Article #39: OpenSurvey


Tim Macer puts OpenSurvey's creators in the hotseat

'Source of openness'

 

In January, former head of Quantime, Ed Ross, and former Surveycraft chief, Andrew Jeavons, announced they were forming OpenSurvey, a not-for-profit organization, to promote a new range of open source software of MR and other research applications involving the use of surveys. In this interview for Research, OpenSurvey's founders answer Tim Macer's questions.

What do you hope to achieve?
AJ: The open source methodology is proving to be a revolution in software engineering. I don't think it will become the only way of developing software, but already it is an important one. According to the latest Netcraft survey of web server software, the majority of web sites use Apache, an open source web server. Open source has ramifications for all software markets: we simply want to apply those principles to survey software.
We hope to develop a toolkit of open source software that can be applied to survey software and in the process further evolve the technology used in survey software. I'm particularly keen to further a standard, XML-based survey representation, which would develop, on one side, different authoring tools, and on the other side, different delivery tools.
ER: We'd like to both develop new projects, and provide encouragement and a central site for anyone who has software that they want to make 'open'. It's gratifying that we've already had substantial and pertinent technical input from people who I previously would have viewed as long-term competitors. We hope that this model will enable people to work together to get some interesting ideas and products. I also hope that this project will find support both in the commercial market research sector, and among non-profit governmental and social research establishments.

How do you see it working, with respect to software developers and software users?
AJ: The software we produce will be the basis for other systems. We don't aim to produce, now, a complete system. We want to develop core


'We're not going to survive long without active support, including money, from companies and groups within survey research'

modules (like an interviewing kernel) that can form the core of a system. In open source movements the developers are predominately drawn from the user community. The point of open source is that it changes the relationship between users and developers.

So what is the difference between OpenSurvey and a typical commercial developer producing MR software?
AJ: The source code of what we produce will be freely distributed and usage of it will incur no fees. However that doesn't mean there can't be commercial exploitation of any systems as long as they adhere to the license agreement.
ER: The power relationships are different. We need to be more collegial and less hierarchical than traditional software development operations. We're promoting something quite different to the products of commercial suppliers, and it would be a mistake to think of Open Source software as 'cheap software'. We're not giving the same kind of support and service as people expect from commercial packages and we're actively encouraging people to change the software. While we won't have a license fee, it would be a mistake for anyone to decide on using an open source package simply as a way of making money.

Is anyone going to make any money out of this?
AJ: It will be possible to use what we develop in commercial products as long as the principles of open source are preserved for the components that are open source.
ER: I hope so, but I'm not sure who or how. Having a core open source software is not incompatible with successful commercial operations closely linked to the software. Soon after the Free Software Foundation (the pioneer in this) started, then companies started based on consulting, supporting, and adding to their offerings. I suppose the best-known open software product is

Linux, which is totally free, but a large commercial industry exists around it.

Is there a financial motivation for you?
ER: No - my personal goals for this aren't financial.

AJ: I would say there are ways of making money from survey software other than selling it.

Is there a financial incentive for other to become involved?
ER: If you're talking about organizations, we're not going to survive long without active support (including money) from companies and organizations within survey research. They will only support us if they feel, in the long run, that this will help their productivity and ultimately profitability. If you're talking individuals working voluntarily, then it will be in their interest if we come up with good, exciting, ideas and software that become used in the industry. If we wind up with employees, no doubt we'll pay them.

With whom are you competing?
AJ: Nobody really. We're promoting open source software and open standards, what the community makes of that is up to them. I don't see it as a "competition".

Netcraft, January 2000 www.netcraft.com

OpenSurvey's website is at www.opensurvey.org

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at www.meaning.uk.com


Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, March 2000, Issue 406.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2000. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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