July 2012

Update 2012-08-02: Thanks Brian Fitzpatrick, Jim Blandy, Jen Mankoff, Roland McGrath, Justin Erenkrantz, and Noah Friedman for congratulating Bradley by donating to the Conservancy after reading this post. Other readers who join them, please let me know!

I hesitate to call it a “mini”-campaign… might that be too limiting? Let’s see how far it can go!

Last week, Bradley M. Kuhn, the Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, received a very well-deserved 2012 O’Reilly Open Source Award.

A number of us are celebrating this by donating $25 USD each to the Conservancy, which does terrific work mentoring free and open source software projects, helping them raise funds, manage assets, negotiate contracts, put on conferences and developer gatherings, etc. The Conservancy does this all with extreme efficiency — a donation to them is a donation where every dollar counts.

Software Freedom Conservancy
Portrait of Bradley M. Kuhn

Has the Conservancy helped you or your project? Has it helped a project that you directly or indirectly depend on? (Hint: the answer to at least the latter is probably “Yes”, even if you don’t know it.) Then please join us in congratulating Bradley, by donating today!

Mac Slocum of O’Reilly Media interviewed me last week at OSCON 2012 about open source software in the U.S. government — I enjoyed the conversation a lot:

It ties in with the presentation Gunnar Hellekson of Red Hat and I gave the next day:

US Government v. Open Source: A History and Lessons Learned
(slides available there)

which in turn was based on Gunnar’s amazing timeline of open source in the U.S. Government.

Identica, Twitter, and similar services tell you how many people are “following” you. Of course, it just means “are subscribed to you” — it’s not like they’ll follow your orders or something. Though I haven’t tested that hypothesis.

Anyway, let’s call that number F.

Now, I wonder if any services present an interesting (and in some situations perhaps more useful) variation on that number:

  R == the sum of X over all of one's followers, where for each follower,
       X == 1 / the total number of people that follower is following

Then, for any given person on the service, I want to see R and F together, and I wonder if the ratio R/F would vary wildly. I think it might :-).

It’s happening, right on schedule:

First the Stop-and-Frisk Watch app was released, to help citizens monitor the New York City Police Department as it implements its policy of stopping people in the street for melanin posession. But even though it’s a public-interest app, Stop-and-Frisk Watch wasn’t open source.

Now the ACLU has released the Police Tape app, which has very similar functionality, and is intended to be used motorists being pulled over by the police. (As a conservatively-dressed white guy driving a 1994 Honda Accord LX, this never happens to me — but again, many sources report that I could reliably attract more police attention by carrying a larger quantity of melanin when I travel, if I really wanted to.) The Police Tape is also not open source.

Two public-interest apps, very similar in purpose and functionality.

Could they share code? Could the developers profit by talking to each other in open source forums? Could some third party come along and notice commonalities between the two code bases, and even unify them into common code library that other public service organizations could use to build similar apps?

Hard to say, without the code being released under an open source license.

Public-interest app developers: please, please make your code open source! It’s easy. It’s important. I’ll help you do it. Seriously.