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Open source on campus: The Stanford Open Source Lab


Over the last few months, open source has gained momentum at Stanford University in the form of the Stanford Open Source Lab. Inspired by groups like the Free Software Foundation, Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab, Drupal, Openflows Community Technology Lab, and MIT’s Open Course Ware, a few people at Stanford decided to band together and dedicate their time and energies to the development of free/open/libre learning and knowledge resources. The vision of the Open Source Lab is to be a nexus on campus for the discussion, advocacy, and technical support of community-based technologies and information systems.

Henrik Bennetsen, James Jacobs, and Shinjoung Yeo had been active in various new technology groups on campus, including the Drupal Users Group, Technology Commons, and Stanford Linux Users Group. They were motivated to help Stanford reach the goal stated in its Research Policy Handbook’s “Openness in Research” document:

Expresses Stanford’s commitment to openness in research; defines and prohibits secrecy, including limitations on publishability of results; specifies certain circumstances which are acceptable under this policy.

But the open source movement at Stanford has until now faced what many groups encounter in the constantly changing university atmosphere—plenty of interest, low effort. So the three founded the Open Source Lab hoping to change that by unifying the silos of interest across campus.

Bennetsen says, “The ‘movement’ has coalesced around a few vibrant communities. The application of Drupal CMS brought me into contact with many of the other technology groups: The Academic Technology Specialists and their Tech Commons documentation site, The Stanford Linux Users Group, the Stanford IT Services group. There are other small but active interest groups as well, such as video/multimedia and web development groups. Our first OSL meeting was attended by faculty from Computer Science and Education, some students as well as technology support staff from many areas in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and law.”

The OSL’s first steps have been to establish a wiki to facilitate member collaboration and a mailing list for sharing information with those who can’t make it to the meetings. They’ve also recorded the two workshops they’ve held and published the videos online. (See links at the end of this article to watch.) The group has held three meetings and two workshops since an initial planning meeting November 6, 2007, and they’re seeing 30-40 people at each meeting.

James Jacobs, International Documents Librarian in Stanford’s Green Library, was interested in the group for reasons that are as much philosophical as technological. As he puts it, “The ideals of the Library intersect closely with those of the open source community. That is, the free flow of and access to information, support by and of a community of interest, open standards, and the necessity for a growing and vibrant public domain to further the goals and interests of the community. Those ideals as well as the example of OSU’s Open Source Lab, led me to the idea of supporting open source at Stanford.”

For the near future, the group plans to hold barcamps and other workshops and to host speakers from open source projects. Ultimately, though, they would like for the OSL to be an actual, physical place with dedicated staff where the Stanford community can gather to share information, provide documentation and assistance, and be a project base connecting those with technology skills and interest to those in need of assistance.

We asked the group if they had any suggestions for people at other schools interested in starting similar groups. Here’s what they told us:

We started out of a little suspicion that this was an idea whose time had come. One of the indications was the increasing interest in open source software packages like Drupal and the active user groups that emerged around them. Software packages often require customization to work within our infrastructure and obviously integration is a lot easier (and sometimes only possible) when the software is open.

We would say to others to just go for it, you may be surprised at the response you get. Seek out user groups of open source software (Linux User Groups, for example) and see if they are interested in contributing to a group with a broader focus.

Already part of such a group? Tell us about it in the comments.



Thank you to the following OSL members for contributing to this article:

  • Henrik Bennetsen, Research Director, Stanford Humanities Lab
  • Thomas Carlson, System Administrator at the Haas Center for Public Service
  • James Jacobs, International Documents Librarian, Green Library
  • Marco Wise, Senior Web Developer, IT Services

6 responses to “Open source on campus: The Stanford Open Source Lab”

  1. anand singh says:

    i m too impresed by this os. thanks

  2. Manmay Hota says:

    I am really interested to work with a open source group.
    But not getting the proper channel.

  3. jame says:

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  4. jame says:

    I am really interested to work with a open source group.
    But not getting the proper channel.

  5. Rajeev Kumar says:

    it is really nice

  6. Chris S says:

    Firstly let me apologise if this is completely the wrong forum for this thread. I’m looking to bring a new project to everyones attention. Essentially its an Open Source energy project. An American called John Aarons has been reverse engineering the work of a fellow American from the 80’s called Stan Meyers (some of you may be familiar with his work). Anyway to cut a long story short he seems to have succeeded.

    The difference is that ALL his efforts , his thoughts , his plans his ideas have been freely published and are online for everyone to copy and use as they chose fit.

    Aarons has created an efficent electolysis process that can generate hydrogen and oxygen in enough measures to help power a car.

    His first unit has been installed and his first run generated an improvement in efficiency of 20% !

    I have spoken to John and he seems happy to let this go open source. So I am looking for people to help with making this happen. I’ve never been involved with the open source community in any way apart from using some versions of linux etc so don’t have the faintest idea where to begin.

    John is trying to improve the performance so that ultimately he reduces’ to a minimum or does away completely with oil based fuels.

    I don’t need to tell you the importance of this technology if we can all run our cars homes boats …. whatever off water. No more wars over oil no more begging to failed states etc etc etc……

    if you want to know more about it you can go to Youtube and type in Hydrogen tap alternatively follow this link http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=johnaarons

    I will be attempting to set up a wiki site soon, but the more people know about this before the authorities try and clamp down on it the better.

    Finally just to let you know there already is a small following there are a few hundred people who regularly tune into the updates and we are getting results in replicating the technology. However It needs to gain a critical mass of people to ensure the information is n’t snuffed out and the only way I can think of doing this is to get the Open Source community involved.

    Please Please Please spare a few mins to have a look at this especially if you have any experience in mechanics or engineering.

    Thanks very much

    Chris S