Open Software – a New Lexicon

This week’s readings made my head spin, and made me appreciate the multitude of skills necessary for operating in the world – whether digitally or otherwise.  I have always thought that a few business courses and some leadership training would be a worthwhile investment before beginning any at home or small business operation, regardless of how good an idea one might have.  Now I think that a few legal courses in copyright, licensing and usage might be a good idea as well!  One must be a jack-of-all-trades before (or endeavor to become one quickly) beginning any serious foray into the business world.  Interestingly enough, I think this applies equally to the “real” work and to the digital world.  In some respects, the two are not so dissimilar.

This week also found us in another lexicon discussion.  We looked at the definition of “free” software.  I laughed upon reading Kugel’s differentiation of the word.  It’s free as in freedom—think free speech, not free beer.”  How appropriate that the English language – the universal language – should prove so challenging.  The romance languages, he correctly points out, have it much easier.  They distinguish “free” between gratis and libre. Most of us remember this difference clearly, even if the last time we studied a romance language was freshman year of college.

It definitely helped to shape the conversation in my mind, and helped me to understand that where you stand (free as in money or free as in use) may entirely depend on where you sit (user or programmer).  If I want to use software, I want it to be free of cost to me.  If I want to change software to suit my particular needs, make it better or to merge it with something else, I want access to the code so I can play with it.

Then we read about licenses and copyrights.  Again, this seems to have a similar construct.  Copyrights protect intellectual property, “original works of authorship” (according to the US copyrights website), published or unpublished, such as books, poetry, art works, etc.  Licenses enable others usage of intellectual property.  Question – Does this mean that copyright law does not apply to digital humanities?  If it does, how does it apply?  And how is it different from licenses?

The reading on Creative Commons Licenses got me thinking about this.  Why do we need CCL?  Do WE (those of us in this class) need CCL?  What is the purpose?  And how is this different than regular attribution (quoting sources in a paper)?  It seems like we cross a line at some point between referencing something and using it to enhance our work, but I’m not sure where that line is.  It very well be another grey line we have encountered in our digital journey – one which I look forward to discussing in class!

More terms that sounded familiar from previous classes included “archives” and “volunteers” (remember crowdsourcing?).  Kate Theimer might write an entirely new article to see Kugel use the word “archive” so freely.  He obviously uses the term in the most generic mode possible, simply discussing the saving of materials.  He goes so far as to recommend that a system be set to “auto-archive” every hour.  I highly doubt that fits Theimer’s strict definition of the term.

The chapter on volunteers was more fun.  We talked about crowdsourcing earlier in the semester, discussing ways in which one might employ crowdsourcing, when one might want skilled labor or unskilled labor, motivations, etc.  The use of volunteers in open software development seems to take this a step further, and also require more hands-on management.  The benefits of open software often lie in the openness to change and modification from outside users.  It appears that virtually anyone might be able to come in and make programmatic changes to software.

Controlling this is important, so versioning is critical, as it enables the lead person to return to a previous version should this prove desirable or necessary.  This also requires active community building (how else to harness the talents of the group, and build on the dynamic created by having multiple people working on one project?) and incentivization (how to else to keep people working, appreciate their contributions in a public form, especially when monetary reimbursement is highly unlikely?).


One comment

  1. Nice weaving of older readings with this week’s. And interesting point regarding crowdsourcing…I think this further complicates our already complicated understanding of open access/data/source and copyrights!

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