By Kieran Masterton, October 6th, 2010

Every minute of every day successful, talented, intelligent and often technically brilliant people give up their extremely limited free time to contribute to open source software. In August this year there were 1.2 Million code pushes to social coding site Github. Since 2008 open source operating system Linux has powered over 60% of web servers on the Internet. And, as of today open source blogging platform Wordpress host 13.9 million blogs and have a further 13.8 million active installations of their self-hosted package.

In a post on our blog last week OpenIndie announced that I am to begin work on an open source self-hosted version of our request and screening tool. While in this post we discussed some of the benefits of taking this approach we did not explore in any great detail what open source is and what it means for a project such as OpenIndie. The numbers mentioned above are incredible, people are clearly passionate about contributing to and using open source software, but why is this and why have we decided to release OpenIndie in this way?

First up, what is open source? The term open source has come to mean a number of things but at it’s heart it describes a process of production where the source materials are made publicly available. In the case of my examples and OpenIndie this means the software’s source code is publicly released. However, the term has also come to stretch across many mediums from video and music to knowledge itself with Wikipedia. However, for the purpose of this post I will be focusing entirely on the term open source as it pertains to software production.

Unlike proprietary software there is less specificity in the agenda when developing open source software. There may be many concurrent but differing ideas about the agenda of a given project. Therefore, the emphasis is upon collaboration and democracy during production. Projects differ in terms of how they are organised and the process for contribution. However, all are alike in that you or I are as welcome to contribute bug fixes, original code or ideas as the project creator(s).

As you might imagine this lack of a central impetus can often cause disagreement in terms of a given software’s road map. This is what causes project forks. When a project is forked a splinter group of developers break away with a collective vision for the project. The original project continues alongside the new fork and as a result of their different visions they serve different needs. For example Drizzle is a fork of the extremely popular open source relational database MySQL. Drizzle’s focus is upon providing a lightweight SQL database for cloud applications. I imagine this mission was born out of a frustration with MySQL’s heavier components and reputation of scaling poorly.

So, in a nutshell open source software is code that is produced in a collaborative fashion, with many agendas and distributed without cost for anyone to use. That isn’t to say that open source software can’t be used commercially. There are many models that allow for a business to turn a profit and still open source their software.

Popular Linux distribution Redhat have for many years given their product away while charging for commercial support and training. Likewise, blogging platform Wordpress are successfully making money out of open sourcing their software. Automattic the company behind Wordpress offer two options. First, a hosted solution for ametuer and pro bloggers alike. Wordpress have a freemium model for this option. They offer add ons at an annual or monthly cost such as domain mapping, or advanced customisation. This option is aimed at users looking for simplicity and peace of mind that Automattic are dealing with hosting and securing their blog. For non-technical or first time bloggers this is a great solution.

Automattic’s second option is called and this is their open source option. The same software that powers is released free of charge on their .org website and the code is made available so that anyone can contribute. This balance of open source and commercial means that Wordpress’ future is secured by the support of a commercial entity. However, it means that those contributing to the project are still able to steer its direction and fork the project for their own needs at any time.

It is this model that OpenIndie is adopting. By releasing a self-hosted open source version of the site it means that developers can contribute to the project and the filmmaking community can steer the road map for the project. This model will allow filmmakers to take an new specially adapted version of OpenIndie and deploy it on their own hosting package. There will be no OpenIndie branding and filmmakers will be able to skin the install to look exactly like it’s part of their existing site. All data will be stored locally to the installation and filmmakers will therefore have total control over the information they collect. Additionally, filmmakers will be given the option to broadcast information back to the API which will make the film appear in our listings on the site and should help drive traffic to the filmmakers site.

The impetus behind open sourcing our code is as practical as it is philosophical. As a one man development team my impact is limited but with the support of other dedicated developers we can finally begin to iterate on a regular basis and grow OpenIndie into something fantastic for indie filmmakers. Our passion for open source is born out of a belief that many of the greatest pieces of software in the world have been developed in this way and that it is a genuinely exciting opportunity for both us and our users.

Finally, I want to assure current users that this does not mean that will cease to be or will be the poor relation to the open source distribution. In fact will grow as a result of the new features and updates contributed by the open source team. The service we delivered on the 1st of March 2010 will continue and will be improved upon. This decision makes OpenIndie a more flexible, adaptable and in many cases viable option for many filmmakers who want ownership of their data and want to grow a following around their own site.

I hope that this post has given you some insight into the world of open source software and how it powers some of the Internet’s incredible resources. I will leave you with this quote from the creator of open source web framework Ruby on Rails and partner at 37signals, David Heinemeier Hansson:

“My core philosophy about open source is that we should all be working on the things that we personally use and care about. Working for other people is just too hard and the quality of the work will reflect that. But if we all work on the things we care about and then share those solutions between us, the world gets richer much faster.” — DHH

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Kieran Masterton is the Co-Founder of indie film distribution site and a web technologist with over a decade of experience building sites for large media organizations such as BSkyB and Future Publishing Ltd. His academic background is in film theory and practice with a specialism in genre and gender. He works from home in Bradford-on-Avon, England where he lives with his wife Katie.


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