Jason Perlow, Director of Project Insights and Editorial Content at the Linux Foundation, spoke with Hilary Carter about Linux Foundation Research and how it will create better awareness of the work being done by open source projects and their communities.

JP: It’s great to have you here today, and also, welcome to the Linux Foundation. First, can you tell me a bit about yourself, where do you live, what your interests are outside work?

HC: Thank you! I’m a Toronto native, but I now live in a little suburban town called Aurora, just north of the city. Mike Meyers — a fellow Canadian — chose “Aurora, IL” for his setting of Wayne’s World, but he really named the town after Aurora, ON. I also spend a lot of time about 3 hours north of Aurora in the Haliburton Highlands, a region noted for its beautiful landscape of rocks, trees, and lakes — and it’s here where my husband and I have a log cabin. We ski, hike and paddle, with our kids, depending on the season. It’s an interesting location because we’re just a few kilometers north of the 45th parallel — and at the spring and fall equinox, the sun sets precisely in the west right off of our dock. At the winter and summer solstice, it’s 45 degrees to the south and north, respectively. It’s neat. As much as I have always been a bit obsessed with geolocation, I had never realized we were smack in the middle of the northern hemisphere until our kids’ use of Snapchat location filters brought it to our attention. Thank you, mobile apps! 

JP: And what organization are you joining us from?

HC: My previous role was Managing Director at the Blockchain Research Institute, where I helped launch and administer their research program in 2017. Over nearly four years, we produced more than 100 research projects that explored how blockchain technology — as the so-called Internet of value — was transforming all facets of society — at the government and enterprise-level as well as at the peer-to-peer level. We also explored how blockchain converged with other technologies like IoT, AI, additive manufacturing and how these developments would change traditional business models. It’s a program that is as broad as it is deep into a particular subject matter without being overly technical, and it was an absolutely fascinating and rewarding experience to be part of building that.

JP: Tell me a bit more about your academic background; what disciplines do you feel most influence your research approach? 

HC: I was a Political Studies major as an undergrad, which set the stage for my ongoing interest in geopolitical issues and how they influence the economy and society. I loved studying global political systems, international political economy, and supranational organizations and looking at the frameworks built for global collaboration to enable international peace and security under the Bretton Woods system. That program made me feel incredibly fortunate to have been born into a time of relative peace and prosperity, unlike generations before me.

I did my graduate studies in Management at the London School of Economics (LSE), and it was here that I came to learn about the role of technology in business. The technologies we were studying at the time were those that enabled real-time inventory. Advanced manufacturing was “the” hot technology of the mid-1990s, or so it seemed in class. I find it so interesting that the curriculum at the time did not quite reflect the technology that would profoundly and most immediately shape our world, and of course, that was the Web. In fairness, the digital economy was emerging slowly, then. Tasks like loading web pages still took a lot of time, so in a way, it’s understandable that the full extent of the web’s power did not make it into many of my academic lectures and texts. I believe academia is different today — and I’m thrilled to see the LSE at the forefront of new technology research, including blockchain, AI, robotics, big data, preparing students for a digital world.

JP: I did do some stalking of your LinkedIn profile; I see that you also have quite a bit of journalistic experience as well.

HC: I wish I could have had more! I was humbled when my first piece was published in Canada’s national newspaper. I had no formal training or portfolio of past writing to lend credibility to my authorship. Still, fortunately, after much persistence, the editor gave me a shot, and I’m forever grateful to her for that. I was inspired to write opinion pieces on the value of digital tools because I saw a gap that needed filling — and I was really determined to fill it. And the subject that inspired me was leadership around new technologies. I try to be a good storyteller and create something that educates and inspires all in one go. I suppose I come by a bit of that naturally. My father was an award-winning author in Canada, but his day job was Chief of Surgery at a hospital in downtown Toronto. He had a gift to take complex subject matter about diseases, such as cancer, and humanize the content by making it personal. I think that’s what makes writing about complex concepts “sticky.” When you believe that the author is, at some level, personally committed to their work and successful in setting the context for their subject matter to the world at large and do so in a way that creates action or additional thinking, then they’ve done a successful job. 

