Danyl Strype Tue 9 May 2017 3:37PM

Any news on the campaign to get the NZ govt to go OpenStandards too?


Dave Lane Tue 9 May 2017 10:47PM

Hi Strypey, it's a "slow burn" initiative... if people haven't seen it, the case for mandated open standards in gov't software procurement is here (personally, I think the status quo is scandalous, and if people really understood the current "accepted practice" they'd be outraged, but sadly few seem to care): https://openstandards.nz as is a list of "co-signers" - if you agree with the our request to gov't, by all means please sign on! In other news, I'm part of a group of leaders from about a dozen national NZ technology organisations (we've got the working title of "Tech Leaders' Forum") and we've been putting together a "Tech Industry Manifesto" which will be published in the next few weeks, in the lead up to the NZ national election - in it, we lay out our recommendations for the next government, and we will aim to get parties adopting as many of them as possible (the Manifesto is non-partisan). Among the policy requests is the mandating of open standards, and we also draw specific attention to the D5 Charter, it's excellent goals, and the lack of visible progress towards it by NZ so far...


Danyl Strype Wed 10 May 2017 1:40AM

What a great initiative! I've been thinking for a while that a non-partisan lobby group uniting all the disparate tech groups in Aotearoa was needed. Good on you folk for making it happen. If the Manifesto is something people can sign onto like the OpenStandards demand, I'd be keen to check it out and considering signing it on behalf of Disintermedia.


Dave Lane Wed 10 May 2017 1:54AM

Nice one :) - I'm planning to float the finished document to the NZOSS Open Chat list for comment prior to us formally launching it. Due to the complexity of changes (given all the parties involved) the objective will be a "yea or nay" on the NZOSS' support of the document and its recommendations.


Danyl Strype Wed 10 May 2017 4:49AM

Fair enough. I've considered getting back on OpenChat but TBH, although I enjoy the diverse and thoughtful exchanges that happen there, it sends me more email than I really have time to deal with at present. I try to remember to check in using the web interface now and then, but I inevitably miss a lot of stuff in the flow.

If there is a Loomio group for NZOSS, or for free code and open source advocacy in Aotearoa generally, I'd be keen to engage that way. I find Loomio a bit more manageable for some reason. Which reminds me, I must clear some time to catch up on what's happening with the guidance notes that were being drafted in the NZGOAL-SE group (@camfindlay1 ).


John Rhoads Tue 25 Oct 2016 9:28PM

Open = Trust