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The Open-Source Experience (Pt. 4)
« Observations (Pt. 3)The Open-Source Experience (Pt. 3) »

The Open-Source Experience (Pt. 4)

08/23/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Web, Technology

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My Involvement

Thus far I’ve only talked about my work with CKEditor, however back in high school I was involved with another project called ALP (Autonomous LAN Party). I found it when I was searching for LAN party software and became interested in it. When I discovered it, a first version had been developed but had since fallen into disrepair. I made a few modifications and found another guy who had made a few modifications and together we took over the project and developed it for awhile. To this day, it still (more or less) works, although the last version was released about 4 years ago.

We got to the point where we had outgrown the original slopped together version and needed to do a total rewrite. Unfortunately, the prospect of so much work and the lack of people to do it caused the project to fall apart in the planning phase. Nevertheless, all our work is publicly available and maybe someday I or someone else will pick it up and keep going.

CKEditor, just finished a rewrite and is much better off for it. Although this means it’s not totally mature yet and has a few bugs still lurking around. I encountered some of these and they were easy enough problems that I could hop right in and fix them. Thus it was quite easy for me to get involved in the project.

The hard part, however, was running the support forums (I just tried to answer a lot of posts). I ended up fielding about 7 posts a day. Some of the problems were legitimate or valid debugging things. I helped people work out their configurations and do things I had been through when I first setup the editor. On the other hand, some were face palmingly stupid questions which could have been solved by 2 minutes of effort or simply using google. I often had very little patience in these topics.

My feeling is that you should at least be able to understand the software you are using and how it works before asking questions. There were people who simply needed to find a configuration option (Which is all given on a single page on the site’s support area). They just hadn’t looked around before asking. While those cases are stressful, it’s also nice to see the people who say “oh thanks!” when they solve their problem. Those are the people who have actually worked through their problem before asking.

In any case, working on this project has given me a better understanding of the software, a better understanding of javascript, and made me feel like I’ve contributed to the project. Sure in a week I probably will never touch the project again, but that’s how it goes. Next month some new developer will have to use the software and will begin stomping bugs right where I left off.

The whole process is really an art though. There’s open-source software to manage open-source software, I.E. Trac. It’s the program almost everyone uses to “trac” bugs and manage source code. Most interestingly though is the fact that everything has to be so well thought out. Since none of the developers ever really see each other, there’s a remote code review process, standards have to be employed, and the whole project has to be well documented so that at a moments notice someone new can step in and start contributing.

It’s a fantastic process and one that I really support. If anything, it’s made me want to assemble a team to redevelop ALP. In summary I guess the open-source ideal, to me, seems to define a certain type of social norm. The tragedy of the commons doesn’t apply because even by being selfish, people will still help the project; It's impossible to use up all the open-source resources. Rather than not supporting the project, people will use the software for free and, when they themselves find bugs or make changes, will send their changes back into the commons helping future users.

Nevertheless, there are things that cost money in these projects. There is also the matter of incentive to develop. So next time you find one of these projects useful, consider sending $10 to help support it's development. After all isn't that better than having to pay hundreds of dollars for some commercial software? Support community development, choose open-source!

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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.

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