Thursday, July 14, 2005

OSS2005, final day

The OSS2005 conference has just ended (for me anyway, there is a post-conference workshop tomorrow that I won't attend). Today was the PhD symposium, where 10 PhD students (including me) presented their research. The project spanned a wide range of topics and approaches, but I was pleased that there were 2 or 3 other projects that had a sociological, qualitative approach. Chengetai Masango and James Howiston from Syracuse University in New York are doing research on socialization practices in FLOSS teams and coordination of unreliable collaborators, respectively. What was interesting was their qualitative, ethnographical method which is what I will be doing myself. Maurizio Teli from the University of Trento was perhaps the one I had most in common with theoretically. He too bases his research on concepts from STS, actor network theory as well as John Law's notion of 'modes of ordering'. He will be studying the OpenSolaris project. I think we both felt that our own 'mode of ordering' was a bit different from the rest, coming mainly from information science and business/economy backgrounds. Both Maurizio and I were grilled a bit on the generalizability and practical importance of our projects, the selection of 'representative samples' and issues of objectivity and bias in doing participant observation. I felt that my own presentation went reasonably well after the initial nervousness had subsided. Several people came to me afterwards to say that they found my research interesting and wanted to draw my attention to related research. Especially the notion of 'communities of practice' sounded relevant and I will look more into this. After all the presentations we pretended to be 'the European commission' and had to select two projects that deserved further 'funding'. My project got 2 votes, which was actually quite good, since one project focusing on release management in FLOSS projects got almost all the votes... All in all it was a good conference that clearly showed the breadth of research being done on FLOSS these days. A few themes emerged: No one is much concerned with the motivations of FLOSS developers anymore. The emphasis seems to be on understanding how the collaboration works, how the development process can be improved, and how standard software engineering can learn from FLOSS projects. I leave the conference with a lot of inspiration, several theoretical threads to follow up and some new contacts within the FLOSS research community.

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