Open Source Challenge: The Search Problem

I’m back from the BT Open Source in Business conference. Will blog it later, but one thing to highlight was a panel question on threats and challenges to open source. I’m experiencing one challenge right now, so I thought I’d highlight it since it wasn’t mentioned by the panel. Come to think of it, I didn’t hear it in the two days of Open Web Forum either.

The challenge is finding what you’re looking for.

For many problems developers face, there is software out there that solves it. It’s free for them to use, and they – being the enlightened developer they are, see “not invented here” as a good thing, because it means there is potentially a community behind it and a proven code base. BUT what if they can’t find this thing? For them, it may as well not exist.

This is more of a problem than we might imagine, because by now, a whole lot of open sourceage exists out there, and a modern developer ought to be assembling and configuring and tweaking, as much as they should be coding new stuff.

There are several reasons why search is a challenge: * InfoScatter – Open source is hosted in a zillion different places on the web, from one-off web pages (http://project.mahemoff.com/jquery-iframe/) to tight-knit focused communities (http://www.tigris.org/) to big communities (http://apache.org) to massive general-purpose repos (http://sourceforge.net http://code.google.com). * Articulation – It’s not always easy to articulate what you want in a simple Google search. I could imagine smarter search where you tell it the kind of code signatures or structures you expect to see, but I suspect we’re a long way off from the kind of AI required for that to work at scale. * Clutter – Too many results mean too much to search for. We need better ways to filter, for example excluding obsolete projects.

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