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The Politics of Open Source Adoption

This wiki is an invitation to collaborate on a real-time history and analysis of the politics of open source software adoption. The Social Science Research Council is pleased to offer a first version of this account—POSA 1.0. For our purposes, understanding the ‘politics of adoption’ means stepping back from the task of explaining or justifying Free and/or Open Source Software (F/OSS) in order to ask how increasingly canonical explanations and justifications are mobilized in different political contexts. POSA 1.0 tries to map the different kinds of political and institutional venues in which F/OSS adoption is at stake. It tries to understand important institutional actors within those venues, and the ways in which arguments for and against F/OSS are framed and advanced. It seeks to clarify the different opportunities and constraints facing F/OSS adoption in different sectors and parts of the world. It is an inevitably partial account that--we hope--can be extended and deepened by other participants in these processes. The latest version of this work resides on the wiki itself, and reflects contributions from members and fellow travelers in the F/OSS community

Our project began with the observation that accounts of the F/OSS movement, to date, have been oriented mostly by the improbable fact of F/OSS’s existence. We propose that, at this stage of F/OSS development and advocacy, we can begin to ask a different set of questions—not how open source works as a social and technical project, or whether open source provides benefits to a range of constituencies (in terms of cost, security, etc.), but rather how open source is becoming embedded in political arenas and policy debates. The political success of open source reflects diverse practices of issue entrepreneurship and evangelization: at a basic level by building awareness of open source options, by broadening understanding of the ways in which software choice embeds social and political values, and by framing discussions of cost or security in ways that take into account complex hypotheticals about the future. We want to learn more about the thick social dimensions of this process as F/OSS advocacy develops within commercial, technical, and NGO communities; as it succeeds or fails in building workable alliances; as it founders on or overcomes internal differences; and ultimately as it bridges out to other communities with less stake in the technical values or development process of open source. It is our argument that the limits of F/OSS adoption reflect, in part, a limited capacity within the F/OSS movement to document, compare, and draw lessons from these processes.

In keeping with the spirit of wiki collaboration, we invite you to build out this account of F/OSS politics—adding to or revising the existing accounts, developing new sections on other contexts and processes, or linking to relevant external sources.

In keeping with the reality of daily spam removal and other costs of maintaining an open wiki site, we have closed the wiki to external logins and ask that you write us if you would like to contribute. We will be happy to provide access.

In contributing to the project, we ask that you keep in mind a few general guidelines:

  • The key gesture of this report is to step back from the task of explaining or justifying F/OSS in order to ask how increasingly canonical explanations and justifications are mobilized in different political contexts. For example: this wiki is not the place for a debate over the names, definitions, or merits of different open source models. It is (potentially) the place for accounts of how those differences have been deployed and how they have mattered in particular institutions and debates over software policy and adoption.
  • We have no strong view of how this report should develop but offer the following thoughts, based on our work to date
    • Our main objects have been venues and institutions, such as municipalities, international governance organizations like the UN, and state actors like Brazil and Kenya. We believe the report is highly extensible in this direction, and invite elaboration and accounts of other venues.
    • We have made an effort to describe movement strategies developed in the face of certain pervasive challenges, such as licensing and patent uncertainties. We would welcome additional accounts of cross-cutting problems and strategic responses. (We are less interested, in contrast, in the internal politics of the F/OSS movement, which have been ably recounted elsewhere).
    • We have (barely) begun an account of sectoral opportunities and challenges distinct from the usual focus on servers and desktops—here, the health care sector.

We welcome other directions and issues.


Prizes Awarded

The two POSA prizes were awarded to Guiseppe Caruso and Eric Raymond, for their post-1.0 contributions to POSA. Congratulations!

Housekeeping

  • We have locked the wiki to prevent spamming. If you would like to contribute, please contact us.
  • Contributors: there are no hard-and-fast rules. You may modify or add to existing accounts, add your own subsections, or develop new chapters. You do not need permission. The first-round contributors will exercise a loose moderating role where necessary for the purposes of ensuring coherence, relevance, and civility, but there is no implication that contributors agree on all points within a chapter. Civilly-framed disagreements about the politics of Open Source adoption are as welcome as consensual accounts. Please make sure that new material is linked off the table of contents.
  • Credit: the wiki has contributors, not authors. If you would like credit for your contributions, please (1) sign your contribution on the page and/or subsection where it was made; (2) add your name and short bio to the contributors' page; (3) add your name to the Table of Contents, below the appropriate chapter title.
  • Community: if you have made a minor contribution (e.g., less than a paragraph) and/or have a strong non-contributor's interest in the POSA project, we would welcome your addition to the POSA Community page (name and affiliation). If you are uncertain about whether your contribution warrants contributor or community status, pick contributor.
  • POSA 1.0 uses a Creative Commons Attribution license.

http://creativecommons.org/images/public/somerights20.gif

  • The wiki also uses a CC-attribution license--provided authors self-identify in major posts.
  • We will exercise editorial control where necessary to keep the wiki in line with the above goals. We may create a POSA 2.0 that will draw on, edit, and reassemble material from the wiki as needed. If you identify yourself in your contribution, we will consult you prior to work on POSA 2.0.
  • Technical improvements or suggestions welcome.

Credits

Social Science Research Council

SSRC Social Science of Information Technology Programs


This project was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation


POSA contact: Joe Karaganis

POSA Version 1.0 full text pdf (500 KB)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

JOE KARAGANIS

ROBERT LATHAM

The European Politics of F/OSS Adoption

RISHAB AIYER GHOSH

LiMux—Free Software for Munich

VOLKER GRASSMUCK

Source vs. Force: Open Source Meets Intergovernmental Politics

KENNETH NEIL CUKIER

FOSSFA in Africa: Opening the Door to State ICT Development Agendas – A Kenya Case Study

BILDAD KAGAI

NICOLAS KIMOLO

F/OSS Adoption in Brazil: the Growth of a National Strategy

EUGENE KIM

ERIC S. RAYMOND

NGOs in the Developing World

GABRIELLA COLEMAN

Legal Uncertainty in Free and Open Source Software and the Political Response

JENNIFER M. URBAN

F/OSS Opportunities in the Health Care Sector

SHAY DAVID


Global Civil Society Adoption: the Case of the World Social Forum.

GUISEPPE CARUSO

Contributor Bios

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