The Nuance of Open

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Scenario 1:
A Free Software based education firm has four employees and a small office. They develop an educational Word Press stack and charge $5 / month for full access to all material. They have 100 users, so the revenue from these fees cover Registrar fees, DNS hosting, VPS hosting, theme costs, and hardware upgrades/repairs. They don’t need any other income because they have “day jobs” and this is their labor of love. Additionally, they document exactly how they built their content delivery system on their self-hosted wiki, so other educators and IT-minded service folks can take it and run with it. Although they charge $5 by policy, occasionally they let a student in need on for free, but this is the exception. When people ask, they state that the $5 fee is merely to keep base offerings in tact and that they lose money and time giving to this project already. They want to be nice, so to speak, but then need to cover costs. They don’t mind pitching in for the small office - as they all co-work and co-learn there for their day jobs, so it is worth the expense.

Scenario 2:
A new startup has branded itself “Open Learning Access” and moved into a small rural town, partnered with the local library under the City’s oversight and started a co-work co-learn space over 5 acres of parkland, library space, and picnic areas. There is a captive portal that puts meaningful credentialing and learning opportunities within 3-5 clicks. Users are required to log in for offerings and so that the facilitators of the project, a private business of individuals, can send content (portals) to students and update that portal often. There are partnerships with Arizona State and those offerings link to external sites and ultimately involve students enrolling in those programs, however, this startup has made the sign up and registration process streamlined through partnering with the institution, so this is the most frequently used program. Additionally, the local Community College teamed up with the lead developer and co-authored a course using the GFDL and OERu’s toolchain and link to that on the same “portal.” Additionally, the local nursing program at Northern University, has an open source Canvas instance with BY licensing for the “shells” that instructors make, including a fancy downloadable portfolio. The site also has links to programs that are completely external and proprietary.

Scenario 3:
The firm is Gitlab, a version control system which is self-described as “open core,” and calls proprietary offerings those which it charges for, which it only releases code for later. The community project has less features than the proprietary one, however, even some elements of the proprietary offering is on gitlab in one of their repositories, but not all of the code - nor do they provide a nice Chef script for it to be run by intermediate educators and researchers like they do the community project. They visit Universities and pitch their product, trying to get schools to pay for contracts and the proprietary stack instead of the community project (because they need revenue). The university staff finds the blending so distasteful that some of them want to use Github, which although completely proprietary is free of cost and will “allow them to get the job done.” Nevertheless, due to legal reasons, and the partnership with the federal programs at the lab, this institution is ultimately denied using Github by the provost. The discussion of the leaders at the site revolves around creating their own community Gitlab instance, thus avoiding the proprietary racket that Gitlab is offering, while stressing out staff and lowering productivity. OR, paying for Gitlab’s proprietary version to increase productivity and security (also self-hosted and complian) but ultimately supporting proprietary - and anti-research / open / education - thus causing a schism across the site. A few cranky quiet folks grumble about Mercurial, but no one cares.

Who is freer? Who is open? Who is not?

The first case is technically not open, right. But, when I look at other examples like Scenario 2/3, it sure feels more ethical and admissable of the term than those twhttps://forums.oeru.org/t/the-nuance-of-open/1054o. However, both Scenario 2/3 have community projects at their core, and are solidly open by definition. The mere fact that users have to $5 disqualifies Scenario 1, but it seems like an injustice. What am I noticing here? It seems like Open has a lot of nuance to it. Forgive me if the stories were lengthy, but wanted to get the “big idea” across for my own reflection (you may see why).

@mackiwg

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