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Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it work

By Andrew Pollack on 07/13/2009 at 09:30 AM EDT

The OpenNTF project has been at the center of a great deal of hand wringing, finger pointing, and general posturing behavior that only a well established troop of bonobos could love. Where people stand on it seems to depend in large part on what they hope the project to do for them. There are issues of licensing, issues of control, and issues of association.

For IBM's part, they're putting time and money into the project and expect to have some serious influence in the result. In additional to a general inability to deal with things not going the way they want (they have little experience in this) they also have as a core goal the ability for all the projects to meet the most rigid requirements a corporation could have for using outside code. They want everything on OpenNTF to be immediately and easily adoptable by corporations with extremely rigid rules about licensing open source without worrying about someone coming out of the woodwork years later and claiming copyright. They'd like to use a licensing requirement that leaves them completely sure that anything on OpenNTF could be used in or with distributed IBM software without license violation -- just as it could by by any other developer at any other company. Since IBM has really deep pockets, they must surround themselves with a legal standing that most of the rest of us find onerous.

From the developer community perspective, there are developers out there who want to share what they've done as widely as possible while making sure that they get credit for their work. For some this is purely an ego thing -- they want to be known for writing cool stuff. For others, it may be an important part of their marketing plan for a business or just for their own future career. Others want to release software for their peers to use, but feel that if someone else wants to use it to make a ton of money, some should trickle back to them.

A third kind of investment is by those who have placed a lot of personal or company credibility in the project and see it as an investment in their own image as a person or company. Using this to show leadership in the community is a kind of guerilla marketing. It probably should be called "gorilla" marketing instead, however, because all too often it's handled with all the subtlety of a giant gorilla.

This is where it gets ugly. IBM has no choice but to represent its interests as corporation in the project, and sometimes that puts them at odds with some of the development community. Both sides are trying to work together but there are some pretty big issues work through -- and this isn't anyone's full time job (at least not on the developers' end of things). Add to that mix those who have invested so much of their public image into the project and stress level ramps right up. Recently, some lines have been crossed and people have exposed just how personally invested they are. Business decisions are seen as personal, and professionalism is swept away.

As an official "old guy" in this community, I'd like to ask my friends in the YellowSphere to try for a couple things in the weeks ahead:

#1 - Decide if you're in this for business or for personal reasons. If you're doing this because you want it to market for you in the community, then stop taking it personally when not everyone goes along with your vision. They're not doing it to help your marketing plan. They have their own reasons for doing things.

#2 - Don't expect anyone else to be more altruistic than you are. If you're honest with yourself, you'll find your own altruism isn't entirely pure. You have your reasons for doing what you're doing. Others do too. The community benefits and that's great, but it doesn't mean you have to pretend to be entirely without self interest. Don't pretend.

#3 - If you don't like the way it's going, don't play. It doesn't mean you hate the project or the people in it. It just means your own goals don't match up. There's nothing wrong with that.

#4 - Don't be personally insulted by someone's business decision. IBM doesn't want to steal you code. They want to create a code farm with a crop they can consume (or use to feed their customers). Developers don't want to hold companies hostage. They want to help the community without feeling taken advantage of by someone else's windfall. Self promoters don't want to hijack your work, they want to get some value out of the work they're doing. When the interests of the other players don't align with your own, step back and remember these things instead of being personally insulted.

A lot of well meaning people have become too personally invested here, and the result has gotten pretty hard to watch. That leads me to my final request on the subject. Please, all of you, quit with the childishly stupid side comments and loaded little snide remarks in the various social media. It's sad in the way grown men screaming at 12 year old kids on soccer field is sad. It's sad to watch grossly over-played guerilla marketing attempts play out and it's sad to watch well meaning friends snipe at each like middle school girls.

As for me -- I'm going to wait and see how the new OpenNTF organization turns out. If I like the licensing options and the other aspects of the program, I have code to contribute. If I don't, I still have my website.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it workBy Ed Brill on 07/13/2009 at 10:42 AM EDT
Nice one, Andrew.
re: Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it workBy Patrick Picard on 07/13/2009 at 11:05 AM EDT
Amen. Excellent summary of the various arguments on the issue.

Too many got they panties in a bunch and need to have a drink, relax, and come
back to the discussions.

Unfortunately, with all things related to big corps...mean red tape. It's a
pain at the beginning then it smoothes out over time. People have to hang in
tight and support CONSTRUCTIVELY (not whining, crying).
re: Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it workBy Gregory Engels on 07/13/2009 at 11:20 AM EDT
That reminds me to "kindly remember rule number 6!"
re: Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it workBy Steve Castledine on 07/13/2009 at 11:20 AM EDT
Nice post. I guess some issues come from "have as a core goal the ability for
all the projects to meet the most rigid requirements a corporation could have
for using outside code. They want everything on OpenNTF to be immediately and
easily adoptable by corporations with extremely rigid rules about licensing
open source without worrying about someone coming out of the woodwork years
later and claiming copyright." - because thats not the case. To the best of
"my" understanding (and the policy is in development by the IP committee)
everything that is on the site today can if they choose stay the same - the
only change is creating a "certification" layer if you like for projects that
"wish" to take that extra step.
re: Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it workBy Andrew Pollack on 07/13/2009 at 11:29 AM EDT
There does seem to be a good bit of controversy over that aspect. I'm sure
others see it differently -- none of which negates the primary importance of
not being personally insulted by people's business decisions.
re: Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it workBy Jo Grant on 07/13/2009 at 01:11 PM EDT
I guess I'm not sorry I'm missing this! Hopefully the dust will settle by the
time I get assigned back...
re: Some words on OpenNTF and Big Thinkers trying to make it workBy Lars Berntrop-Bos on 07/14/2009 at 10:47 AM EDT
Hear hear. Thank you for a grown up perspective on the ruckus.


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