JP: Let’s try a tough existential question. Why do you feel that the Linux Foundation now needs a dedicated research and publications division? Is it an organizational maturity issue? Has open source gotten so widespread and pervasive that we need better metrics to understand these projects’ overall impact?

HC: Well, let me start by saying that I’m delighted that the LF has prioritized research as a new business unit. In my past role at the Blockchain Research Institute, it was clear that there was and still is a huge demand for research — the program kept growing because technologies continued to evolve, and there was no shortage of issues to cover. So I think the LF is tapping into a deep need for knowledge in the market at large and specific insights on open source ecosystems, in particular, to create greater awareness of incredible open source projects and inspire greater participation in them. There are also threats that we as a society — as human beings — need to deal with urgently. So the timing couldn’t be better to broaden the understanding of what is happening in open source communities, new tools to share knowledge, and encourage greater collaboration levels in open source projects. If we accomplish one thing, it will be to illustrate the global context for open source software development and why getting involved in these activities can create positive global change on so many levels. We want more brains in the game.

JP: So let’s dive right into the research itself. You mentioned your blockchain background and your previous role — I take it that this will have some influence on upcoming surveys and analysis? What is coming down the pike on the front?

HC: Blockchain as a technology has undoubtedly influenced my thinking about systems architecture and how research is conducted — both technological frameworks and the human communities that organize around them. Decentralization. Coordination. Transparency. Immutability. Privacy. These are all issues that have been front and center for me these past many years. Part of what I have learned about what makes good blockchain systems work comes from the right combination of great dependability and security with leadership, governance, and high mass collaboration levels. I believe those values transfer over readily to the work of the Linux Foundation and its community. I’m very much looking forward to learning about the many technology ecosystems beyond blockchain currently under the LF umbrella. I’m excited to discover what I imagine will be a new suite of technologies that are not yet part of our consciousness.

JP: What other LF projects and initiatives do you feel need to have deeper dives in understanding their impact besides blockchain? Last year, we published a contributor survey with Harvard. It reached many interesting conclusions about overall motivations for participation and potential areas for remediation or improvement in various organizations. Where do we go further in understanding supply chain security issues — are you working with the Harvard team on any of those things?

HC: The FOSS Contributor Survey was amazing, and there are more good things to come through our collaboration with the Laboratory of Innovation Science at Harvard. Security is a high-priority research issue, and yes, ongoing contributions to this effort from that team will be critical. You can definitely expect a project that dives deep into security issues in software supply chains in the wake of SolarWinds.

I’ve had excellent preliminary discussions with some executive team members about their wish-lists for projects that could become part of the LF Research program in terms of other content. We’ll hope to be as inclusive as we can, based on what our capacity allows. We look forward to exploring topics along industry verticals and technology horizontals, as well as looking at issues that don’t fall neatly into this framework, such as strategies to increase diversity in open source communities, or the role of governance and leadership as a factor in successful adoption of open source projects.

Ultimately, LF Research will have an agenda shaped not only from feedback from within the LF community but by the LF Research Advisory Board, a committee of LF members and other stakeholders who will help shape the agenda and provide support and feedback throughout the program. Through this collaborative effort, I’m confident that LF Research will add new value to our ecosystem and serve as a valuable resource for anyone wanting to learn more about open source software and the communities building it and help them make decisions accordingly. I’m looking forward to our first publications, which we expect out by mid-summer. And I’m most excited to lean on, learn from, and work with such an incredible team as I have found within the LF. Let’s do this!!!

JP: Awesome, Hilary. It was great having you for this talk, and I look forward to the first publications you have in store for us.

