The Fedora ambassadors have given me food for thought: my humble dissertation project (facilitation of a GSM interface for the ces.org.za website), which hardly involves any coding (but lots of documentation, as well as a field test), could still become “open source” – at least partly. Even if some of the processing happens in “black boxes” outside the project (for now anyway), the project could still have the gamut of open-source accessories: licence, wiki, version control system, repository, community, etc. After all, many thousands of people around the world stand to benefit via the CES website. This would increase the project’s chances of propagating and persisting beyond the scope of my Masters project. Also, I will have proven my capacity not only for research but also in open source project management.
The challenging parts are to do with the other parties to the project: my co-programmer, a non-student and fellow volunteer in the CES; and the university itself, embodied in my department, supervisor and examiner/s. I believe none of these is in any way hostile to open source (rather, the contrary) but at the same time, their knowledge and experience is basically of open source products rather than processes. It could challenge them to have a whole crowd involved, even (/especially?) if it’s scattered worldwide. However, I am aware of two initiatives within the university which could lend legitimacy to such a strategy: the Open Content project, and the Social Responsiveness initiative.
My inclination is to seize the bit between my teeth, and make it a primary feature of my project that it’s open-source, and claim credit for that. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?…Even if I’m forced into the mould of conventional individualistic work, I will have gained valuable experience along the way. Over the next few days I will be looking in more depth at my options…
Suddenly the hitherto cute phrase “productively lost”, which was presented from the beginning as a goal of POSSE, takes on meaning for me. Not so much within the proceedings of the course so far; I have felt somewhat at home there. Rather, I am applying it to my last several months at UCT. Although I had done coursework for my Masters remotely in past years, this time since relocation has been my chance to roam the field of IT, obsessively reading and absorbing the big-picture stuff to the detriment of my last modules of coursework, and circling my dissertation project, planning and preparing. I have been intensely curious about the David-and-Goliath confrontation between corporate and open-source production, seeing it as a crucial sub-plot of the drama of homo sapiens’ redemption or disgrace. Now I am finding my own feet on the stage.