Tag: Open Source (page 1 of 3)

Tools and spaces to create a positive architecture of participation

Earlier this year, in a post entitled How to build an architecture of participation, I explained how, in my experience, systems designed for user contribution require the following elements:

  1. A clear mission
  2. An invitation to participate
  3. Easy onboarding
  4. A modular approach
  5. Strong leadership
  6. Ways of working openly and transparently
  7. Backchannels and watercoolers
  8. Celebration of milestones

To build on that post, I’d like to explain the kinds of tools and spaces that can create a positive architecture of participation. Please note that, in and of themselves, merely using a tool or creating a space does not guarantee participation. Rather, the tools and spaces help as part of a more holistic approach to encouraging contribution.


When I run projects, as I am doing for Moodle as of this week (more specific details on that in a future post), the following are the kinds of tools I tend to use and the spaces I look to create. It’s worth pointing out that my guiding principle is always the ‘scaffolding’ of people’s attention, and that my mental model for this is influenced by the ‘alternative’ version of the RACI matrix:

Responsible
Those responsible for the performance of the task. There should be exactly one person with this assignment for each task.

Assists
Those who assist completion of the task

Consulted
Those whose opinions are sought; and with whom there is two-way communication.

Informed
Those who are kept up-to-date on progress; and with whom there is one-way communication.

 


A) Index

I’ve written before about why you need a single place to point people towards when discussing your project. Not only does it mean a single place for potentially-interested parties to bookmark and remember, but it ensures that the project team only have to perform the administrative duties of updating and curating links once.

Ideally, the URL you give out is a domain that you or your organisation owns, and which points to a server that you, or someone at your organisation, has direct control over. The specific software you choose to run that almost doesn’t matter, as it’s an index — a jumping off point to access spaces where things are actually happening.

Having a canonical URL for the project is useful to everyone in the RACI matrix, from the person responsible for its success, right through to those just being kept informed.

N.B. This is one of the points in Working openly on the web: a manifesto.


B) Documentation

Every project needs a flexible, easy-to-update space where the roadmap can be shared, decisions can be recorded, and an overall sense of the project can be gained.

Wikis are perfect for this task, although increasingly there are tools with wiki-like functionality (e.g. revision history, on-the-fly rearrangement of categories) that do the job, too. Ideally, you’re looking for something that allows your project to look good enough to encourage contribution in someone new, while you don’t have to spend ages making everything look pretty.

Again, documentation is useful for everyone involved in the project, whether responsible, assisting, consulted, or informed.


C) Tracker

One of the biggest things that people want to know about a project is the current status of its constituent parts. There are lots of ways of doing this, from a straightforward kanban approach, to a much more powerful (but potentially more confusing) ticket/issue-based system. The latter are favoured by those doing software development, as it helps avoid unhelpful ambiguity.

My time at Mozilla convinced me that there’s huge value of having everyone at an organisation, or at least on a particular project, using the same tool for tracking updates. The value of this is that you can see what is in progress, who’s working on it, what’s been completed, any questions/problems that have been raised, and so on.

While the tracker might only be used rarely by those being kept informed of the project, it’s invaluable for those responsible, assisting, or being consulted.


D) Asynchronous reports

Producing regular updates ensures that there is a regular flow of information to all parties. In my experience, it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to digital projects. You have to keep reminding people that work is ongoing and that progress is being made on the project.

One way to do this is to blog about the project. Another way is to send out a newsletter. There are plenty of ways of doing this, and it’s worth experimenting with differing timescales as to the frequency of updates. While a bit of (appropriate) colour and humour is always appreciated, so is getting to the point as quickly as possible in these updates.

Reports are primarily for the benefit of those being kept informed about the project. It’s worth remembering that these people may, depending on changes in project direction (or their interest/free time), be in a position to assist or be consulted.

A word about social media. Sending out updates via Twitter, Facebook, and the like is great, but I find following the POSSE (Publish Once, Self-Syndicate Everywhere) approach works best. Use social networks for what they’re best at: surfacing and linking to information in a just-in-time fashion. I wouldn’t use them for the actualy content itself.