Linux Foundation Research will provide objective, decision-useful insights into the scope of open source collaboration

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – April 14, 2021 – The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source, today announced Linux Foundation Research, a new division that will broaden the understanding of open source projects, ecosystem dynamics, and impact, with never before seen insights on the efficacy of open source collaboration as a means to solve many of the world’s pressing problems. Through a series of research projects and related content, Linux Foundation Research will leverage the Linux Foundation’s vast repository of data, tools, and communities across industry verticals and technology horizontals. The methodology will apply quantitative and qualitative techniques to create an unprecedented knowledge network to benefit the global open source community, academia, and industry.

“As we continue in our mission to collectively build the world’s most critical open infrastructure, we can provide a first-of-its-kind research program that leverages the Linux Foundation’s experience, brings our communities together, and can help inform how open source evolves for decades to come,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director at the Linux Foundation. “As we have seen in our previous studies on supply chain security and FOSS contribution, research is an important way to measure the progress of both open source ecosystems and contributor trends. With a dedicated research organization, the Linux Foundation will be better equipped to draw out insights, trends, and context that will inform discussions and decisions around open collaboration.”

As part of the launch, the Linux Foundation is pleased to welcome Hilary Carter, VP Research, to lead this initiative. Hilary most recently led the development and publication of more than 100 enterprise-focused technology research projects for the Blockchain Research Institute. In addition to research project management, Hilary has authored, co-authored, and contributed to reports on blockchain in pandemics, government, enterprise, sustainability, and supply chains.

“The opportunity to measure, analyze, and describe the impact of open source collaborations in a more fulsome way through Linux Foundation Research is inspiring,” says Carter. “Whether we’re exploring the security of digital supply chains or new initiatives to better report on climate risk, the goal of LF Research is to enhance decision-making and encourage collaboration in a vast array of open source projects. It’s not enough to simply describe what’s taking place. It’s about getting to the heart of why open source community initiatives matter to all facets of our society, as a means to get more people — and more organizations — actively involved.”

Critical to the research initiative will be establishing the Linux Foundation Research Advisory Board, a rotating committee of community leaders and subject matter experts, who will collectively influence the program agenda and provide strategic input, oversight, and ongoing support on next-generation issues.

About the Linux Foundation

Founded in 2000, The Linux Foundation is supported by more than 1,000 members and is the world’s leading home for collaboration on open source software, open standards, open data, and open hardware. Linux Foundation projects are critical to the world’s infrastructure, including Linux, Kubernetes, Node.js, and more.  The Linux Foundation’s methodology focuses on leveraging best practices and addressing the needs of contributors, users, and solution providers to create sustainable models for open collaboration. For more information, please visit us at linuxfoundation.org.

The Linux Foundation has registered trademarks and uses trademarks. For a list of trademarks of The Linux Foundation, please see its trademark usage page: www.linuxfoundation.org/trademark-usage. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds.

Call For Code Logo

Over the past several decades farmers have been depending increasingly on groundwater to irrigate their crops due to climate change and reduced rainfall. Farmers, even in drought-prone areas, continue to need to grow water-intensive crops because these crops have a steady demand.

In 2019, as part of Call for Code, a team of IBMers came together and brainstormed on ideas they were passionate about – problems faced by farmers in developing countries due to more frequent drought conditions. The team designed an end-to-end solution that focuses on helping farmers gain insight into when to water their crops and help them optimize their water usage to grow healthy crops. This team, Liquid Prep, went on to win the IBM employee Call for Code Global Challenge. 

Liquid Prep provides a mobile application that can obtain soil moisture data from a portable soil moisture sensor, fetch weather information from The Weather Company, and access crop data through a service deployed on the IBM Cloud. Their solution brings all this data together, analyzes it, and computes watering guidance to help the farmer decide whether to water their crops right now or conserve it for a better time.

To validate the Liquid Prep prototype, in December 2019, one of the team members traveled to India and interviewed several farmers in the village Nuggehalli, which is near the town Hirisave in the Hassan district of Karnataka, India. The interviews taught the team that the farmers did not have detailed information on when they should water their specific crops and by how much, as they didn’t know the specific needs on a plant-by-plant basis. They also just let the water run freely if the water was available from a nearby source, like a river or stream, and some were entirely dependent on rainfall. The farmers expressed a great interest in the described Liquid Prep solution as it could empower them to make more informed decisions that could improve yields.

