Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


OpenSourceXperts Redux

I posted a link to OpenSourceXperts a couple of days ago. Working on my guide to installing the e-smith server, it occurred to me that the great e-smith community could benefit from their service.

Now I've just gotten off an hour-long phone call to Berlin, where I spoke with Mark Pratt of beehive (the company that is running OSX -- yes, it's unfortunate that the acronym looks like everyone's favourite operating system). No, I didn't call him -- he called me in response to my request to add e-smith and phpcollab.

Read on for details of the discussion and some thoughts on how this is actually another example of social software.

A very long intense discussion, which ranged from "What is e-smith?" (kind of a sub-category of Linux, but also a one-of-a-kind, all-in-one server for businesses and home use) to discussing different consultant business models.

OSX plans to add many other features. Matt was always at pains to point out that the technical work that they've done is nothing too mind-blowing -- it is the work they have put into the finance and legal aspects that is different, and important.

So, as part of that goal, to also support the business aspects of open source and people that make their livelihood off it, various back-office-type features are eventually going to find their way into the system. Everything from service-contract generation (include boilerplate templates for OpenOffice, of course) to more advanced project management.

I can honestly say that this is very interesting stuff. And it all seems to be a good thing. I seem to remember talking at length in university about having a loose confederation of "consultants", who could call on each others' skills in different engagements, and perhaps jointly fund various back-office services. OSX has the potential to become this for open source developers.

Being in Europe may be a bit of a barrier for adoption here in North America. But, people everywhere are becoming used to the fact of business taking place online. The success (I don't have any numbers, but there seem to be a lot of people on the system) of Experts Exchange should indicate that there is a market for this.

(Matt -- I just had another idea: forums (hooked to an RSS feed and a mailing list, of course) where consultants and companies can talk about best-practices, swap tips on good service companies, etc.)

On to the social software angle. Ultimately, OSX is about people and projects. I didn't think of it when I was talking to Mark, but the system reminds me a bit of Advogato -- which also focuses on people and projects. Some of their learnings around trust metrics will likely be very useful for the future growth of OSX.

Both in the case of OSX and Advogato, there are two types of objects: people and projects (although OSX does have companies as well, to which people may be attached). I would argue that both of these have "reputations" or "trust" attached to them. Some open source projects have very good reputations -- good code, good features, good community. And people and companies of course do too.

So this is again driving towards the notion of profiles attached to people. Each person will want to describe their relationship to various open source projects. But then that's only their view -- other people may not agree, or may support the person.

With real money (hopefully, once the system really gets going) in play, all of these fuzzy trust issues suddenly become serious. OSX serves as a type of escrow, but they will ultimately also have to act as moderators and dispute arbiters as well. All I can say is, it's going to be interesting. In the meantime, I've sent a long email off to Matt with some feedback on the current site.