EDIT 27/07/2016: Thanks to a reply from Matt Slater, and a more careful examination of various GITHub repositories, the list of actively maintained, free code, community currency packages has been reduced to three; Matt’s CommunityForge, Integral CES (used by a handful of Spanish groups), and ccLite, developed by Londoner Hugh Barnard. The first two are clusters of Drupal modules, and to be honest, I’m not sure why they don’t pool their efforts, and maybe maintain two branches, one aimed at timebanks and one aimed at LETS. The third is a set of Perl scripts and a MySQL database (a typical early 2000s approach), with an Android app in development. 

————————————————–

Some people have social lives and hobbies. I just spent the evening updating my page about community currency software, and adding a few more to the list. A number of thoughts occurred to me as I went through the various projects, checked whether they were still alive, and added more detailed information about them.

  • There are a huge number of projects in this space, both open source and proprietary. I probably haven’t listed anywhere near all of them, especially if you include all the short-lived projects that disappear from the web without a trace. But I still have a couple of pages of info for folks to trawl through.
  • Attrition is high. Of the 14 or so open source projects I’ve found so far, only five seem to be in active development.
  • Even though the feature requirements for an exchange server and web interface are fairly simple and don’t really change much, there seems to be an insatiable need to constantly reinvent them, instead of pooling developer resources to maintain a small number of mature, reliable, user-friendly packages.
  • Despite the obvious parallels in the values of the two movements, there seems to be an inexplicable hostility to open source development and decentralized hosting on the part of many of the developers working on community currency software. I’ve exchanged emails with one of the developers of Time and Talents (hOurwold), and although they like to reference open source values by talking about “Open Innovation“, they utterly refuse to see why transparent and re-usable code is important.
  • Worse, a number of packages that were free code have moved to proprietary licensing, including Cyclos 4.0, and TimeBank USA’s Community Weaver 3. This is not something I see happening in any other kind of software. Although some projects have moved from full freedom to “open core” (eg MySQL), it’s rare to see them go fully proprietary.

There are at least three qualities that are essential to a long term software project:

  • Making careful choices of language, framework, database and CMS dependencies, so the project can be maintained over time without too many painful migrations.
  • Building a sustainable developer community, one that is seen to be healthy and welcoming.
  • Creating beautifully crafted interfaces, to attract and retain a loyal user base, and (hopefully) funding and support.

The problem is, pretty much none of the projects I’ve looked at have managed all three. Those that have done both 2 and 3 seem to be mainly the proprietary ones. Why are so many open source projects still so bad at being responsive to what non-geek users want and need? Why do people who can design pretty, user-friendly interfaces so often seem to not know or care about the ethics of building web technology, or if they do, not know how to work with a community of back-end developers and users?

The good news is that once 1 and 2 have been achieved, it’s always possible to give the look and feel of the software a makeover. The challenge is, how do we get more web artists as excited and passionate about software freedom and open source development, and get the UNIX greybeard to accept that some people will go to their grave without *ever* using a command line? Because it seems to me that software that is pleasant to use, rather than awkward to use, is the only thing that keeps community-minded people using proprietary platforms when there are free code projects that do the same job.

Filed July 26th, 2016 under Uncategorized
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