FOSS Brown Bag Seminar at the iSchool

Winter 2012

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Winter 2012 Schedule

February 2

Examining Knowledge Types and Practices in Open Source Repositories.

Antonio Gamba Bari

Open source repositories entail interesting dynamics that deserve asking questions about the types of knowledge products and collaborative practices facilitated – or not – by some of the technical features. The tools assisting the visualization and management of code can be seen as tools enabling creative scenarios for knowledge creation and sharing. An interesting feature is the use of code-highlighting, which allows users identifying code additions and subtractions, changes, progression, and perhaps is some cases, regressions of the development.

This presentation will explore what such tools, assisting code “merging” and “forking”, afford in terms of collaboration and the co-construction of knowledge. In order to address the question, the presentation looks at some of the discussions and findings addressing Michael Polanyi’s notion of “tacit knowing”, in the context of knowledge organization research. Then, the presentation turns to the analysis of some specific features of GitHub, examining how the notion of tacit knowing can contribute to the assessment and conceptualization of knowledge practices taking place in opens source repositories.

Antonio Gamba Bari is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.

February 16

No meeting.

March 1

Globalization with a Social Conscience? The World Wide Web Foundation through the lens of ICT4D and FLOSS.

Michael Dick

This paper considers the recent development-related initiatives championed by Tim Berners-Lee and the organization he heads, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). More specifically, the paper examines the mandate of the World Wide Web Foundation, and related initiatives, with respect to their connections with the broader Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) movement; to a lesser extent, it also considers the Web Foundation's concurrent focus on Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS). Through a review of literature and an evocation of critical perspectives related to ICT4D, the core research question as to the emancipatory potential (in the Freirian sense) of these initiatives is introduced. Ultimately, it is argued that Berners-Lee’s work remains important to the research community, but becomes problematic if utilized as an agenda for development when situated within a technological determinist framework.

Specifically, this paper contributes to STS by discussing Berners-Lee's work in greater detail, and with the intention of providing further context to these recently launched development projects concerning the Web. The paper also considers how this work relates to the existing ICT4D and FLOSS movements, comparing and contrasting the arguments that can be made as to their applicability to the Web Foundation. Finally, the paper closes by applying critical perspectives to the Web Foundation in order to weigh its emancipatory potential with what I will argue are its more prevalent tendencies to further globalization and a centralized, deterministic control over the medium of the Web (even if the development-related initiatives are well-intended, as I also show).

Michael Dick is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.

March 15

Beyond Git: The Limits of Source Control

Matt Zukowski

The rise of Git and GitHub have led to fundamental changes in the way open source software is developed. Like many other trends originating in software development, these new practices in technology-mediated collaboration and knowledge-building will undoubtedly trickle through to academia and elsewhere.

Yet despite the transformative power of these source control and collaboration tools, certain long-standing problems remain unaddressed. For example, conflicts arising from parallel changes to a piece of code are no easier to resolve now than they were a decade ago. Meanwhile, other issues previously hidden or out of reach have been thrust to the forefront. GitHub's proliferation of forks and contributors has turned many projects' branching timelines into Escher-like mazes of dead-ends and alternate paths, raising questions about everything from appropriate models of governance to Theseusian identity.

This seminar will look at some of the latest developments in open source development practices, examine current limitations, and (hopefully) open up discussion of possibilities for moving forward.

Matt Zukowski is a Master's student at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.

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