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by Tony Chang

All opinions on this site are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Creative Commons Attribution License

open source catastrophe

Sep 09, 2005, 03:23am EDT



I’ve been following the developments of the Katrina People Finder Project on their mailing lists and IRC channels. I’ve tried to help where I can, although with questionable effectiveness (largely my own fault). It’s been a whirlwind of activity the past few days and things are starting to settle down a bit, now that Microsoft is taking charge.

Looking back, I have to agree with Ping that this has been an organizational catastrophe. The mailing list is filled with confusion about who should scrape which sites, where data should be entered, and how data should be formatted. This is largely because email is a poor way to create and assign tasks; it’s slow and hard for people who join later to get up to speed. Many messages were sent re-explaining what was going on to new subscribers.

Assigning tasks was also difficult because it was hard to keep track of who was working on what task. Sometimes people would volunteer for a task and then disappear for a day or two with little feedback to the outside world that progress was being made. Task management improved over time as leaders emerged from the group and as the wiki was used more. Unfortunately, it takes time for people to become comfortable with using a wiki as a communication medium.

In the end, a fair amount was accomplished (about 100,000 records consolidated) and given that open source development involves prerequisite knowledge (wikis, IRC), that’s not too bad.