Real World Open Source: Finding a cure for tuberculosis. Open data at work.
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Does open source software really provide a benefit to the community,
or is it just a drain on commercial resources, like people stealing
office supplies? Look at this and judge for yourself:
It's honestly not difficult to contribute to open projects. I just
found a simple way that I can contribute to a project that I use
regularly. Project Gutenberg is
a project to provide electronic versions of every possible book, free
for digital rights management, publicly available. Most of the works
are ones that have fallen into the public domain, but others are works that the author has made available through the Creative Commons or some other open license. Books are scanned and then transformed into text and other formats.
Recently, I discovered that they have a practice, called "distributed proofreading,"
whereby volunteers can spend a little time here and there helping to
keep a project moving. To volunteer, you simply sign up through the website.
You act as an editor, proofing documents that have come in and helping
them to meet the project standards. Beginners simply help identify
scanning (OCR) mistakes, by comparing the output to the original
picture in the document. More advanced and experienced editors move
the document forward through other issues ending in a newly published
text. It only takes a few minutes to do several pages. You receive
advice and recommendations along the way.
Most projects do not have so elegant a system of getting involved.
But most of them would gladly accept help. All you have to do is
offer... and then follow up by actually doing the work.
Will this affect commercial work?
Undoubtedly commercial work in these areas will be affected as some
of them become obsolete. The village blacksmith and the office
stenographer are both rare today. As technology grows to allow people
to record, analyze and share data it will become less necessary to have
that done by an expert. Yet expertise will always be needed (and paid
for) to get things to the next step. I rather like to think that open
methodologies step in to do the things that the commercial people say
are a hardship by applying a cloud-like entity of human resources.
Often the work is slower and more precise for each individual step, but
since there are more people potentially available tocheck and recheck things, something accomplished in three steps rather than one is still done more efficiently.
Next week the Open Source zone will have an article on the harmonious blend
of open source and commercial software. Keep an eye out for it. As
you read it, consider how it applies not only to software, but to data
and other projects. There is a lot of value and potential in
technological volunteer-work. We'll get the most benefit as people cease to fear or distrust it and everyone participates to improve it.