A prototype is born

After winning the challenge the Liquid Prep team took on the opportunity to convert the concept to a more complete prototype through an IBM Service Corps engagement. The team was expanded with dedicated IBM volunteers from across the company and they were assigned to optimize Liquid Prep from August through October 2020. During this time the team developed the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for the mobile solution.

The prototype consists of three primary components: 

  • A hardware sensor to measure soil moisture
  • A highly visual and easy-to-use mobile web application, and 
  • A back-end data service to power the app. 

It works like this: the mobile web application gets soil moisture data from the soil moisture sensor. The app requests environmental conditions from The Weather Company and crop data from the plant database via the backend service deployed on the IBM Cloud. The app analyzes and computes a watering schedule to help the farmer decide if they should water their crops now or at a later time. 

Partners

Liquid Prep has a developed a great working relationship with partners SmartCone Technologies, Inc., and Central New Mexico Community College. Students in the Deep Dive Coding Internet of Things (IoT) Bootcamp at CNM are designing, developing, and producing a robust IoT sensor and housing it in the shape of a stick that can be inserted into the soil and transfer the soil moisture data to the Liquid Prep mobile app via Bluetooth. The collaboration gives students important real-world experience before they enter the workforce.  

“SmartCone is honored to be part of this project.  This is a perfect example of technology teams working together to help make the world a better place, “ said Jason Lee, Founder & CEO, SmartCone Technologies Inc.

Additionally, Liquid Prep will work together with J&H Nixon Farms, who largely grow soybeans and corn crops on about 2800 acres of agricultural land in Ottawa, Canada. They have offered Liquid Prep the opportunity to pilot test the prototype on several plots of land that have different soil conditions, which in turn can expand the breadth of recommendation options to a larger number of potential users.

Now available as open source

Liquid Prep is now available as an open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation. The goal of the project is to help farmers globally farm their crops with the least amount of water by taking advantage of real-time information that can help improve sustainability and build resiliency to climate change.

Participation is welcomed from software developers, designers, testers, agronomists/agri experts/soil experts, IoT engineers, researchers, students, farmers, and others that can help improve the quality and value of the solution for small farmers around the world. Key areas the team are interested in developing include localizing the mobile app, considering soil properties for the improvement of the watering advice, updating project documentation, software and hardware testing, more in-depth research, and adding more crop data to the database.

Get involved in Liquid Prep now at Call For Code

Call For Code Logo

Today, the Linux Foundation announced that it would be adding Rend-o-matic to the list of Call for Code open source projects that it hosts. The Rend-o-matic technology was originally developed as part of the Choirless project during a Call for Code challenge as a way to enable musicians to jam together regardless of where they are. Initially developed to help musicians socially distance because of COVID 19, the application has many other benefits, including bringing together musicians from different parts of the world and allowing for multiple versions of a piece of music featuring various artist collaborations. The artificial intelligence powering Choirless ensures that the consolidated recording stays accurately synchronized even through long compositions, and this is just one of the pieces of software being released under the new Rend-o-matic project.

Developer Diaries – Uniting musicians with AI and IBM Cloud Functions

Created by a team of musically-inclined IBM developers, the Rend-o-matic project features a web-based interface that allows artists to record their individual segments via a laptop or phone. The individual segments are processed using acoustic analysis and AI to identify common patterns across multiple segments which are then automatically synced and output as a single track. Each musician can record on their own time in their own place with each new version of the song available as a fresh MP3 track. In order to scale the compute needed by the AI, the application uses IBM Cloud Functions in a serverless environment that can effortlessly scale up or down to meet demand without the need for additional infrastructure updates. Rend-o-matic is itself built upon open source technology, using Apache OpenWhisk, Apache CouchDB, Cloud Foundry, Docker, Python, Node.js, and FFmpeg. 