E) Synchronous meetings

Depending on the size of the project team and the nature of the project, you may decide to run synchronous meetings more or less regularly. You should certainly run some, however, as they afford a different kind of dynamic to asynchronous, text-based approaches.

There are plenty of tools that allow you to have multiple people on a synchronous audio (and/or video) call, ‘dialling-in’ from wherever they are in the world. It goes without saying that you should be mindful of the timezones of potential contributors when scheduling this. You should also all be looking at an agenda that can be updated as the meeting progresses. The project’s documentation area can be used for this, or something like Etherpad (one of my favourite tools!)


What have I missed? I’ve still lots to learn from those more experienced than me, so I’d welcome encouragement, pushback, and any other comments in the section below!


Image by Daniel Funes Fuentes and used under a CC0 license

How to build an architecture of participation

Back in 2014, when I was still at Mozilla, I wrote a post entitled Towards an architecture of participation for episodic volunteering. I bemoaned the lack of thought that people and projects put into thinking through how they’re going to attract, retain, and encourage the volunteers they crave.

‘Architecture of participation’ is a term used to describe systems designed for user contribution. It’s a term I use relatively often, especially at events and thinkathons run by our co-op. Not only is it a delightful phrase to say and to hear, but (more importantly) it’s a metaphor which can be used to explore all kinds of things.

In my 2014 post, I made some suggestions for ways to improve your project’s architecture of participation. I’ve updated and improved these based on feedback and my own thinking. Based on my experience, to build an effective architecture of participation, you need:

  1. A clear mission – why does this project exist? what is it setting out to achieve?
  2. An invitation to participate – do you have an unambiguous call to action?
  3. Easy onboarding – are there small, simple tasks/activities that new volunteers can begin with?
  4. A modular approach – do volunteers have to commit to helping with everything, or is there a way which they can use their knowledge, skills, and interests to contribute to part of the project?
  5. Strong leadership – do the people in control of the project embody the mission? do they have the respect of volunteers? have they got the capacity to make the project a success?
  6. Ways of working openly and transparently – does the project have secret areas, or is everything out in the open? (this post may be useful)
  7. Backchannels and watercoolers – are there ‘social’ spaces for members of the project to interact over and above those focused on project aims?
  8. Celebration of milestones – does the project recognise the efforts and input of volunteers?

Most of the links I can find around architectures of participation seem to be tied to Web 2.0 developments pre-2011. I’d love to see a resurgence in focus on participation and contribution, perhaps through the vehicle of co-operativism.

If you’ve got another couple of features that lead to a positive and effective architecture of participation, I’d love to hear them. Then this can be a 10-point list! As ever, this post is CC0-licensed, meaning you can do with this whatever you like.


(Image drawn by audience members during a keynote I gave at Durham University in 2015)

Is it the end of the traditional resume? [opensource.com]

Bryan Mathers and I have a post published at opensource.com. It was commissioned by Concentric Sky, who are the organisation behind Badgr.

An excerpt:

At the moment, we’re treating Open Badges in a similar way as traditional credentials, placing value solely on the destination rather than on an individual’s current journey. A single, big, showstopper badge shouldn’t necessarily trump a badge pathway showing a relevant trajectory. We should recognize that traditional credentials recognize activity that occurs on a very uneven playing field. Some people, for various reasons, have had a relatively smooth path to where they currently stand. Others, with less-prestigious traditional credentials, may be a better fit but do not come from such a privileged background.

Click here to read the post in its entirety.


Note that our original title emphasised the power of making credentials more transparent by bringing together open source, Open Badges, and open pathways.  As ever with these things, we were at the mercy of the editor.

Taking back control of the web: an easy way to host and run secure open source apps

Sandstorm.io

One of the most frustrating things about Open Source software is the lack of traction some genuinely great projects manage to achieve. There are countless examples of individuals deciding to ‘scratch their own itch’, and writing code that would also improve the lives of hundreds/thousands/millions of people. However, the the technical skills required to get it up-and-running, not to mention the security concerns of getting to scale, are often prohibitive.

