FSOSS 2007 Review

Below is a review of the FSOSS 2007 Symposium at Seneca which had some really great talks and speakers.  See you next year!!


The Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2007 was a successful event.   The broad spectrum of presentations, varying from the open source efforts of proprietary giant Microsoft to democracy within open source communities, addressed significant questions, from open source project management to product applications.  One interesting application from the Shuttleworth Foundation was

  Kusasa, but more on that later. The first talks were on design: what constitutes design, what is design and most importantly who design is for.  These questions were reminscent of a recent talk at Berkman prepared by Michael Maier. Maier suggested that the design of the Internet is still developing and this design affects site usage, citing his own choice not to use MySpace due to its poor design .  At the FSOSS talks, time and again the emphasis was on the user and the purpose of the software, whether that purpose be purely functional or meaningful.  Design without the user in mind produces very low quality software and very unusable products, such as the now obscure CueCat. The purpose of the CueCat barcode scanner was to track URL usage by readers of Wired Magazine, however, typing in the URL was more simple and preferable for the user.  The design of the CueCat did not consider the user; the user must therefore be the primary consideration in such processes.

One pervasive theme of the conference was the democratic (or undemocratic) structure of the open source communities.  The speaker Jesse Hirsch interrelated the ideas of democratic rule and the structures of social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, arguing that the main reason why Facebook has overtaken MySpace is more efficient structures of governance.  Whereas MySpace initially lacked any sort of control or boundaries, Facebook was more structured and included built in control features.  According to Hirsch, like MySpace, Wikipedia too lacks governance.  Accordingly, Hirsch prefers not to use Wikipedia as a source for information, finding the lack of governance affects its legitimacy. Another point that Hirsch discussed was the lack of democracy within open source communities, suggesting that the apathy of democracy in the ‘real-world’ transfers to the open source community.  However, if open source communities became democratic, that enthusiasm could be transferred back into the real world and possibly reverse the democratic apathy that is observable today. 

The open source project of interest is the open source software {Kusasa}, http://www.kusasa.org/, developed by the Shuttleworth Foundation. The idea is to take the software and the technology into schools to make knowledge accessible for children and to inspire them.  Similar in ideology to the One Laptop per Child campaign, the project brings the benefits of technology to those who benefit most.

The underlying message of the Symposium is that the open source community and open source projects are growing and have a growing number of applications in society. However, there is still a lack of communication between the communities and users. People, generally speaking, are reluctant to use that which they do not know and are relatively uninformed about the possibilites of technology.  Open source is advantageous software, so long as users are aware of what those advantages are.


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