Open source 'split by digital divide'

Open source 'split by digital divide'

Summary: Local needs are not being met in developing countries, which are consumers not creators of open source software, says the United Nations University


Few programmers in developing countries get involved in the mainstream development of open source software, leading to a digital divide within open source projects, a researcher from the United Nations University (UNU) claimed on Thursday.

Researchers compared the number of open source mailing list postings from different countries with the Internet penetration of each country. When ordered by this metric, Western Europe came out on top.

Norway, which was found to be the country that is most actively involved in open source, has posted six times as many mailing list postings per 1,000 of its Internet-connected population than Brazil, and more than 100 times as many as Vietnam.

Scott McNeil, the general manager of the open computing initiative at UNU's International Institute for Software Technology, speaking at a UNU conference on free software in New York on Thursday, said that as few developers in open source projects are from the developing world this means that these countries have little influence on the direction the project is going.

"It is a problem, as local needs are not being met and developing countries are consumers not creators of open source software," he said.

McNeil said he had investigated the reasons behind this trend and discovered that although people in developing countries are getting involved in open source software development, they are often doing this on a separate fork to the main project branch.

"In developing countries, what we typically see is that a group of individuals take the software, write an enhancement and don't put it back, creating a development fork. That's fine — its free software so they can do it, but they are missing out on other benefits," he said. When the main project progresses "they have to download a new version, patch their software and catch up. They have to keep going back and doing this, so their development is always behind the main project."

This method of working has the disadvantages that the developers put in a lot of effort to play catch-up and have no opportunity to gain influence within project — the people that determine the strategic direction of an open source project tend to be those that have made significant contributions to the project.

Individuals in developing countries are often reluctant to get involved in projects due to their discomfort of communicating in English and their concerns over peer review, according to McNeil.

He said that education and mentoring are vital to "socialise" these developers into the global community of developers. The UNU has set up a project, called the Global Desktop Project, to help more programmers in developing countries get involved in open source projects.

IT services company Metaparadigm, which was also involved in the study on open source software contribution by different countries, has published the results on its Web site.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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  • Ah, the UN University says . . .

    Thats just swell. As in swelling. As in the personal bank accounts of perhaps every top level administrator employed by the UN.

    While the point regarding development "forking" may be accurate, what exactly does it have to do with developing countries as a rule? Missionaries are commonly warned when traveling to a developing country. Warned that bringing even a camera, much less a laptop may brand them as uber-rich and thereby disconnected from the local culture. In metropolitan areas of developing countries, are their "needs" so individual and cryptic that they cannot use the same software that serves a significant portion of the rest of the Earth?

    If the open source bashing continues unabated, it will serve as confirmation that several someone(s) are on the take, and as confirmation that we intend to make information technology the next great social welfare experiment.

    Its trite but true - you can't spell "unethical" without "UN".
  • second attempt

    First attempt was wiped by the cat jumping on
    my here we go again.

    Before i forget, after 20 internet one still has
    to give comment in a box the size of a rubic cube.i can't open a webpage without reading
    about self declared leadership, 99 % of the involved are "leading" or "one of the leading"

    well, i am not "leading" and coming from Amsterdam the Netherlands and moved to
    South Africa where we bought a winegrape
    farm estate does not make me a farmer.

    As outsider i have spent lots of time to not only get a better understanding of the DIGITAL DIVIDE issue,but also looking at practical solutions which are sustanaible.

    IGNORANCE is mankinds worst nightmare, as it is deeply rooted, not curable with medicines,
    throwing money at it like the last 30/40 years
    with virtual no results,corruption,complete incompotent upper management,philantropy,
    charity,NGO's giving in, aid junkies and a life aid concert.Just the idea that the OLPC,Flexgo,50x15 initiatives would be or will contribute to closing a gap or avoid that the gap will increase shows a basic lack of understanding.
    I don;t have no problem at with the fact when companies publicly formulate their interest to
    target underdeveloped countries and hopefully it will contribute one day into making a nett profit.One has to be careful that for the sake of the coorporate image building phillantropy,charity crusaders whereas i would argue once you really have achieved something sustainable there is time enough to
    make it part of the companies effort to show
    they are actively involved in the fight against ignorance and poverty.

    What i have seen sofar iis the same as the tractor which was donated 40 years ago, stranded after 2 days and no one to tell is has
    to be filled up with fuel

    A structural lack of education the last 2/300 year and just do as you are told has had a devastating effect.We have about a 100 people here on the farm 50 km from Cape Town at the city limit of Paarl,smaller town, and the general knowledge, communication skills, you have to see to believe it.

    You can throw as much bombs as you want
    on Germany and Japan, but those who survived , especially when the Marshall plan came into effect put them back on the map in no time as a result educational policies of the past.

    A double figure % of the children on the countryside at the age of 5 or so are already sofar behind , mentally,physically that when they go to school they have major problems
    to "hang in " and around 10 / 12 years old leave school.

    Education, the quality is a serious problem,
    classes too big,hardly individual attention.quality of teachers,uniformity, the curiosity to know or learn not stimulated.
    So to formulate an opinion of their own or
    take initiative, think idependently is missing.

    When children would get a notebox (Notebook - lunchbox) and take it home and
    the parents are no part of it the notebox will
    either end up against the wall, the floor or sold for a bottle of beer if it is not stolen somewhere between school and house.

    The parents must have acces to the web as well.
    Most of the poor have no phone, 40 - 50 %
    have mobiles but most of the time no money
    to buy airtime.
    VOIP WIFI is an interesting option to connect
    everyone and for a 100 reasons very practical.Women and chiild abuse is a massive problem and calling the police can avoid lots of worse.

    Why children should have a laptop in stead of
    a server,download overnight what is needed
    an where needed go on line.screens are all over the world getting more of a problem,
    dumped illegally in Africa.Send them here, will be dealt with properly.

    Part 2 follows