That’s where Sandstorm.io comes in. I first heard about the project when I was still at Mozilla as the lead developer led a successful crowdfunding campaign that was supported by many readers of Hacker News. Essentially, it’s a incredibly simple, one-click way to install Open Source web apps. They’re deployed in containers called ‘grains’ which makes apps extremely secure and super-fast.

Sandstorm grains

As you can see, I’ve been playing about with all sorts of apps: note-capturing apps similar to Evernote, kanban tools that mimic the functionality of Trello, alternatives to Slack, ways to seamlessly pipe music to co-workers/conspirators, you name it!

There’s already an impressive selection of apps available in Sandstorm.io, with more being converted on a regular basis. Here’s the ones available at the time of writing:

Sandstorm apps

At the moment, I’m just playing around. I can see a time when I decide to use this across devices and collaboratively with other people. Relying on venture capitalist-backed companies to look after my data, privacy, and security on a long-term basis is probably a bad idea.

While there’ll always be a free tier, during the beta all of the plans are free:

Sandstorm - plans

As you can see, given that the ‘Power User’ plan is currently free, I’ve decided to make full use of it. The apps are blisteringly fast and, when the beta ends, I’ve got the option of either paying for hosting through Sandstorm.io, or hosting it on my own server (free!)

I’d have a play and see what you find. I think you’ll find something interesting, something to convince you that Open Source done right can be just as good, if not better, than proprietary, closed-source, VC-backed products!

Click here to go to Sandstorm.io

3 reasons open source needs Open Badges [opensource.com]

opensource.com

A few months ago, my friend and former colleague Laura Hilliger encouraged me to write something for opensource.com. She’d had a few posts published about the benefits of working openly.

Today, Bryan Mathers and I have had published an article that goes into why Open Badges are such a good fit for open communities.

The web is the perfect medium for a new credentialing system. Just like the web, Open Badges are democratic, open, and distributed. The OBI is itself open source, as are many badge issuing solutions found on GitHub and other code repositories. Open Badges help move forward the open web.

Read the post in full: 3 reasons open source needs Open Badges

I’m closing comments here to encourage you to add your thoughts on the original post.

Project Reclaim: a pragmatic update

Project Reclaim: September 2012

Boone Gorges, who originally started me on the path towards reclaiming my own data, has posted an update on his Project Reclaim. I thought it was about time I did the same.

I’d already mapped out the various tools I use (see updated version above), consolidated my blogs and experimented with openphoto.me. Just over a week ago I moved web hosts from Bluehost to Hippie Hosting. The latter is a co-operatively owned web hosting service.

There are, however, at least FIVE services that I’m not planning to move away from at the moment.

The first, and probably most obvious of these, is Twitter. At the moment it’s pretty much impossible to export my tweets in a meaningful way from the service. But a social network is nothing without community, so I’ll be there until something better comes along. (I don’t, however, use Facebook apart from a place to link to my newsletter or blog posts)

Next we have Dropbox. I really do love this service as it means I’ve got all of my stuff everywhere I am. We’ve also started using it within the Learning team at the Mozilla Foundation. I could try ownCloud or similar but when it comes to having my documents and sharing them easily with others, I want as little friction as possible.

Third is mobile-only social network called Path. All of my family now use this to post photos, videos and updates. It keeps us all in touch. Whilst it would be really nice to be able to get my data out of here quickly and easily the beautiful interface and benefits outweigh anything else at the moment.

Fourth we have Google’s services. With the proviso of switching off my search history and encrypting my searches, I’m fairly happy to use GMail, Google Drive and Google Calendar at the moment. Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous – they’re central to my workflow. I also use Google+ occasionally. Whilst I’m slightly uneasy with the situation, at least I can export my data quickly and easily using Google Takeout.

And finally comes Slideshare. I’ve experimented with using HTML5 slides but (a) they take while to put together, (b) I recently went over 100,000 views on Slideshare (one-hundred thousand!), and (c) I haven’t (currently) got the skills to make HTML5 slides as aesthetically pleasing as a a Keynote/Slideshare combo.

Conclusion

I’m going to continue with Project Reclaim as I think it gives me a steer in choosing the technology I use on a day-to-day basis. However, I’m going to be pragmatic about it. I could decide to use identi.ca instead of Twitter but, whilst that would give me a warm smug glowing feeling of openness, it would cut me off from contacts I find extremely useful and valuable.

