When It Comes to Openness, Think Beyond the Code

by Ostatic Staff - Oct. 01, 2008

A few years ago I stumbled upon the efforts of the Victoria Linux Users Group. They are an active, involved group, but not particularly unlike any other LUG. I was pointed in the direction of their Linux in Victoria brochure.

Yes, its date of publication was 1997. What makes this brochure different is that it is open. Perhaps this is less impressive in light of the advent of wikis, but the purpose and intent of the brochure is still remarkable, and well worth expanding upon.

This model could easily extend beyond brochures, and benefit more of the FOSS community than the local LUGs.

Specificity and permanence are big parts of what makes the brochure different from collaborative media.  This is quite obvious. Logos can be changed, links included are easily edited, graphics can be added, and addresses altered to fit a different project's goals. The other difference, of course, is the medium. Web publishing is reasonably inexpensive, easy, and not inordinately time consuming. Content management systems such as Drupal and Wordpress, and wiki software, such as MediaWiki and TikiWiki make web publishing even simpler. Print is difficult for many reasons -- layout, space limitations, and the simple fact that once a publication goes to print, mistakes are difficult and costly to fix.

Print also has major advantages, of course. VLUG's offer of a solid template and starting point is a good faith effort to allow other groups to get involved and reach people that wouldn't search a wiki for information on open source software. They've cut down the work, they've saved others the pain of reinventing the wheel, they are allowing others in the community to step up their outreach with relatively little effort.

It shouldn't stop there. There are many open source advocates and organizations doing incredible things in both the FOSS and "real life" communities, things that can be replicated (with a few modifications) elsewhere. These incredible efforts, like source code, grow and become solid, sound, and innovative when more people get involved.

For example, a project such as FreeITAthens could be launched virtually anywhere. FreeITAthens refurbishes older hardware and installs open source software on the machines. Twenty hours of volunteer time with the project is just one way to earn a "new" computer and learn not only the skills necessary to keep it running well, but help others in the community gain access to computers, the internet -- and open source software. The strategic plan and bylaws are posted online and can certainly be reverse engineered and tailored to fit another area's circumstances. Naturally, there is more to running an organization like this. It will be wonderful if the organization is able to open up more of its "source code" eventually (again, it is also wise to make sure the model for a project is sustainable on some level before a massive amount of sharing takes place -- though a project with limited success in its first deployment could be a massive success in its second, or third). The beauty of open source projects -- as with code -- is that another group might see an overlooked vulnerability, and overcome it.