Tobie Langel

Last modified by Tobie Langel on 2020/03/10 20:29

While I originally became a candidate to the OSI board to focus on ethics, it quickly became apparent that the OSI had a very serious representation issue.

As a steward of the open source definition (OSD) and what gets to be called open source and what doesn’t, the OSI holds tremendous responsibility and clout:

Millions of open source practitioners (generally unknowingly) rely on the OSD.

Billions of people are affected by open source software, and yet have never heard of the OSI or even know what open source is.

These are some of the OSI’s key constituencies and yet, they’re barely represented (if at all).

In stark contrast with those numbers, the OSI has roughly 600 registered voting members, which get to elect the OSI’s board and dictate its direction.

This doesn’t make sense.

While I applaud the idea of free elections in general (who doesn’t?), it is not the right tool for the job, here. It gives a false impression of democracy and entrenches the power of a very small group of people (the membership) to which it gives undue influence.

Furthermore, these elections pit candidates against one another in a scarcity mindset, whereas the OSI would benefit from more hands on the deck, in particular given the challenges it is currently facing.

Why do I need to choose between electing Coraline for her perspective on ethics, Josh for the great work he’s done in his past four years on the board, or Megan for her impressive track record of building sustainable funding for nonprofits?

Were I elected to the board, I would seek to:

  • get rid of the election process,
  • make the board responsible for keeping itself diverse and representative of the different constituencies that the OSI serves,
  • adopt consensus-seeking decision-making instead of voting,
  • create a set of guidelines (OSI values) to help inform decision making (similar to W3C’s design principles),
  • increase the size of the board with the goals of having smaller working groups focus on specific topics (e.g. funding, ethics, OSD, etc.),
  • bring more transparency (in particular with regard to budget), and more visibility to the actual work the OSI is doing and the people behind it (essentially through better information architecture of the website).

Why should you vote for me?

I’ve a long track record of working in and building successful, large multi-stakeholder organization around open source and standardization.

Also, if you vote for me and I’m able to create the change I’d like to create and expand the number of seats to the maximum allowed by the by-laws, you’ll get your other favorite candidates to join the board too. emoticon_wink

You can find more about me on Linkedin, Twitter, or my website.

But, but, but… I thought you were one of the candidates for ethics in open source.

Well, I have personal opinions about ethics in open source which I’m not shy about sharing.

What drives my engagement with the OSI, however, aren’t my personal opinions.

It is the fact that ethical concerns are mainstream* today, and yet are mostly ignored by the OSI.

If the OSI wants to continue being a true custodian of open source—as I believe it should—it can’t just continue ignoring these voices. Instead it needs to reach out, understand those concerns, and work with the community to find a solution that caters to these concerns without hampering open source adoption and contribution, or being used as a springboard for profit-driven attempts to redefine the OSD.

While this is unquestionably a challenge, I’m pretty sure that as a community we can do better than the current status quo.

For that we need a slightly reorganized OSI that's closer to the pulse of the open source community and less about its membership.

That's what's driving my candidacy.

*As an example, the Twitter poll I ran on this topic got answered by 1200 people—that’s twice the total membership of the OSI—the majority of which thought a Hippocratic-style license was a no-brainer.