Build Me Up, Buttercup

As part of my work for the Shibboleth Consortium, I have spent a long time over the last couple of months immersed in the world of foundations managing open-source software looking for lessons learnt and possible patterns / home for a future Shibboleth organization. It’s been an interesting experience, predominantly from the point of view of openness.

Going in to this, I would have thought that any organization supporting open-source software would have had a fairly open approach to all of its dealings. I was very wrong! Very few of the foundations examined release anything other than the software under an open license such as Creative Commons and the sign ‘all rights reserved’ was all too prominent – an approach I find hard to understand.

Openness of information was also in short supply. Many of the foundations don’t advertise their fee schedules and don’t publicise their member agreements. Should I have even been slightly interested in funding any of these federations I would have been put off straight away from lack of transparency – are other organizations paying less than me, have a different agreement from me? Why the need to be closed?

Which leads on to another point. Many of the foundations have a very clear air of a ‘closed club’ about them, which again seems astounding for organizations that have been set up predominantly to ensure the sustainability of applications. These range from the unabashed elitists to groups that only seem to target existing members in terms of promotion and outreach.

Two other takeaways were the importance of a simple fee structure (I’d say if you have more than 3 fee categories you are already doing yourself a disservice) and the importance foundation-led communications, particularly for events, recognising developers in the community and recognising best-practise. The last may seem obvious, but the communications side of open-source can often be consumed by the need to focus on quality of product.

When working on the programme plan for the Shibboleth Consortium, I asked the developers to spend quite a bit of time working with me on the vision statement for Shibboleth. They were very indulgent of my project manager excesses and this is what we came up with:

The Shibboleth Consortium will deliver the open-source product of choice for organizations wishing to deploy federated identity. The consortium will be recognized for its quality of software offering and its engagement with the user, standards and development communities.

I think if we want to achieve this vision, a model of openness across all elements of the future organization will be essential. So when we are building up what ever the new Shibboleth will be, I want this to remain at the heart of our decision making.

In case your interested the best foundation model I examined in my humblest of opinions? Sakai (but don’t tell @iandolphin24 i said that!)
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Some notes:

The Shibboleth Consortium is an interim arrangement between JISC, I2, and SWITCH to look at a possible future organizational structure for Shibboleth – the Consortium is not the permanent home and will disband when a future model has been established.

We hope to introduce the New Model Shibboleth in January 2012 with an effective ‘go live’ date of 1 August 2012 to allow for transition arrangements.

Build Me Up, Buttercup was sung by The Foundations. A tenuous title for my blog I know 🙂