@OSCon 2012

I’m at OSCON this week, taking in the open source gestalt in it’s most grandiose form: a gathering of over 3000 technophiles in the “open source city”, Portland, Oregon.

This keynotes this morning were a lovely mix of core open source core concerns and philosophy and related-yet-different topics.

The core of open source is sharing and cooperation, and David Eaves addressed that in his talk, advocating a new focus on community building. Not from a qualitative “boy, it would be good to pay attention to community” point of view, but from a quantitative, “hey, we can and should measure engagement and seek to improve it, in our tooling and our processes”. If we do so, we’ll learn some obvious things (being blunt is good for saving keystrokes but bad for incubating new contributors) and maybe we’ll also learn from surprising things, like who our best bug reporters are.

Danny Hillis gave an overview of one of this current projects, creating a “learning map” that allows agents to help guide learning. He used a wonderful analogy to his elementary school librarian, who guided his early learning by not only finding him information on the topics he said he was interested in, but also brought him information she though he might be interested in and was ready to comprehend.

Kay Thaney talked about changing the process of research science, to modernize and align the incentives of researchers for faster progress. I feel like she talked over the subject a bit, with not enough concrete examples of how modern science is being held back by traditional promotion and funding structures, but I agree with her overall premise. I recently read a piece on the travails of a computer science PhD candidate which distilled a bunch of the problems with modern academia: the power of the principal investigator and his/her grants; the requirement for publication first, foremost and always; and the power of academic social networks in controlling access to funding and career opportunities.

One of my database idols, Brian Aker, talked about his role role at (!!) HP, overseeing their public cloud offering based on OpenStack. Learning about OpenStack and the incredible development velocity around the project has been one of the huge eye-openers for me here as OSCon.

And finally Tim O’Reilly brought us back to the open source philosophy with a talk about how we value open source contribution to society (tl;dr: we don’t). Like all the energy we save through conservation or all the fresh air trees and plants produce, the value of freely available open source is unaccounted for in the formal economy.

My previous experience of OSCon was one of my favourite conference experiences, and informed how I tried to organize FOSS4G 2007 the following year. This event is the same: quality speakers, good opportunities to network and meet as many people you can wish, and a range of surprising new things that send you home going “wow”. I’m looking forward to the rest of the day and tomorrow!