Community Participation Blog Post
My participation in the Free Law Project community has been very slow. Brian is extremely busy throughout the week, but he is able to answer the most pressing questions I have every week or so. I also don't hear much from other members of our development team because they are individually working on their contributions. Brian, Michael, and I have been going off the record for a lot of our UI-based conversations because the mailing list has so many people on it. For this reason, a lot of my contributions can't be seen when looking at the Mailing List/Development Archive (check mockups below). We are also looking for ways to gain a competitive edge in the very dated archival and retrieval industry. Our website is cleaner, more efficient, and free. I was thinking it may not be in our best interest to talk about developments in public. They will see our improvements when we release them. I probably shouldn't be worrying about our competitors, though.
Since our expertise is necessary to the project, I feel like we have a certain amount of domain authority and influence. Contributors are free to change things and be creative, with Michael and Brian having the final word on what goes live. We don't have an organizational structure. In Freeman's "Tyranny of Structurelessness," we are reminded that any group that comes together will "inevitably structure itself in some fashion." While we have not formally structured ourselves into captains or team leaders, we are still efficiently chugging along. Since we are all pursuing our separate development goals, we rarely clash or argue. Michael is also extremely responsive and open to suggestions. He's a team player that wants to do whatever he can to make users happy. I'm curious to see how he compares to leaders of other projects in this course.
I also have to ask myself-- what's in it for me? Do I really want to change the face of law research? Probably not. I deem it worthwhile because it contributes to U.C. Berkeley's body of work. I want the system to be robust because it is a reflection of my skills. For many contributors to the Free Law Project and CourtListener, I believe the same is true. They are from all around the world, and their affiliation with our institution is nothing but positive for their careers. The Shah reading on motivation and governance talks about reciprocity, puzzle solving, future proofing, and career concerns as reasons for open source collaboration. We definitely need to get something back for our participation. Thinking about it in Shah's perspective makes us appear selfish; but I'd rather admit my intentions than fake altruism. It's only fair-- some open source projects pay developers and staff members.
At the end of the day, I am staying up until 2AM so that I can improve Court Listener and be acknowledged for it. I don't think anyone is 100% altruistic or self-absorbed. They all need to worry about their education and careers. It would be unfair to ask for someone to do pro-bono work if they weren't in a position to do it. The exchange must be reciprocal to make any economic sense. I've felt the pressure of looming deadlines from Michael and Brian, and I have 17 other units to worry about too. I am happy that Michael and Brian understand that we are students with busy schedules. Despite this, I still don't want to let them down.
added Comments Thomas 11/6/2013 (see commit description)