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Growing Fedora Commons’ 100+ Project Team

By Dan Davis, Chief Software Architect, Fedora Commons I find strong desire to reflect at the end of the year on our first full year of operating as Fedora Commons. It has been a wild ride which should be expected for any startup. We had the long awaited delivery of the Fedora Repository 3.0 at mid-year followed by Fedora Repository 3.1. We also maintained our commitment to the community by delivering Fedora Repository 2.2.3 and 2.2.4. Along the way we have worked with 100+ projects to help them build their systems.
We are now hosting the resources for Muradora and Islandora projects. We have had wonderful code contributions too numerous to mention here but we wanted to especially thank Gert Pedersen for GSearch, Atos Origin for a number of code improvements, Fiz Karlsruhe for scalability testing, and Sun Microsystems for multiple contributions plus support for PASIG. I expect you have your own favorite improvements like the developing REST API from MediaShelf, the vibrant development community forming around storage code-named Akubra, a much more robust Mulgara with SPARQL support, and Topaz’s enormous success in bringing the Ambra open-access publishing system under PLoS One to life. Forgive me if I cannot mention everyone’s help in the space I have been given.
But what I would like to talk about is the future. As the startup of the Fedora Commons organization progresses we are working to become a more community-driven open source organization. We have been building the critical pieces such as licensing standards for code contributions and a living Fedora Commons Technology Roadmap. We have an updated Confluence Wiki and Jira Tracker (thanks to Atlassian).
I was inspired by the recent article in the New York TimesTeamwork, the True Mother of Invention” by Janet Rae-Dupree. She begins her article with the Japanese Proverb “None of us is as smart as all of us” which, to me, seems to say much about open source software development. Most of the work we need to do to create the technology for durable networked information systems actually consists hundreds of small innovations. There are some notable exceptions where we just cannot preserve all of the essential characteristics of some content where promising but difficult technologies such as emulation may be needed; for now we can at least save the bits. However, we can do a “good enough” job to save and make accessible much of our digital heritage and research data with technology well within our reach. We will need to keep our costs low, our technologies easy to use and realize we cannot save everything, but this is something we can do.
We need to get more people involved and we need to work as a team. At Fedora Commons we hope to help focus the creativity of a diverse and distributed group of developers and practitioners into creating a system which serves our public mission. The word “system” is important because in a system the parts are expected to work together. Making a system with the help of a diverse and distributed group of developers is a daunting organizational task especially because individually we need to prove our worth to our individual organizations to secure the funding that makes the work possible, and we must often take shortcuts to deliver on time that reduce the potential re-use of what we develop. And need I say that there are always issues of “not invented here” with such a group of creative individuals. However, it is the mission that is of greatest importance and we can best achieve it by finding a way to harness Genrich Altshuller’s and Keith Sawyer’s “systematic inventive thinking.” We need to collaborate with each other, dividing the work between our various projects, while ensuring our contributions interoperate. It has been done before in the electrical grid, containerized shipping, the Internet and the World Wide Web. This will not reduce anyone’s creativity (or credit) but can increase the value and notability of your work by enabling its widespread use. To that end, I would like to mention we will “walk the walk” with what I consider perhaps the most important event of 2008, the developing collaboration between the vibrant DSpace community and Fedora Commons.