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Does open source need its own Priority of Constituencies?

SeaGL 2021

From its inception, open source—and free software before it—was built around ethical notions: give people agency and power over their software so they could use, modify, and share it as they pleased to accomplish whatever it is that they wanted to do with it.

In a world where running software required programming skills, there was a lot of overlap between users and developers of open source, and so this rather simple framework was sufficient to deal with open source’s different constituencies.

Since then, open source has become ubiquitous. As a result, the number of constituencies has ballooned: there are indie and corporate contributors and maintainers, open source software vendors, developers building proprietary code on top of open source, end-users who don’t know anything about software, people impacted by open source software who are not even using it, cloud providers, etc., etc.

When the interests of these different actors are in conflict, which one of them do we favor and why? Neither the Four Freedoms nor the Open Source Definition (OSD) really helps us answer that question.

Faced with similar issues, other communities have designed really effective frameworks to guide their decision-making processes. W3C’s “priority of constituencies” is such a framework.

In this talk we’ll dig into what W3C’s priority of constituencies is, outline its benefits, but also its limits.

We’ll then see how we could apply the priority of constituencies to open source, what that reveals about the complexity of the open source ecosystem, and in particular how the parts that are difficult to fit in such a framework are precisely those that have made the news in the past few years.


Tobie Langel

Tobie Langel, UnlockOpen

Tobie Langel is the founder of UnlockOpen, a boutique consulting firm that helps large organizations build a strong open source culture and leverage it to recruit, retain, and foster top software engineering talent, improve team efficiency and boost innovation.

His clients include companies such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, Mozilla, Coil, or Airtable.

Tobie is the facilitator of AMP’s Advisory Committee, a voting member of the OpenJS Foundation Cross Project Council, sits on the Advisory Council of OASIS Open Projects, and is a Founding Member of the Organization for Ethical Source.

Previously, he was a member of Facebook’s Open Source and Web Standards team, and was Facebook’s Advisory Committee representative at W3C.

Tobie Langel is known for having co-maintained the Prototype JavaScript Framework. He also edited a number of Web standards, including WebIDL, and led W3C’s Web platform testing effort.