You’ve got to balance these things out.

One thing that has been launched recently which is a huge boon to those looking to be more in control of their own data is ToS;DR. As TechCrunch pointed out, the biggest lie on the internet is that people read and agree to tortuously-long Terms of Service agreements. Instead, they’re more like “too long; didn’t read” (TL;DR). The Unhosted venture reviews Terms of Service agreements and rates them on various factors.

It’s definitely worth a look.

3 principles for a more Open approach.

This exchange on Google+ with Rob Poulter (referencing my previous post on platforms and standards) got me thinking. The highlights are below.

Rob:

Ultimately I don’t think the problem is between native vs web, the problem is one of closed vs open, and not in a Google PR way. The things we tend to care about in the online world are services, not apps. Services see us passing responsibility for our data on to a third party, and usually based on features rather than interoperability or longevity. At the end of the day, if there’s something which we would mind losing, it’s our responsibility to keep it, not some third party.

Doug:

My issue, I suppose is platforms becoming de facto standards because ‘everyone uses them’. Kind of like Dropbox and Twitter and so on…

There’s definitely an elision which I need to resolve in my thinking between ‘HTML5 webapps’ and ‘openness’. Thanks for the pointers!

Rob:

The standards thing is tough I guess. Who wants to be the business that boasts of how easy it is to jump ship? Especially for social applications like Twitter, Facebook, G+ etc (Dropbox and other personal services not so much since they tend to compete on features and can’t rely on “hey, all your friends are here, you’re not going anywhere”).

I pointed out that Google Takeout actually does allow you to export your data from Google to other platforms. But, as Rob responded, not the comments on other people’s posts.

All of this made me think about my principles for using software and web services. It reminded me of Baltasar Gracian’s constant reminders in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (which I read on constant repeat) that it’s easy to begin well, but it’s the ending well that counts.

So, I’ve come up three principles to guide me:

  1. I will use free and Open Source software wherever possible. (I’m after the sustainable part of OSS, not the ‘free’ part)
  2. If this is not possible then I will look for services which have a paid-for ‘full-fat’ offering.
  3. I will only use proprietary services and platforms without a paid-for option if not doing so would have a significant effect on my ability to connect with other people.

What’s in and what’s out? I’ll stick with Twitter and Google+ (but will try to connect with people I follow in additional ways). Evernote, Spotify, Skype and Dropbox are fine for the time being (I pay for them). I’ll try and move away from GMail and Google Calendar.

Any suggestions for replacements?

 

Project Reclaim: or, how I learned to start worrying and love my data.

The irony of a 'trailblazer' being rendered inert

A few days ago, via Stephen Downes, I came across Project Reclaim, an attempt by Boone Gorges to ‘reclaim’ his data from the multiple silos he’s been putting them in. He’s talking about those places where it’s easy to get data into but not so easy to get them out of: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter… the list goes on. I was in the right frame of mind to take action after listening to Jason Scott be interviewed recently about the importance of digital heritage.

To be clear: none of what follows is about getting a warm fuzzy feeling from being more ‘open’. It’s everything to do with having access to my data when I’m the same age as my parents. This stuff is important.

Eventually, I’d like to be running open everything, but the first step is to have control of my data. I certainly can’t trust Facebook to host my data, but that’s not to say it can’t be an output – a place where data from other places is mirrored.

The first thing I decided to do was to map as many places where I store things online. I highlighted those services in green that are based on Open Source technologies. Those in orange are services where it’s reasonably straightforward to get your data out. Those in red are those where it’s difficult to download and export your data.

Project Reclaim - mindmap

Over the rest of 2011 I’m going to be trying to make that mindmap greener. You can see that I’ve started to add (in pink) alternative services. I may have mis-coloured some elements (Dropbox should be orange, for example) – but the idea is sound.

Where am I going to start? I’m going to invest in Linode which means I’ll be able to host things like Sparkleshare (to replace Dropbox) and FlexPaper to replace SlideShare and Issuu. I’m not so concerned with the Google-based stuff at the moment as their committed (at the moment) to making exporting your data fairly painless – but I wish I could bulk-download my YouTube videos…

Image CC BY ecastro

5 reasons I’m using less and less Open Source stuff.

