Sunday, August 28, 2005

Open Source Studies: a question

I know that there is a plan to gather bibliobloggers in Philadelphia for a lunch meeting to discuss "open source" biblical studies. (Most recently from Tim Bulkeley.)

Before I commit to this lunch, I have one question: What is open-source biblical studies?

This is not a rhetorical question.

UPDATE (8/29): Tim Bulkeley provides more light here — and many thanks to those who provided comments. This whole movement (or initiative, or whatever) is something I favor; but whether I have time in the near future to participate in any particular project is very doubtful.


Jim said...

Generically speaking, "Open source" refers to projects that are open to the public and are freely available. In a theological / biblical studies context it describes a movement which encourages scholars to publish their materials online and make them available to anyone. To put it bluntly, it is "web communism" and by that I simply mean that what you write you let others access and what others write you have access to.

Anonymous said...

Strictly speaking, "open source" has traditionally meant more than this. It usually means that you give others the ability to edit and change the open source project and use and adapt it to their needs. UNIX, e.g., is an open source project. It is freely available to anyone and they may change, edit, and distribute it (e.g., Mac OS X, Red Hat, etc.). Wikipedia is another example of an open source project; the articles are the result of colloboration and anyone may edit, add, and change entries.

Jim said...

Ken I see you counterbalanced my "generically speaking" with your more precise "strictly speaking". True indeed that "open source" in computer-geek-lingo means exactly as you say- the ability to freely access source code and modify it at one's whim. But since in biblical studies and theology the term is used in a more general sense, it seemed to me to be the appropraite description that would assist Ed in deciding whether or not he wanted to have lunch over it.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough... though the open source definition I provided is, as best as I can tell, part of the biblical studies discussion too. One of the projects, after all, is a wiki project... TheoWiki, I think it was called.

Tim Bulkeley said...

It's to avoid the complications of analogies that I've (usually/tried to) prefered the term Open Biblical Studies, by which I mean any and all attempts to use digital technologies (hence the suggested reference to "open source") to make the doing and consuming of Biblical Studies more open... This can mean a wide variety of different things...

Anonymous said...

Jim, I wouldn't necessarily characterise it as "communism". Creative Commons, who have probably done the most to promote open-source-like licences being applied to other media, describe what they do as a "market-driven approach" to intellectual property. In his essay "What Business Can Learn from Open Source", Paul Graham says "The third big lesson we can learn from open source and blogging is that ideas can bubble up from the bottom, instead of flowing down from the top. Open source and blogging both work bottom-up: people make what they want, and the best stuff prevails.

Does this sound familiar? It's the principle of a market economy."

Mike Sangrey said...

Tim (et al),

There's always a specific danger when you define a project in terms of the technology it will use: Ya get to use the techy stuff, ya don't accomplish what the user wants.

It's better to define the project in terms of use-cases. That is, who are the users? What are they trying to accomplish? In short, how are people going to use this stuff? BTW, this reinforces James' comment about bottom up. The users (customers) ultimately drive the process.

Let me illustrate.


They want to interact and to develop conceptually new material based on already laid foundations. Therefore they need to be able to easily link to bibliographic material (hyperlinks to a bibliography)

They want this material to be peer reviewed so that value is associated with it (hopefully).

They want it to be quoted (linked, in our case). That is, they want others to build on top of it.

Some scholars collaborate early. Other scholars need time to work independently.

Additionally different users can access different levels of scholarship. For example, research about doing Bible translation using cognitive bayesian networks is rather esoteric. However, utilizing the coherency structures that come from such research could be presented in a way that (say) pastoral and teaching staff could access it.

There's more.

BTW, I'm all for establishing a vision first. That is exactly right. However, the next step (as I see it) is to get some kind of understanding of the measurements within that vision. In other words, how do we define 'virtue' related to 'Open Biblical Studies'? Also, Vision, Measurement, Resources, Planning, Execution all reflect off of each other.