Open source development – how we are doing

Whilst at Open Source Junction earlier this year, I talked to Sander van der Waal and Rowan Wilson about the problems of doing open source development. Sander and Rowan work at OSS watch, and their aim is to make sure that open source software development delivers its potential to UK HEI and research; so, I thought it would be good to get their feedback on how our project is doing, and if there is anything we are getting wrong or could improve on.

It struck me that as other JISC projects such as ours are required to make their output similarly publicly available, this discussion may be of benefit to others; after all, not everyone knows what open source software is, let alone the complexities that can arise from trying to create such software. Whilst we cannot help avoid all such complexities, we can at least detail what we have found helpful to date, and how OSS Watch view our efforts.

I provided Sander and Rowan a review of our project, and Rowan provided some feedback confirming that overall we are doing a good job, although we lack a listing of the other open source software our project relies on, and their licenses. Whilst such data can be discerned from the dependencies of the project, this is not clear enough; I will add a written list of dependencies to the README.

The response we received is provided below, followed by the overview I initially provided, which gives a brief overview of how we managed our open source development efforts:

==== Rowan Wilson, OSS Watch, responds:

Your work on this project is extremely impressive. You have the systems in place that we recommend for open development and creation of community around software, and you are using them. As an outsider I am able to quickly see that your project is active and the mailing list and roadmap present information about ways in which I could participate.

One thing I could not find, although this may be my fault, is a list of third party software within the distribution. This may well be because there is none, but it’s something I would generally be keen to see for the purposes of auditing licence compatibility.

Overall though I commend you on how tangible and visible the development work on this project is, and on the focus on user-base expansion that is evident on the mailing list.

==== Mark MacGillivray wrote:

Background – May 2011, OKF / AIM bibserver project

Open Knowledge Foundation contracted with American Institute of
Mathematics under the direction of Jim Pitman in the dept. of Maths
and Stats at UC Berkeley. The purpose of the project was to create an
open source software repository named BibServer, and to develop a
software tool that could be deployed by anyone requiring an easy way
to put and share bibliographic records online.

A repository was created at, and it
performs the usual logging of commits and other activities expected of
a modern DVCS system. This work was completed in September 2011, and the repository has been available since the start of that project with a GNU Affero GPL v3 licence attached.

October 2011 – JISC Open Biblio 2 project

The JISC Open BIblio 2 project chose to build on the open source
software tool named BibServer. As there was no support from AIM for
maintaining the BibServer repository, the project took on maintenance
of the repository and all further development work, with no change to
previous licence conditions.

We made this choice as we perceive open source licensing as a benefit
rather than a threat; it fit very well with the requirements of JISC
and with the desires of the developers involved in the project. At
worst, an owner may change the licence attached to some software, but
even in such a situation we could continue our work by forking from
the last available open source version (presuming that licence
conditions cannot be altered retrospectively).

The code continues to display the licence under which it is available,
and remains publicly downloadable at
Should this hosting resource become publicly unavailable, an
alternative public host would be sought.

Development work and discussion has been managed publicly, via a
combination of the project website at, the issue tracker at, a project wiki at, and via a mailing list

February 2012 – JISC Open Biblio 2 offers beta service

In February the JISC Open Biblio 2 project announced a beta service
available online for free public use at The
website runs an instance of BibServer, and highlights that the code is
open source and available (linking to the repository) to anyone who
wishes to use it.

Current status

We believe that we have made sensible decisions in choosing open
source software for our project, and have made all efforts to promote
the fact that the code is freely and publicly available.

We have found the open source development paradigm to be highly
beneficial – it has enabled us to publicly share all the work we have
done on the project, increasing engagement with potential users and
also with collaborators; we have also been able to take advantage of
other open source software during the project, incorporating it into
our work to enable faster development and improved outcomes.

We continue to develop code for the benefit of people wishing to
publicly put and share their bibliographies online, and all our
outputs will continue to be publicly available beyond the end of the
current project.

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One Response to Open source development – how we are doing

  1. Pingback: Final report: JISC Open Bibliography 2 |

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