Free Law Project Governance Model
The Free Law Project community makes tough decisions by casual consensus. This is because each member of the research and development team is vetted by Professor Carver. Regarding interface work and contributing scrapers to the search platform, Brian has been very open to changes because they are necessary to the improvement of the platform. It's like free labor. This is an advantage of the small and tightly knit community, which is comprised of university and graduate students. Michael Lissner, the creator and developer will also answer questions very quickly and thoroughly. He is extremely passionate about the project, and is knowledgeable and flexible enough to implement mockups and play around with code himself. This is something I appreciate as a contributor because I get instant feedback and encouragement.
The project got to be this way because it has been a collaborative effort between Brian and Michael since the start. It was started as a research platform, and designed to simplify the search and discovery process. There are no benevolent dictators, tyrants, and captains or managers-- everyone is equally important to the development of the platform and contributing data. This lack of a governance model is essential to the growth of the project.
(Another member of our course is contributing to the Free Law Project, and his contributions went live last week. My user interface additions were integrated a few weeks ago, and we are currently discussing new navigation bars and filtering mechanisms)
Power Dynamics of Free Law Project
There are no hidden power dynamics in the Free Law Project. Everything is transparent: the code is public and the 3.8GB case corpus is free to use. Our project contributes to other research projects, companies, and platforms; so everyone benefits. Everyone on the team contributes in their own way. Some are not even website contributions (academic research and conceptual prototypes), so we may never see or hear about them. We do, however, know that all contributions are given to Michael for integration and then Brian for review before going live.
The social organization of the Free Law Project is quintessential. I don't believe you can improve upon a small team that regularly communicates and encourages each other. Seeing our changes on the website gives us a sense of ownership, which I believe determines the fate of any open source project. When people don't receive monetary reward, they need this satisfaction and confirmation that they are appreciated. At some point, the team may grow to dozens of people, but that likely won't happen unless we have a viable business model that requires more developers and sales staff to maintain. Facebook was a one-man show for a long time until Zuckerberg needed the additional expertise in law, business, and other cultures. I don't believe our project requires more developers because the law corpus doesn't grow as quickly as social network users.
added Comments Thomas 11/6/2013 (see commit description)