Go Hybrid

by Paula Bach on June 09, 2008 05:29pm

I am back in Redmond. For those of you who don’t know, I spent last summer here in the open source software lab conducting research on integrating usability into open source. My last blog talked about how I have made some changes to my research program. One change is to situate the research argument within the broader scope of how open source has been changing. My favorite paper discussing this is titled “The transformation of Open Source Software” by Brian Fitzgerald and is only available if you have a subscription to the MISQ journal, but you can download an audio mp3 version read by Fitzgerald himself here. He coins the term ‘open source 2.0’ and characterizes software development in open source and compares it to proprietary, and shows that open source software development has elements of proprietary software development and proprietary has elements of open source. Any of the big open source projects with paid developers, and my favorite example, Mozilla, with paid UX professionals, is an example of the former, while Microsoft is an example of the latter. When I first met Bryan Kirschner (now director of open source strategy at Microsoft) he introduced me to the idea that API developer communities are a lot like open source communities.

The most interesting part of my research is that it is situated right in the middle of open source hybridization. A hybrid open source software development model combines a business model, either open source or proprietary, and open, two-way community input. The basis of my argument for the research is as follows: open source software development has been so successful that proprietary companies have been paying attention to incorporating open source strategies into their business model and very successful open source projects have had business models created around them. Both of these phenomena share some characteristics of software development, but taking a well-developed model of usability and transplanting it into a hybrid software development environment will be challenging because the hybridization landscape is still being cultivated. Because Microsoft has been successful with integrating usability activities into its production of software, it makes an interesting case to investigate how one of their hybridization strategies, CodePlex, integrates usability.

I am working with the CodePlex team to develop usability support for CodePlex. This means that the CodePlex community will have a say in how we design the support. Traditionally, open source projects are challenged for usability resources so the support has to range from being able to support code-centered and usability-interested developers to the possibility of usability professionals. The project addresses three main challenges for usability in open source: merit and trust, chasm between work activities, and incommensurable tools and methods. If you have a project on CodePlex and are interested in participating in this research, then please contact me: codeplexresearch at live dot com.

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