Socialism and Sakai Commercial Affiliates

 

I was recently having a glass of wine with someone who was unfamiliar with the notion of open source. She is a relatively new employee at a for-profit company in the Higher Ed space and, upon understanding the Sakai community source model, said “that sounds like socialism!” I wasn’t sure if the comment was meant to be pejorative (I live in Berkeley, after all), but maybe she’ll add a comment and let us know…We can debate about how well that label applies (it mostly depends on your definition of the term) and a variety of proprietary software firms have applied the “communist” or “socialist” label to open source. And there are certainly strands of anti-capitalist rhetoric in some open source communities. Other open source projects are explicitly profit-oriented or at least profit-friendly.Since I’ve been spending a fair amount of time recently talking to Sakai commercial partners, I thought it might be a good time to discuss why I believe the success of these organizations is important to the Sakai community at large.One of the most obvious reasons the commercial organizations are important to the Sakai community is that there a many things that adopters of Sakai need that other higher ed institutions won’t do. Running a migration from another CMS, for example, or providing end-user training and support. Many universities do these things internally, but that isn’t desirable or practical for everyone. If the commercial ecosystem around Sakai can fill in these gaps, then Sakai can serve a wider variety of institutions.But is wider adoption a good thing? While it may seem to be inherently beneficial, wide adoption isn’t valuable in and of itself. The current Sakai community isn’t necessarily helped if institutions adopt but don’t contribute, either directly or via membership in the Sakai Foundation. That’s true, as far as it goes, but I think this misses a crucial point.

There is a critical mass (tipping point?) of adoption that brings useful resources to bear. If, for example, commercial enterprises see enough schools using Sakai, they will devote resources to integrating their technology or content with the platform. And that should benefit everyone–you never know when your school is going to need a commercial tool that, thank you very much, has already been integrated with the platform.Beyond this practical argument, though, I find a diversity of perspectives to be both refreshing and valuable. There is risk inherent in a community that is too homogeneous…if the context changes quickly you can find yourself quite alone.

So I value community members whose are dependent on profit, which drives the vast majority of the western world’s economic activity. They should bring us best practice from the commercial world that allow us to build more useful solutions.This is one of the reasons I am, and I think we all should be, supportive of the Sakai Commercial Affiliates. Probably the most important thing I do to support the SCAs is to make them a formal part of my presentations on Sakai (when relevant, of course), suggesting that schools interested in piloting or adopting Sakai contact one or more of them for formal presentations. I’ll also spend time in their booths at conferences like Educause and even support presentations they might be giving to potential customers, serving as a “voice of Sakai”.

I can’t formally endorse their work (I haven’t been a customer), but I will encourage people to knock on their doors.And, so, thanks to the following for supporting the Sakai Foundation as Commercial Affiliates:

Some of these, of course, don’t provide Sakai-related services (e.g. Apple) and we’ve talked about making this distinction more apparent. But that’s a different topic altogether…

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7 Responses

  1. Great blog entry, Michael, and thanks for all your support of the Sakai Commercial Affiliates.

    Actually, I think open source software is an exercise of the very freedoms that Socialism & Communism try so hard to suppress. There is nothing coercive about open source projects — they are a true expression of liberty. And they extend this freedom and liberty to all the users of an open source project. It is the proprietary software vendors who create an oppressive regime as they work so hard to create vendor lock-in and to hold customers (and their data) hostage.

    From Jim Farmer’s recent paper, “eLearning: A Conversation with Clay Fenlason at Georgia Institute of Technology”, we see a clear example of choosing Sakai primarily because of the freedom that it provides. Georgia Tech’s primary motive in moving from WebCT to Sakai was one of control. Using Sakai, “Georgia Tech could determine which versions to use when, what features to support, and what functions could be added using locally developed software.” And cost was not a motive at all. In fact, because the Blackboard contract is with the Georgia
    Board of Regents, Georgia Tech would have to continue to pay its share whether or not the
    Blackboard software was used.”

    I’ve recently run across a few good articles that provide a positive view of Free and Open Source Software from a Libertarian perspective (about as opposite to Socialism as you can get):

    “What I Learned from the Libertarians”
    Michael Tiemann, Board President of the Open Source Initiative
    http://opensource.org/node/184

    “Why Libertarians Should Celebrate Free Software”
    Timothy B. Lee, Cato Institute
    http://www.cato.org/tech/tk/070622-tk.html

  2. Thanks, John. I was trying to refer to socialism/communism as economic systems, not political systems. In practice I know that it probably isn’t possible to fully disentangle these, although I’m not even an avid amateur historian/political scientist, much less an expert.

    Great articles, though. Thanks for providing the references…

    Michael

  3. Anybody interested in open source and its relationship to economic models should read Yochai Benkler’s article “Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm” [http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html] and then go on to read his book “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom” [http://www.amazon.com/Wealth-Networks-Production-Transforms-Markets/dp/0300125771/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/105-7947100-8337206?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1192567064&sr=8-1] Benkler analyzes open source and similar network-based social means of production from the perspective of the theory of the firm put forth by Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Coase]. Coase argues that firms and markets exist to lower transaction costs. Benkler argues that, in a world where networks radically lower transaction costs already, new sorts of organization for the production of capital start to make sense. This is about as hard-core a capitalist economic argument as you can make (assuming that you’re talking to a real, thinking capitalist and not just a flag-waving jingoist).

    I’ll be posting something about how these ideas apply to open source in higher education in a couple of weeks on Terra Incognita [http://blog.worldcampus.psu.edu/]

  4. Socialism and Sakai Commercial Affiliates

    I read Michael’s post about socialism and Sakai commercial affiliates last week but between traveling, returning to Phoenix, and then hitting the road again I didn’t have time to say thanks. Thanks Michael, I think you’ve really captured the essence…

  5. […] It is absolutely true that adoption of open source user-facing apps in higher education is particularly limited right now by the perception that there is not adequate commercial support (which is why I was particularly pleased to see Sakai’s Executive Director Michael Korcuska acknowledge the importance of the Sakai Commercial Affiliates in a recent blog post). […]

  6. […] rolling out training to users are all task that come with rolling out a new CMS. This is also where commercial partners come in. They can provide installation and support of Sakai for those who can’t, or […]

  7. […] 2007 October 22 tags: community, open source, sakai by Chris I read Michael’s post about socialism and Sakai commercial affiliates last week but between traveling, returning to Phoenix, and then hitting the road again I […]

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