I’m not attempting to get into a flame war with this post. It’s a personal reflection and more of a statement than an argument. Please comment appropriately! 🙂

In a perfect world, everything I use would be an Open Source product and have been produced using Open principles and philosophies. I’ve been part of a Becta-funded project into the use of Open Source Software (OSS) in schools, spent time with Linux as my sole operating system, and have given away (to anyone who’d have them) CDs and DVDs containing OSS.

But, without consciously aiming to do so, I’ve found myself using less and less Open Source stuff over the last year or so.  Why? There’s several reasons.

1. Standards are to innovate upon

The reason that we have ‘standards’ in any area of life is to ensure compliance. But that isn’t meant to limit creativity and innovation, but to serve as a basis upon which it can flourish. Whilst there’s a lot of wonderful work going on in the OSS arena, there’s also a lot of people and projects engaging in catch-up.

2. Willingness to pay for software

When I was younger I had no or very little money. I’m far from rich now, but can nevertheless afford to pay for software that improves my productivity and/or outputs. This means that I’m using iWork instead of OpenOffice.org, for example.

3. Ecosystems and things ‘just working’

I was sorely tempted to purchase an Android-powered mobile phone recently. The main reason I didn’t? It had nothing to do with the specifications of the phone I had in mind. It was to do with access to the iTunes store. I listen to a lot of podcasts but, since moving completely to Spotify for my music, no longer sync my iPhone at all. Whilst I would be able to use software such as DoubleTwist to get content onto an Android-powered phone, it would mean syncing again and no access on-the-move. That, as they say, was a dealbreaker for me.

The other thing about tightly-controlled ecosystems is that, for all the whinging about control, DRM and monopolies they provide a seamless, enjoyable and fairly risk-free experience to the end user. I know, for example, that I’m going to get well-made app in the iPhone app store, and that books are going to be formatted correctly when using the Amazon Kindle store.

Finally, ecosystems mean that things ‘just work’. I continue to use Google’s online offerings because they all work together so well. I can get data in and data out easily, and transfer information between applications quickly. Taking any longer than necessary to do tasks isn’t high on my list of desirable features for any technology with a thesis to write…

4. Too much choice

The mantra of the ‘noughties’, if it had one, would have been ‘choice, choice, choice’. We were given a plethora of television channels, luxury goods and even hospitals to choose from. More choice, it was argued, led to higher standards.

However, the problem with too much choice is that you become paralysed in the process of decision-making. You need some kind of kind or heuristic to apply to the situation. Think about purchasing a laptop. There are so many makes, types, shapes and colours that it would take a great deal of time even to whittle it down to three choices.

The same goes with software. Once I’ve found a reputable and high-quality source of hardware or software, I’m likely to stick with that source unless something disastrous happens. So who do I look for when I’m making hardware purchases? Apple and Sony. Where do I look first for my online apps and software? Google.

5. Free is not OSS

I still use a lot of free software. But much of it is not OSS. There are new models evolving where the end product is made available either temporarily or permanently to users for free. (think of ‘freemium’ models, sponsored apps and the like!)

The fact that it is (usually) free is, like it or not, the biggest selling point of OSS. Whilst I and others completely buy into the philosoph(ies) behind it, with the increasing availability of free (as in beer) software undermines the appeal of OSS.

Conclusion

I am not advocating that people ignore OSS in favour of proprietary products. Far from it. What I am pointing out here is that the landscape is changing and OSS advocates need to change their approach. My recommendations:

  • Much more emphasis placed on the ‘four freedoms’
  • The building of an OSS ecosystem
  • An app store for OSS (seriously)

What do YOU think? Have you been using less or more OSS recently? Why? :-p

How to move forward with Open Source: a teacher’s perspective

On Friday I’m in London helping facilitate a session as part of the Open Source Schools project. I was asked by Miles Berry to write a short ‘provocation paper’ which is shared below (be sure to click ‘Fullscreen’). I’d be interested in your thoughts and feedback! 😀

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