Since its creation, Choirless has been incubated and improved as a Call for Code project, with an enhanced algorithm, increased availability, real-time audio-level visualizations, and more. The solution has been released for testing, and as of January, users of the hosted Choirless service built upon the Rend-o-matic project – including school choirs, professional musicians, and bands – have recorded 2,740 individual parts forming 745 distinct performances.

Call for Code invites developers and problem-solvers around the world to build and contribute to sustainable, open source technology projects that address social and humanitarian issues while ensuring the top solutions are deployed to make a demonstrable difference.  Learn more about Call for Code. You can learn more about Rend-o-matic, sample the technology, and contribute back to the project at https://choirless.github.io/ 

Throughout the modern business era, industries and commercial operations have shifted substantially to digital processes. Whether you look at EDI as a means to exchange invoices or cloud-based billing and payment solutions today, businesses have steadily been moving towards increasing digital operations. In the last few years, we’ve seen the promises of digital transformation come alive, particularly in industries that have shifted to software-defined models. The next step of this journey will involve enabling digital transactions through decentralized networks. 

A fundamental adoption issue will be figuring out who controls and decides how a decentralized network is governed. It may seem oxymoronic at first, but decentralized networks still need governance. A future may hold autonomously self-governing decentralized networks, but this model is not accepted in industries today. The governance challenge with a decentralized network technology lies in who and how participants in a network will establish and maintain policies, network operations, on/offboarding of participants, setting fees, configurations, and software changes and are among the issues that will have to be decided to achieve a successful network. No company wants to participate or take a dependency on a network that is controlled or run by a competitor, potential competitor, or any single stakeholder at all for that matter. 

Earlier this year, we presented a solution for Open Governance Networks that enable an industry or ecosystem to govern itself in an open, inclusive, neutral, and participatory model. You may be surprised to learn that it’s based on best practices in open governance we’ve developed over decades of facilitating the world’s most successful and competitive open source projects.

The Challenge

For the last few years, a running technology joke has been “describe your problem, and someone will tell you blockchain is the solution.” There have been many other concerns raised and confusion created, as overnight headlines hyped cryptocurrency schemes. Despite all this, behind the scenes, and all along, sophisticated companies understood a distributed ledger technology would be a powerful enabler for tackling complex challenges in an industry, or even a section of an industry. 

At the Linux Foundation, we focused on enabling those organizations to collaborate on open source enterprise blockchain technologies within our Hyperledger community. That community has driven collaboration on every aspect of enterprise blockchain technology, including identity, security, and transparency. Like other Linux Foundation projects, these enterprise blockchain communities are open, collaborative efforts. We have had many vertical industry participants engage, from retail, automotive, aerospace, banking, and others participate with real industry challenges they needed to solve. And in this subset of cases, enterprise blockchain is the answer.

The technology is ready. Enterprise blockchain has been through many proof-of-concept implementations, and we’ve already seen that many organizations have shifted to production deployments. A few notable examples are:

  • Trust Your Supplier Network 25 major corporate members from Anheuser-Busch InBev to UPS In production since September 2019. 
  • Foodtrust Launched Aug 2017 with ten members, now being used by all major retailers. 
  • Honeywell 50 vendors with storefronts in the new marketplace. In its first year, GoDirect Trade processed more than $5 million in online transactions.

However, just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we have the appropriate conditions to solve adoption challenges. A certain set of challenges about networks’ governance have become a “last mile” problem for industry adoption. While there are many examples of successful production deployments and multi-stakeholder engagements for commercial enterprise blockchains already, specific adoption scenarios have been halted over uncertainty, or mistrust, over who and how a blockchain network will be governed. 

To precisely state the issue, in many situations, company A does not want to be dependent on, or trust, company B to control a network. For specific solutions that require broad industry participation to succeed, you can name any industry, and there will be company A and company B. 

We think the solution to this challenge will be Open Governance Networks.

