Sunday 31 July 2011

Social Programming - Open Source as the original social network

Going to recycle a Google+ post; which has been taking shape with a bit of feedback. Comparing and contrasting Social Media vs traditional Open Source communication and some ideas on the future of open source in the face of all this social stuff.

Social Media

Google Plus

Okay so I have way too many social media things. So far google plus is mostly about people learning the ropes and comments how they plan to use things (just like this post!).

For the short term I am going to make useful circles; and treat them like small email lists. It is kind of a feature that gmail lacked; and since google plus offers to send email it will at least give me a reason to try this one out.

It also looks like I can use it as a setting to interactively create a post such as this one; update the content based on feedback before punting it out as a blog post.


Long term I would (like everyone else) like to see Google Plus cut down my use of facebook. There is a nice "Geek and Poke" cartoon that sums it up the best: As with all good cartoons of this nature it funny because it is true. In the 90s the Internet really was Internet Explorer (on the desktop); in 2011 the Internet really is the "F" (on desktop/phone/tv/etc...).

I don't really find this scary as the most popular application to use the web changes over time; we had email, IRC, websites (vs news feeds), blogs and it is about time we had a break from Google "being" the Internet.

Since my professional contacts started hunting me down on facebook it has mostly curtailed its use as a tool to catch up with friends.


Speaking of professional contacts ... I also logged into LinkedIn recently (as with any social site I created an account years ago in order to avoid the constant invitations).

The result is I actually like their service enough to install a phone application. Mostly it is serving to remind me how global our "open source" professional is. I don't really see google plus treading on this one as it is behaving a bit more like an online resume / recommendation site and a good way to check or confirm professional background.


Twitter is an interesting one; I have tried following a couple popular people on google plus - something I never tried on twitter (and I am not sure I will continue it on google plus).

So far google lacks the all important "gossip" vibe of twitter - mostly this shows up when I tweet about a new geotools or uDig feature; and then for the next several days I can watch that news trickle out as different people repost. It is an interesting way to gauge interest; and a reminder that much of what is needed for open source is work (and not interesting enough to retweet).

Traditional Open Source Communication

For open source there are number of other "social network" tools we bring to bear as this is a public activity:


The use of IRC is still steady for many of the open source developers I work with; however I am increasingly seeing twitter take over that role for the new younger generation. It is often the only way to know what someone is up to.

I am going to list Google Talk, Yahoo Chat, Facebook chat and basically anything else I can register with iChat in this category.

Special mention is made for Skype which with the ability to share a desktop session one of the most effective tools for "code review", or a "breakout session" on a specific bug. We do a lot of work with uDig this way and it is very effective - especially for cross platform issues.

Issue Tracker

Depending on the issue tracker used this can really take on a social network vibe. JIRA offers the GeoTools project; comments, collaboration, tracking, the ability for users to "Watch" a conversation; or "vote" an issue to greater attention, the ability to capture screen snaps, logs, files - not to mention the joy and frustration of bug fixing.

In a sense issue trackers are the only social that matters to an open source project; it has evolved over time to focus on the social interactions required to get the software patched and releases made on time.

Developer Email List

Email list use has be on a steady decline as a lot of development conversation moves over to the bug trackers. Still get a little bit of organisation, planning and design discussion.

User Email List

The user email list is still popular; but is being threatened by Q&A sites such as stack exchange and others. There are several key advantages, the most attractive one from a project standpoint is not having to answer the same question multiple times. The system where answers are voted to the top also is more helpful then expecting people to sift through email archives.

Update: Whatnick - points out that email lists can sometimes be used in a forum mode (as per Nabble or similar). I don't find this a separate communication medium than a "user email list" and indeed in the past I found "forum" use actively harmful in that they encourage users to browse; rather than sign up for the email list and take part in the community.

I do remember the only way to understand Eclipse in 2004 was to sign up for the news group.


Wiki is really the dawn of Web 2.0; originally from the portland pattern repository etc.

Wiki has been pretty much killed off due to vandals; with news announcements migrating to blogs; and design discussion migrating JIRA, user discussion moving to Q&A the general purpose wiki is on the way out. The only thing GeoTools is using its wiki for today is the RFC procedure and a staging area for design notes.


Blogging is an interesting one; it has succeeded in gobbling up a lot of what I used to capture in a wiki (announcements, informal chatter and ideas). A lot of the benefit comes from and others extending the reach of my personal blog.

The ability to follow blogs; watch RSS feeds get manipulated and chopped up for re-consumption is otherwise not widely used. Usually for a blog post to work you need to "time it right" so it shows up on a website such as; or more importantly watch it be voted up in Dzone; or simply collect google web hits based on the post having actual content (my preferred technique).

In terms of staging a conversation comments have almost universally been turned off; the conversation has diverged to places where the people are (DZone, Twitter, etc...).

The promise of the blogosphere is rarely met - with great public Quarrels (in the traditional War of the Roses sense) happen only rarely on grand topics. Most recently the future / currency of OpenLayers (results in a flurry of half a dozen amusing blog posts answering each other from different points of view).

I am lumping RSS feeds into this category; as a blog almost a source of RSS feeds. Best consumed via google search; or via a custom reader app such as a "Reeder" while no the bus.

The Future of Social Programming

The Integration is Now

The most common thing to do after making a blog post; is to Tweet the link to those who follow you. Kind of like an RSS feed that will people actually use.

More recently tweets get automated - many blog posts I publish against watched by simgeo with a bot to tweet as soon as I hit the publish button. Depending on how far that item is retweeted you can gauge how interesting the topic was.

Integrated Social Programming

Can I coin that as a phrase? Kind of like an IDE for the communication half of an open source project.

More seriously GitHub offers an interesting alternative to consider - by setting up an apple like "cultivated garden" with nice code review tools; workflows to facilitate change management etc...

Projects like CodeHaus, Google Code, SourceForge and so on also fall into this category. The gather up many of the traditional communication tools and provide an easy to use front end.

Testing, Testing is this thing on

So what is my expected half life for this post?
  • Google Plus - around a week (as people hit my profile it will be my top post; and people are still adding me)
  • Twitter - days depending on how many people I know rewtweet it
  • Blog - posts tend to lurk on Planet OSGeo for around a week. My posts are usually just facts; so I rarely get an answering blog post on an opinion piece. Indeed it is easier to say something wrong if you want your blog post to last.
  • Facebook - zero (I would not annoy my friends with this post - although they would read the comic)
  • LinkedIn - will pick up my tweet.
  • Buzz - did they bridge that to Google+ yet?

1 comment:

Kathy said...

>Wow! Such an amazing and helpful post this is. I really really love it.
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