Thursday, June 21, 2007

The ReDistricting Game: Why is this Not Open Source?

The ReDistricting Game looks like a nice Flash game to teach people about an important civic issue, sponsored by the Annenberg Center for Communications at USC. I don't understand why they have not released the code under an open source license. This is not a commercial project, so losing licensing income wouldn't seem to be an issue. There are good reasons to open source the code to this educational project:

  • I should be able to verify that the way the code is implemented accurately reflects the law and is not somehow slanted. This is particularly important in a game that addresses an explicitly political issue.
  • If a teacher wants to integrate this into their curriculum, they should have some assurance that it will be available and up to date for a long period of time. Five years. Ten years. Right now, the Flash application could be taken off the Annenberg web site at any time, and there is no guarantee that it will be kept up to date if the relevant laws change. If the code was open source, it could always be installed on a different server if the original version was taken offline, and an open source community could keep the code up to date, even if the original authors had moved on or been hit by busses.
  • I might want to translate this application, so I can use it with a citizenship class for recent immigrants (or some other reason).
  • I might want to serve the application on my intranet to cut down on bandwidth consumption in my school and improve performance.
  • I might want to modify the application to use data from my neighborhood and city.
  • I might want to fix bugs in the application.
  • I might want to improve or extend the application.
  • I might want to redistribute the application on a CD so it can be used in a place without a reliable internet connection.

There are two things I conclude when seeing a non-commercial non-free application like this

  • The Annenberg Center does not take me (i.e., the user) or my freedom seriously.
  • The Annenberg Center does not take this application or their investment in it seriously, because they have not taken basic steps to ensure that it will be as widely used as possible for as long a period of time as possible. This is a toy. It is an experiment. They are not in this for the long haul. They do not believe their own hype, and neither do I.

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