The Strained Infrastructure of FOSS part 2

The publication Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure by Nadia Eghbal is an interesting commentary on the nature of FOSS in the infrastrcuture of our digital world. It speaks about the challenge of maintaining a shared resource in a sustainable way when no single party feels a particular responsibility for it. The second portion deals with the effects of the problem on businesses and individuals and attempts to find a solution.

It starts by highlighting the challenges presented by lack of maintenance. Most often this takes the form of security issues. The lack of maintenance is due to many factors. Most of it is time and financial feasibility. The maintainers of FOSS projects often maintain them on the side and when it ceases to become fun and more of a chore, maintenance slows.

The publication then continues to offer solutions to the issues of maintenance and a path forward. things that stuck with me:

  • the volunteer aspect of open source discourages talking about money causing funding issues if this is ignored.
  • “Twilio is incentivized to make Twilio better, Amazon is incen tivized to make Amazon better. But who’s incentivized to make them all work together better, and allow you to do more things with them together? There’s nobody that’s really incentivized to do that.”
  • We need to start seeing digital infrastructure in the same way we see physical infrastructure.

I would rate the Eghbal report a 3 or 4 out of 5. Most of the less than perfect rating is due to the length of the reading and at certain points the dryness. Overall the report makes good points but is not something I would think to read in its current format on my own time. I would likely skip to the en section with the “where do we go from here” type content. As far as the Eghbal reading, the length of the report bothered me though this is mostly in comparison to the previous reading.

My questions after reading

  • how can I help?
  • what happens to large projects when a primary maintainer leaves?
  • have the recommendations of the report been put into practice?
Written on March 21, 2018