[OSGeo-Discuss] Tales from a Benevolent Dictator

Ian Turton ijturton at gmail.com
Thu May 12 05:57:53 PDT 2016

I've been trying to stay out of the arguments about governance models
because I prefer to write code than worry about licences or governance. But
it may help if I share a some anecdotes (which is almost data) about a
couple of FOSS projects that came out of academia when I was in charge. One
of these you may well have heard of GeoTools, which forms the base library
of GeoServer, UDig, GeoMesa and others, the other you may not know GeoVista

Both these libraries started out as academic projects that solved a
research problem, both were open sourced as a result of the university
claiming all the intellectual property of it's staff for ever (so why not
give it away?) in both cases I (and James Macgil) were benevolent dictators
when the projects launched, it was a simple governance model that left us
able to get on with coding and researching and meant that things went the
way we wanted. GeoTools started to get some users and people started asking
for bug fixes and new features etc while James & I had actual jobs to do
and wanted to spend time with our families and go on holiday etc. So we got
some more people involved such as TOPP and Refractions and we sort of
lucked into a PSC and GeoTools went from strength to strength and now has a
PSC that spans the globe (which makes meeting times hard to find but is
otherwise awesome). In fact for a while GeoTools and GeoServer managed (or
thrived) with no input from me or James at all. However GeoVISTA studio,
only went open source grudgingly (the PI's didn't want to give up control
really) and never really gained more than a few users because we didn't
allow other people to influence the direction of development (after all the
university/PI was paying for the development) and thus there were only ever
two or three developers. As BD I had no real interest in attracting new
users (previous experience had taught me that's hard work). Once James and
then I moved on to other jobs development stopped (though apparently
someone downloaded a copy last week)

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions but my feeling is that to make
the move from an academic to successful FOSS project you need to move from
dictatorship to committee run projects. If nothing else it allows you some
down time from running the project while never needing to give up having a
say in the running.


PS Some recent emails have tried to suggest that governance doesn't matter
if you have forkability but I think that is a flawed view - but if it is
true maybe we could just fork RASDAMAN and be done with the discussion? :-)
Ian Turton
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