It is time to tell the story of the free and open source movement.
Why: Free and open source software has changed the world. How did it happen? The free and open source software movement was started by a handful of technical visionaries who believed in digital freedom. It grew into a movement that has transformed software development, business, and modern society. Open source challenged and toppled the dominance of Windows, created a web browser that put people first, created the backbone of e-commerce, and revolutionized computing. It also invited the world to collaborate in ways it never had before.
There are over 50 publicly traded commercial open source software companies, all of whom, by definition, would not exist without the parallel coexistence of a given free open source software technology. These companies represent over $175B in value, and they are in the process of changing how business works today.
But how did we get from a grassroots movement to a sea change in computing and business? This seemingly impossible movement was made possible by the work of pioneering men and women, from all over the world, across disciplines such as business, software development, and law.
The first generation of free and open source software developers, visionaries and strategists — mostly baby boomers — is aging. As they step aside for a new generation, their personal stories may be lost. We think it is crucial to preserve this story — a story of unrelated persons who made great personal sacrifices, challenged the establishment, and changed how we interact with the world.
FOSSDA Free and Open Source Stories Digital Archive Who: Free and Open Source Stories Digital Archive Foundation (FOSSDA) is a newly formed not-for-profit foundation to engage open source software pioneers, preserve their legacies, and make their stories accessible to open source creators, educators, students, and scholars around the world — now and for generations to come. In order to meet these goals, the Free and Open Source Stories Foundation and the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Open@RIT program will use state-of-the-art digital tools and methodologies to collect, preserve, and make accessible audiovisual interviews, images, and documents. A lot has been written about open source development and open source licensing — some practical, some polemical, some thought-provoking. But this project is not about the technology, or the theory, or the law. It is about the personal journey of those who came together to revolutionize our modern technological world.
Scope: To accomplish our goal, we need to join the forces of open source experts, technology experts, and oral history experts.
Collecting Institutions: The FOSSDA will be led by the FOSSDA Foundation in partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Open@RIT program. Open@RIT is the university’s OSPO and FOSS Research Center founded in 2020. Its director, Stephen Jacobs has taught FOSS for 12 years at the university and led the creation of RIT’s minor in Free and Open Source software. The FOSS@MAGIC program for undergraduate education was supported by Red Hat, Inc. who provided input on the program and the creation of the minor.
Additional foundational partners will be identified who will be trained in oral history interviewing by FOSSDA advisor, Karen Herman. A journalist by trade, Karen was an interviewer with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation, ran the Television Academy Foundation’s oral history program for more than a decade, and most recently served as VP & Chief Curator for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Remote Recording: FOSSDA will leverage the TheirStory video platform to remotely record, transcribe, and index remote oral history interviews with open source pioneers. TheirStory is advised by the former Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, Doug Greenberg, and used by over 50 institutions including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, National Library Board of Singapore, University of Wisconsin, Women Military Aviators, Chickaloon Native Village in Alaska, and the Holocaust Museum of Los Angeles.
Public Access & Use: Oral histories will be made searchable using the Aviary audiovisual accessibility platform. The collecting institutions and the individuals giving their testimonies will collaboratively decide what materials are made publicly accessible. Aviary was co-developed by AVP and Yale’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. RIT may additionally engage its FOSS and School of Film & Animation students in developing accompanying open source software, a central website to access and search the collection, documentary film, and other digital experiences to help increase accessibility and awareness of the FOSSDA. This will also facilitate connections between younger generations of OSS creators with pioneers and professionals in the OSS industry.
Long-Term Preservation: Oral histories will be archived at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In addition, each Collecting Institution may set up its own archive with the Permanent Legacy Foundation (Permanent.org). Permanent is the first secure consumer-grade cloud storage platform backed by a non-profit dedicated to long-term preservation and access. Whereas most cloud storage platforms require annual subscription fees, sustainability is baked into Permanent’s model with a straightforward, one-time payment per gigabyte of storage. Pay once, store in perpetuity.
Individuals who contribute oral histories will maintain usage rights of their oral histories, and they and their families will receive a copy of their recording through a personal archive on Permanent. Through Permanent, individuals and their families may also donate digital images and documents associated with their oral histories. This process encourages long-term preservation not just for the collecting institutions, but also for the narrators and their families. RIT’s President, David Munson, sits on the Governing Board of Permanent along with open source pioneer, Paul Vixie and Internet Hall of Famer Tracy LaQuey Parker. Permanent is advised by leaders in the nonprofit and digital preservation sectors, including Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive; Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, Douglass Greenberg, former Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation; and Cherie Bush, Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer of FamilySearch to name a few.
Training, Consultation, & Support: FOSSDA may partner with Randforce Associates for training and best practices around indexing, establishing a controlled vocabulary, and themes. This will increase the accessibility of these oral histories for educators, students, researchers, and the public. Randforce Associates is led by former University at Buffalo professor of history and senior research scholar, Michael Frisch. Randforce has pioneered methods in indexing and has worked on large-scale indexing projects, including with The HistoryMakers — the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection. Permanent.org will also provide professional archival services such as digitization, metadata capture, collections management, mixed media preservation, public gallery preparation, sharing back to contributors, and more. TheirStory will work collaboratively with each collecting institution to provide technical support, project management, and interview training as necessary.
Heather Meeker, agent provocateur
Free and Open Source Stories Digital Archive Foundation is a Delaware non-profit corporation.