[Discuss] discuss Digest, Vol 10, Issue 13

Tom Igoe tom.igoe at gmail.com
Sun Mar 3 15:33:30 UTC 2013

On Mar 3, 2013, at 9:43 AM, Matt Maier wrote:

> Okay, lets back up a bit. My impression was that we were discussing an OSHWA mark that the open hardware community could rely on as a guarantee of openness. More specifically, as a guarantee that a commercial project actually qualifies as open source.

That is part of what I'm interested in, if it is of value to the OSHWA members.

> Nobody's worried about the hobby projects being open, they're worried about the for-profit projects (see Makerbot).

Are you sure about that? I heard disagreement on that point a couple days go. My own interests are around the commercial projects (for-profit and not-for profit; it is possible to be commercial and not-for-profit). But I can't say for sure that "nobody's interested".
> Is a self-selected openness-mark really going to accomplish anything? At the moment anybody can claim openness just by, you know, claiming it. They could write it on their PCB or inside their case if they felt like it. Would providing them with a professionally designed glyph to say the same thing make any difference?


> Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems to me that only a curated openness mark can possibly achieve any level of value. The users want an objective assessment of a project's openness and the competing producers want a consistent standard. Anything short of that is ripe for the same "open washing" that inspired the discussion, right?

I'm not sure about that. Maybe a self-assessed mark that's open to community discussion is better than nothing.

> I agree that raises the level of commitment necessary from whatever organization wants to be in charge. But I don't see how anything short of that will make any difference. Besides, at the end of the day if a standards-based openness mark is a conflict of interest then maybe it's just not worth pursuing. 

Which gets at my conflict-of-interest point: What are your expectations for such an organization?  This is a classic governing problem. You want people who will govern with some experience, but you want them not to use their position in government to their own advantage unfairly.

Here's a hypothetical that could happen if the OSHWA board is expected to review files for openness:

Let's say someone starts a kickstarter campaign to make a new Arduino derivative.  They want to claim it'll be open in their kickstarter campaign, so they submit it to OSHWA for review approval, whatever. Let's say I'm on the curatorial panel for OSHWA. Now imagine Arduino (my company) is working on a new model very similar to the kickstarter derivative.  Even though we may have thought of it independently (which happens with some frequency), who are you going to believe when one party complains? Even if one party produces docs with a timestamp that's earlier than the other, we all know that's easy enough to be modified.

One way around this scenario is to expect the curators to remove themselves from their companies while they serve on the curatorial panel. But then you would have to compensate them for their services, because people have to pay the rent.

So, curation and escrow are messy.

I think OSHWA is a great idea, and that anything it can do to promote best practices is a good thing. But with the benefit of a couple years, I'm seeing some things that poke holes in the open source hardware definition. My goal in this discussion is to hear what people think about those things. If the general consensus is that they're irrelevant, that's fine. Given the small number of voices in the conversation, maybe they are.  

This is also why I was asking about Marco's experiences with IDSA.  We're not the first people to start a trade organization, and things like this come up in many industries. We can and should learn from them. It's worth looking at the structure and by-laws of other orgs to see what we can learn. Maybe the OSHWA board's been doing this already, I expect they have. If so, that'll fit in nicely with the 2013 goals published in January.

> The escrow idea isn't an integral part of the openness mark idea. I just thought it could be useful. After sleeping on it an escrow does seem a bit too coercive for this context; kinda jumping the gun. It would really only be relevant if people were abusing an openness mark and the community wanted to make an extra effort to enforce standards.

All of this brings me back to Marco's point: the terms of using the OSHWA mark should be that you get to use it only when the files are published. Period. If you want to release your files before you ship, you can do that, but my personal advice would be to wait until you ship. I'd recommend that as best practice.

At the moment, though, there are no terms for using the mark. So it doesn't really matter.


> On Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 6:03 AM, Tom Igoe <tom.igoe at gmail.com> wrote:
> I see a few problems with that:
> * it implies that the files are done in advance of the product release. You really don't want to release half-baked files, even to escrow.
> * projects hit delays. You could say"we plan to release by x" and for various logistical reasons not be ready to release the product by x. Better to choose a goal than a date, e.g you'll release the files when the product goes on sale. That doesn't work for non- commercial members though.
> * who is responsible for maintaining the files in escrow? The oshwa board is made up of folks who both collaborate and compete with each other and other oshwa members. I trust them all because I know them personally. But is my experience universal? You're introducing a big potential conflict of unrest there.

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