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CSCW: Mitch Kapor

Mitch Kapor has given the keynote for CSCW 2004 in Chicago. His topic is, not surprisingly, The Open Source Society.

Kapor assumes the audience is quite familiar with OS, which should be about correct. He also assumes they also may not have been "inside" an OS project, which I don't know is correct. With all the academics in the audience, there have to be people who have done distributed development. (Maybe I think of Open Source differently?)

Kapor's brief history of Open Source. Richard Stallman got his start around the time academic software started going commercial with the success of lisp machines (Symbolics, which no longer exists). Before these commercial ventures, software that had been shared freely. And the idea that it would become commercial and closed was a "fundamental offense" to the idea of sharing with one another. Kapor commented that in this atmosphere, GNU and GPL created a "software apartheid" of free software vs. commercial software. Kapor's first interaction with Stallman was rather negative: Stallman picketed Lotus in the 80's, with the argument that look and feel of software should not be protected by copyright.

As personal computers became available in the 1980's,. many interesting applications were developed, from 1-2-3 to all sorts of things that no longer exist or have been slurped into other applications. Kapor claims that there was a lot of innovation in this period. In the 1990's, corporations re-took control of the "chaos" of individuals with computers. Kapor claims that this, combined with Microsoft's dominance ("Microsoft crushed competition"), led to a change in the way innovation worked. He also said that the personal productivity developments in the 1980's did not keep up with changes in the market in the 1990's.

This led to the obvious discussion of the Lotus Agenda personal information manager (critical success; commercial failure) that Kapor developed before he left Lotus. People have had a fanatical attachment to Agenda, which has led now to Kapor developing the Open Source Applications Foundation and to the forthcoming Chandler.

Chandler is a very ambitious project that is supposed to combine email, task management, note-taking, calendaring and other activities. The official line is that it is NOT an Outlook-killer. But it wants to cover a lot of the same ground. That said, there are many applications that do email, but they all approach it differently. The current version is available, but Kapor warns it is ugly, slow and grossly "feature-incomplete."

What lessons does Kapor have, based on his experience with OSAF thus far? They had intended to be a big innovation innovation. But they have discovered that "too much" innovation is a bigger challenge than they had expected. It complicates matters in a non-linear way. There is also a lot of dependency on other open source projects that increases complexity. Kapor commented that without these other projects, Chandler would be impossible. With them, they are barely surviving. And they have clearly discovered that iterative progres is better than any "great leap forward." He made a number of comments around project management that make it sound like they are doing Agile, even if they don't call it that. I wonder if there have been studies of project management as it applies to open source projects?

He discussed a number of things around "what is open source" and "why does it work" and "what motivates people" that are covered in many other places.

At the end of the talk he also went the direction of the relevance of Open Source to Democracy? From his perspective the current political discourse is missing some very critical issues: saving capitalizsm from itself; US as republic or empire; mortganging our children's future; etc. Kapor suggested that Open Source ideas can help with respect to large, complex organizations without strong centralization. There have been early prototypes exist of net-base mass movements. Open source methods have leverage (decentralization, transparency).

It was an interesting talk overall. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be a strong connection to Computer Supported Collaborative work. We talked about this in the backchannel: OSAF are doing development in a distributed fashion, so Kapor should be able to address how this works.

CSCW: Collaboration Involving Large Displays

Gartner: Networking changes KM