Open Source Discussion: An operational definition will help to solve the distinction between open source and social media. An open source platform allows developers to add to the body of software to extend features and capabilities while be reviewed and approved before and update is released to the community. There are two perspectives for open source capability. One is the perspective of the user and the other is the perspective of the developer. These are two different views. A product can be created and updated with an open source architecture but not extend to the end user the ability to personally and immediately take advantage of the architecture. So the impression would be correct to the end user that it is not open per se.
Open Source tools include a broad set of tools. I will specifically categorize these into LMS and social media tools. Most all of the modern LMS and social media tools are built with an Open Source architecture. This design process creates a scalable platform that can be leveraged and extended by a variety of stakeholders. The advantage of this approach is the added innovation that “outsiders” can bring to the platform. Open Source does not just mean “free”. It also means that the platform can be expanded and easily improved with a community of developers. There are always controls in place to ensure that quality and features are appropriately reviewed and approved. I find open source as the new standard for any LMS environment. If you review all the social media tools they too are built on an Open Source platform.The idea of open source tools is not new. My professional background for over twenty years was centered in software development. Over an extended period of time the idea of an open source environment has gained tremendous momentum. Some industry changing Open Source initiatives have been quite disruptive. Look at the database marketplace. Two big leaders are Oracle and Sybase ( SAP). An open source database – MySQL came onto the market and cost nothing. The functionality and capability of this open source product competed nicely against the very expensive products from Oracle and SAP. The same story is told with the free Apache web server. The open source product is very powerful and also absolutely free. So that is a bit of the successful history of Open Source.
From the world of information technology, the open source initiative has expanded into a variety of industries. The blogging tool that this post is made with is from WordPress and open source product. The operating system Linux is an open source product. So is the operating system for Android based phones and their popular browser Chrome from Google. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all based on open source architecture. Moving into the LMS market place, Moodle, Canvas, BlackBoard and many others have done a terrific job of providing open source products. The reason open source works is the amount of developers that add creative and functional value to the product and it is also managed and controlled with certain guiding parameters. Companies benefit on having many people address some of the basic problems that everyone has to address, so instead of each vendor re-inventing a product they all collaborate and create the best of the best for the greater good.
The quality of open source products is typically very good. The frequency of new releases brings new features to the market in a timely fashion. There is no charge for these products so they are free and very affordable. Since there are APIs (application programming interfaces) for open source products, it makes it easy to add extra functionality and services. Look at all of the GPS solutions that we have in our cars and smart phones. There is no charge to get the satellite data and the mapping information. Since the software is being used by millions of people the bugs are quickly identified and the product becomes very reliable and robust.
From a learning perspective, open source tools bring a great deal of flexibility and extensibility to the learning community. As a course designer you can add functionality and extra capability to your course with an open source tool. You can see those features in Canvas and Moodle, but not in Blackboard.
When it comes to selecting tools it becomes a personal preference that is based on making a the right choice. The choice is based on suitability to perform the task and the reliability of the tool and also the cost to use and cost to support. If the product is free in terms of initial cost but is expensive in terms of support, then the price advantage is diminished. The preference is base solely on the quality of the product and nothing else. Most Open Source solutions are good quality or they would not survive the scrutiny of the support base.
Usefulness of a tool is in the eyes of the user and task at hand. If I find it lacking, there is probably a good reason. For example, if I need to export the data using an XML pipe and the tool did not have one, then it will not meet my needs but very much meet the needs of another user. I could write an XMP pipe since the platform is Open Source.
Improvements to these tools are made all the time based on feedback from the user community. The open architecture is the salient feature that provides a pathway to improvement. It is beyond the scope of this blog to hypothesize the improvement roadmap.
The market dictates the success of a product. If people see value in the product it will continue to exist until something better comes along. Look at Microsoft Office and compare it to the free open source equivalents. Why would you pay Microsoft if you got the functionality that you wanted for free? I am a big supporter of open source. If you look at other industries you will see this trend continue to expand.