Participating Thoughtfully

by MJM on December 21, 2007 03:49pm

When I introduce myself around here, I usually lead with the caveat: I am not technical.  It’s true, I played around with BASIC as a kid, and, in high school,
I tore apart a series of Apples in the generally vain attempt to understand how they worked.  I even went to university to study electrical engineering and
robotics.  But I only made it two years in that because, when all was said and done, I simply wasn’t very good at the technical bits and bytes.

I grew up thinking I wanted to study artificial intelligence.  Turns out, I was more interested in the “intelligence” than the “artificial.”  Much to my parents’
chagrin, that realization led first to the study of philosophy and then to academia.  Ultimately, I ended up in the law, where I spent the last 8 years.

About 10 months ago, I left my practice and joined Microsoft.  Now, here I am on the Community Platform team at Microsoft, blogging on Port 25.  If you
are asking yourself why, I don’t blame you.  I’ve asked myself that question more than once since I’ve been on board. :)    

Most see open source as a technical phenomenon, and indeed it is one of the more important movements in software development of the last decade or so.  However, it’s also a legal, sociological and, in many ways, a philosophical phenomenon.  These latter aspects make “open source” a fascinating subject for
someone with my background.

Bryan has blogged several times about the concept of “participation.” Participation – and the related ideas of access, inclusion and collaboration – are
vital concerns in a world of rapidly increasing information and expanding access.  When you also consider Bill’s recent blog about networks and “six-degrees
of separation,” you can tell that participation and the community it engenders are constantly on our minds around here.

These concepts are fundamental aspects of open source and the focus of my job.  As the open source research and policy lead, I examine how Microsoft can better understand and participate in the open source community and how, through its participation, Microsoft can create more opportunity for software
developers and users around the world.

Thus, I’m pleased to announce a couple of our activities in 2008 that I hope will advance knowledge and understanding of how IT-based communities come into being and best grow and function.

The first of these is a paper award we will be sponsoring with International Network of Social Network Analysts (INSNA).  This award will go to papers that focus on empirical studies of collaboration and collective development of software projects, including the development of open-source software.  Related collective products like documentation, support, and design and studies that highlight important group processes and practices associated with robust software will also be considered.  More information about INSNA can be found at  The site is undergoing a migration and revision, and the details of the paper awards will be posted in January when the new site goes live. The second activity is Microsoft’s sponsorship of the Computer and Information Technologies Section of the American Sociological Association’s (CITASA) pre-conference and graduate workshop on July 31, 2008 in Boston.  This event combines a pre-conference on information and communication technologies (ICTs) and "Worlds of Works," building on the theme of the 103rd annual meeting of the ASA, and a workshop for 20 selected graduate students researching any aspect of the sociology of communications or information technologies.

The program will include a keynote address by the winner of the "Microsoft CITASA Port 25 Award," a series of presentations on ICTs and the sociology of
work, especially in distributed and virtual environments, and a series of select student presentations of work-in-progress (on diverse themes within the
sociological study of communications and IT) to both a general audience and to a mentor panel of well known and established researchers in the field.  For
more information, visit  These activities are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Microsoft’s open source
involvement.  From contributing code to developing concepts, Microsoft is actively engaged in open source, and is getting more involved daily.  I am delighted
to spend my time thinking about new ways we can learn about and participate in the open source community.  Working with this team and many other people across Microsoft to change (as Bryan puts it) the company’s open source “DNA” is a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next.  I anticipate and welcome your feedback as we continue to move forward, together.

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