10/19/2005

Yet more about work

(I'm posting this reply to some email here because it fits in well with what I've been trying to write about, and because there are a not entirely unified set of people here and on the ldsoss mailing list.)

Just so you know where I'm coming from, here's a little bit of background.

I got involved in the Free Software world back in '89. I've done some volunteer work for the FSF (passing out literature at conferences and UG meetings and installing linux boxen at their MIT office space). I use, contribute to, develop, and write about Free Software both professionally and as a hobby. I've started perl mongers groups, ruby brigades, sys admin groups, and helped with LUGs in a variety of places. Heck, I even understand the difference between Free and Open Source Software (and come down firmly on the side of Free Software[0]). Even this email was written in an emacs buffer.

I'm also a church employee. I've been working here for several months now, and have gotten a pretty good idea of how things work (and sometimes even why). I've talked to several layers of management, and a number of peers about my writing and activism here and have a measure of support.

Okay, with that all out of the way, let's get down to the brass tacks.

What kinds of data will we be releasing?

What do we really want to get out of the ldsoss (or the wider FLOSS) communities?

Do we really know what we're doing?

I'm going to try to handle these in reverse order -- think of it as a modern day chiasm ;)

The church, it's IT workers, the Family & Church History Department, and even the comparativley smaller Family History group are fairly large organizations, people inside them are all over the board on their awareness of FLOSS and the principles that underlay it. We're using a lot of Free Software, and are mostly trying to give back into those communities (or are at least looking for
ways to do so). I think there is occasionally some confusion, either along the lines of "It's free as in a free [lunch], so we'll just grab it and go."[1] or "Well, we can just toss this stuff over the fence and the Free Software folks will spin it into gold for us.". I think there's a building awareness that these are both problems, and there are steps being taken[2] to
ensure that they will be corrected. Do we know what we're doing? Mostly -- and with education, it's getting better.

The Church has a lot of genealogical data that we want to make available in ways that will be useful to church members and the wider world. Our biggest goal is always to help bring saving ordinances to the many, many who have died without them. To that end, there have been (and will be) significant investments in Family History related IT. There's a lot more that can be done
though, and we don't have the ideas, the people, or the time to do it all. We're looking to partner with others to fill those gaps. In some cases, we want to contribute to existing Free Software[3], in other cases we want to enable people to write Free Software to fill the niches (either by providing data, or APIs). In still others, we would love to work with the community to
enhance tools we're already building (or thinking of building). What do we want? We want to work with the community to provide the tools that will enable more (unique) ordinance work to be done, releasing spirits from their prison.

Which brings us to data and APIs. There's a *lot* of stuff sitting in the vault. My understanding is that we want to get it all out there for the public to use[4]. How we get it out there is more nebulous. Right now, there's a big opportunity to influence that set of decisions. I think 'the powers that be' would be very open to hearing requests for specific kinds of data (and APIs to interact with it), especially when those requests are:
a) well thought out
b) have some community support behind them
c) have a solid backing reason.

Does all of this still seem a bit nebulous? I'm afraid that it probably does but bear in mind that this is a long road, one which we've not gone very far down. This is a great time to get involved. Again:
Think about what you'd like to see.
Think about how you'd make use of it.
Talk about it, here or on other mailing lists.

Your involvement will help shape the future.


thanks,
-pate
Infrastructure Engineer
Family and Church History Department


[0] Yes, I've read the GPL and the LGPL, along with a bunch of other licenses.

[1] I'm thinking here of situations like using nagios or mon and not getting involved in the community, not hey, let's grab this code and throw it into a program/library that we're going to distribute.

[2] I'm not at liberty to talk about these yet, but I'm encouraged -- for now, you'll have to take my word for it.


[3] E.g., my call for volunteers to help us bridge JIRA and nagios. Thanks for those who have responded, I haven't forgotten to get back to you.

[4] I'm talking only about family history related stuff here. I have no idea what the plans are for access to Church history information is -- but I know things are happening there, too.

1 comment:

Dave said...

This is exciting stuff. I want to help. I know that I don't know enough to ask for an api. I know how to write code. I don't know what needs to be coded.
I want to be involved in the open source community. I try to help in documentation and translation when I can. I wish I could help more. There seems to be so many projects around, it's difficult to gauge which ones are worth the time I can give.
What now? I'm willing to spend a few years learning how to do this stuff. Links anyone?