I was drawn here by the TED talk, and had a look around. I have a few comments and some questions.
I think the format of the website (blog + comments) is confusing and not the best environment for a collaborative effort.
Changes to the instructions and the official documentation cannot be added freely by the community, like they would be in a wiki, but they are cherry-picked by the “Core Team”, who has privileged write-access to the source.
This is not bad per se. Many big open source projects have a selected team of committers, and new members must prove their worth with valid contributions before being granted write access.
However, open source projects also have a clear procedure that contributors can follow in order to “patch” trunk – or in fact, any branch. According to the Open Source Initiative, if such a mechanism is not in place, then it’s arguably not an Open Source project.
Also, Windowfarms is not a code project, it’s a hardware/design/documentation project. Therefore, there is no risk of breaking the build (because there is no build), and Wikipedia shows us that there is a lot to be gained, at the very least in terms of polish and formatting, if write-access is granted to a wider user base.
I think allowing any registered user to edit the documents, plus having a selected group of super-users with special entitlements in order to manage high-traffic, prominent pages, would be a good balance.
Similar suggestions towards a more open, transparent and functional means of documentation and discussion have been repeatedly proposed in some comments of this website, but I have not seen a response from the “Core Team”.
Are there any plans to improve the situation?
I also notice that users are supposed to register in order to read the allegedly open source documentation. This made no sense to me, so I had a look at the small print, where it says “We require that you agree in order to view the free instructions on how to build windowfarms. This is for legal reasons that would endanger the community if we did not require registration and acknowledgement.” Quite how the community would be “endangered” is not explained, but there are two links, one to a fairly big website (http://www.openhardwaresummit.org) and one to Windowfarms’ Terms of Service.
In the main page of the Open Source HardWare website (which is interestingly a wiki), there is a section spelling out the OSHW Statement of Principles. It reads, “Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design.”
Yet, in Windowfarm’s Terms of Service, we learn that Windowfarm’s instructions are available under (an old version of) the Creative Commons Attribution+Noncommercial+ShareAlike license.
I believe that the Noncommercial module is unnecessary. In fact, some would argue that adopting a permissive license can benefit a project’s popularity and adoption, which is apparently the overall goal here. Linux is a notable example of how this can happen.
Furthermore, the Noncommercial module seems at odds with the above-mentioned ability to “sell the design or hardware based on that design”, mandated by the OSHW, as well as the Free Redistribution clause of the Open Source Definition by the OSI.
Noncommercial module notwithstanding, however, it still makes no sense to me that users are asked to register in order to just read the instructions. How is that a legal necessity? Aren’t Windowfarms instructions already protected by the license and copyright statements, much like e.g. every Wikipedia article is?
In fact, can’t anyone, well within the rights granted by the current license, freely divulge those instructions (under the same license) on a mirror website to anyone on the Internet, without requiring any registration whatsoever?
Finally, given the use of the noncommercial module, I take it that only non-profit organisations can sell hardware based on Windowfarms’ designs. Does that mean that Windowfarms itself, which does sell the hardware, is a registered non-profit organisation? Apologies if I missed the details, but they do not seem to be widely publicized.
Thank you for any insights.