February 28, 2012 3 Comments
Many members in the IT community are long-standing supporters of the idea of open source, including Cybera. But it really became evident that this movement had gone mainstream when it is was recently featured at a TEDx talk. For Edmonton’s inaugural TEDx Salon Series, held February 8, the main topic for discussion was the benefit of open source and open source culture, and how it has already become an important function in our everyday online activities.
As Steve Fisher, one of the four presenters at the TEDx event, pointed out: “a lot of people don’t even know that they’re using [open source software].” For example, if you’ve ever used WordPress to build a blog, or used Drupal to create and manage your business website, guess what: those are open-sourced content management systems (CMS).
The benefits of open source for a community can be as macro or as micro as you like. Fisher summed it up quite nicely when he said that open source, “at its heart, is about making things better.” It’s altruistically motivated, meaning that it is a good thing simply for the sake of being a good thing.
A good example of this is one of the open source projects that Cybera currently manages: the Water and Environmental Hub (WEHUB). This online platform connects water and environmental data gathered from open source websites or participating geo-based organizations, and makes it available in a format that users can access, share, mash-up and model. The goal of WEHUB is to not only be a one-stop shop for any water-related information, but to also make it easy for applications to be built on this data using a unified output service (API). This will enable a wide variety of useful, educational and fun applications to be created and shared with the public.
Open government is a similar idea that has the same goals in mind, and benefits to the public, as an open source project. Here in Alberta, Edmonton has proved to be a shining example of this initiative. Developers and interested citizens in the city are given access to information such as neighbourhoods boundaries, garbage collection schedules, and recreation facility locations and amenities, all live-streamed via the Internet. The city also offers the added bonus of a Google Document to keep track of what data sets may become available in the near future, and when the existing data was last updated. Not many other cities have the same open source culture in government.
This information can be also used to develop applications that would be of further use to citizens. The popular “there’s an app for that” tag-line from Apple ads carries some serious weight in Edmonton; it’s likely that there is an app for most public information needs, to which Edmontonians can thank their open government.
Open source software is moving our world forward, and having the open source culture allows both source code and minds to remain open. To summarize using Fisher’s words: “I do [this] because I believe in it, I don’t do it necessarily because I get paid (although I do appreciate that). I do it because I think it’s an altruistic thing to do. I love that the world around me is improving because of some of the things that I’m doing.”