The Linux Foundation vision of the Open Governance Network

An Open Governance Network is a distributed ledger service, composed of nodes, operated under the policies and directions of an inclusive set of industry stakeholders. 

Open Governance Networks will set the policies and rules for participation in a decentralized ledger network that acts as an industry utility for transactions and data sharing among participants that have permissions on the network. The Open Governance Network model allows any organization to participate. Those organizations that want to be active in sharing the operational costs will benefit from having a representative say in the policies and rules for the network itself. The software underlying the Open Governance Network will be open source software, including the configurations and build tools so that anyone can validate whether a network node complies with the appropriate policies.

Many who have worked with the Linux Foundation will realize an open, neutral, and participatory governance model under a nonprofit structure that has already been thriving for decades in successful open source software communities. All we’re doing here is taking the same core principles of what makes open governance work for open source software, open standards, and open collaboration and applying those principles to managing a distributed ledger. This is a model that the Linux Foundation has used successfully in other communities, such as the Let’s Encrypt certificate authority.

Our ecosystem members trust the Linux Foundation to help solve this last mile problem using open governance under a neutral nonprofit entity. This is one solution to the concerns about neutrality and distributed control. In pan-industry use cases, it is generally not acceptable for one participant in the network to have power in any way that could be used as an advantage over someone else in the industry.  The control of a ledger is a valuable asset, and competitive organizations generally have concerns in allowing one entity to control this asset. If not hosted in a neutral environment for the community’s benefit, network control can become a leverage point over network users.  

We see this neutrality of control challenge as the primary reason why some privately held networks have struggled to gain widespread adoption. In order to encourage participation, industry leaders are looking for a neutral governance structure, and the Linux Foundation has proven the open governance models accomplish that exceptionally well.

This neutrality of control issue is very similar to the rationale for public utilities. Because the economic model mirrors a public utility, we debated calling these “industry utility networks.” In our conversations, we have learned industry participants are open to sharing the cost burden to stand up and maintain a utility. Still, they want a low-cost, not profit-maximizing model. That is why our nonprofit model makes the most sense.

It’s also not a public utility in that each network we foresee today would be restricted in participation to those who have a stake in the network, not any random person in the world. There’s a layer of human trust that our communities have been enabling on top of distributed networks, which started with the Trust over IP Foundation

Unlike public cryptocurrency networks where anyone can view the ledger or submit proposed transactions, industries have a natural need to limit access to legitimate parties in their industry. With minor adjustments to address the need for policies for transactions on the network, we believe a similar governance model applied to distributed ledger ecosystems can resolve concerns about the neutrality of control. 

Understanding LF Open Governance Networks

Open Governance Networks can be reduced to the following building block components:

  • Business Governance: Networks need a decision-making body to establish core policies (e.g., network policies), make funding and budget decisions, contracting with a network manager, and other business matters necessary for the network’s success. The Linux Foundation establishes a governing board to manage the business governance.
  • Technical Governance: Networks will require software. A technical open source community will openly maintain the software, specifications, or configuration decisions implemented by the network nodes. The Linux Foundation establishes a technical steering committee to oversee technical projects, configurations, working groups, etc.
  • Transaction Entity: Networks will require a transaction entity that will a) act as counterparty to agreements with parties transacting on the network, b) collect fees from participants, and c) execute contracts for operational support (e.g., hiring a network manager).

Of these building blocks, the Linux Foundation already offers its communities the Business and Technical Governance needed for Open Governance Networks. The final component is the new, LF Open Governance Networks. 

LF Open Governance Networks will enable our communities to establish their own Open Governance Network and have an entity to process agreements and collect transaction fees. This new entity is a Delaware nonprofit, a nonstock corporation that will maximize utility and not profit. Through agreements with the Linux Foundation, LF Governance Networks will be available to Open Governance Networks hosted at the Linux Foundation. 

If you’re interested in learning more about hosting an Open Governance Network at the Linux Foundation, please contact us at governancenetworks@linuxfoundation.org

Click here to read the January 2021 Linux Foundation Newsletter