Archive for February, 2008

GHOP winners announced – but where are the girls?

Google’s Highly Open Participation competition for pre-university students is a great thing – it’s encouraging them to get into tech, and specifically to get into open source tech. They deliberately designed it to allow many, many different ways of contributing, not just hard coding. It was set up to encourage the competitors to actively communicate and participate with the open source communities on the projects they were working on – in the hopes that they’d stay on as contributors to those projects once the competition ended. For all these reasons it’s a great scheme.

But I was so disappointed to see yesterday, when the 10 grand prize winners were announced, that there was not one girl amongst them. This is difficult to express because I don’t at all want to detract from the boys who won.

I bet that Google is as disappointed about this as I am – they are aware that creating diverse computing projects capable of catering to an entire planet of users needs a diverse community behind it. And if we wish to attract the best and brightest to computing, we need to figure out why we’re attracting so few women.

I suspect and hope that Google will be looking at the GHOP competition and program mechanics, the community projects they worked with, and the way GHOP was promoted to see if they can spot any reasons why girls were under-represented in the top 10. Perhaps, too, they’ll release the full stats on participation and we’ll find that there was a sizable representation of girls, but that the 10 best contributors happened to be the boys who won. This at least would indicate that the program is getting girls involved.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered a copy of She’s Such a Geek,  to remind myself that women are everywhere in tech. And I hope that next year we’ll see a few happy geek girls on the Googleplex tour after winning GHOP.

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Linux, we have a PR problem

After the euphoria had settled down, I decided to write an opinion piece on the barriers which open source is facing in the market. Hint, it’s not technical – it’s plain old PR that’s holding it back.

You can read the full piece at ITNews:

Linux, we have a PR problem

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2008: The year of the content filter

 Kimberlee Weatherall is an IP expert who spoke at to give an update of the year in cyberlaw. Her tips include the opinion that the campaign to kill off software patents has stalled, that DRM won’t be dead until movies and pay TV join the music industry in dumping it, and that 2008 will be the year that copyright warriors sets their sights on ISPs.

She warned that the current Government’s plan to bring in mandatory ISP-level internet filters will probably go ahead despite the problems associated with putting it into practise, because “Governments want to be seen to be looking after the children.”

I wrote the story up for ITNews and you can read it here:

2008: The Year of the Content Filter 

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Census preview: Open source workers earn more

Pia and Jeff Waugh gave a sneak preview of the results from the first Australian Open Source Industry and Community Census at on Friday. They haven’t finished work on the results – the full report will be out in March – but the tidbits they shared were interesting.

Fifty-six percent of the respondents said they are hobbyists who aren’t paid to do open source on the job. 24% work with some FOSS on the job. But here’s where it gets really interesting – full time open source workers are earning more.

10% of respondents who were working full time on open source were paid more than those working with some or no FOSS at all on the job.

The census also noted a large disparity in the pay of men and women across the board, which is disappointing news, although in some positive news, 7% of the female respondents were involved with FOSS – higher than reported in previous global studies.

You can read the full story I wrote for IT news here:

Australian open source workers earn more

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Gina Trapani on 'Crowdsourcing a better Gmail'

Gina Trapani is well known for her work as the Editor of Lifehacker US – I met her when I became the Editor of the Australian version, Lifehacker AU.

Lifehacker publishes tech tips, tricks and hacks – and is known for favouring FOSS apps over paid ones. It also features apps written by the Lifehacker team itself. Probably the best known of these apps is Better Gmail – a Firefox extension rooted in the Greasemonkey code base, which aggregates a number of Gmail-related user scripts into a single interface.

Gina recently gave a talk at the Web Directions North conference in Canada in which she told the very cool story of how Better Gmail came into being. She called it “Crowdsourcing a better Gmail“. In Gina’s words: “Suddenly I found myself leading a distributed software project that involved dozens of developers without even intending to! ”

She’s kindly made the transcript of her talk available through Lifehacker, and I highly recommend you read it for an insight into how an idea to use Greasemonkey to create a Firefox extension turned into a “crowdsourced” open source development project which involved liaising with developers across the world – including Google itself. The app ended up translated into over 20 different languages, thanks to the efforts of FOSS volunteers worldwide. Incidentally, the talk also makes the point that APIs are so important – kudos to Google for releasing a GMail API suitable for use with Greasemonkey to encourage open source development with its product.

Congratulations to Gina, and thank you for sharing this very interesting insight into open source community development and community management!

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One Laptop Per Child on its way to Australia

The One Laptop Per Child initiative, a charity which is attempting to create and distribute educational laptops to disadvantaged children, is on its way to Australia. OLPC Australia was unveiled at the open source conference this week.

The Australian group is still being put together, but organiser Pia Waugh said its goals will be to get the OLPC XO laptops out to disadvantaged children across Australia – particularly in remote and rural areas.

Although the OLPC’s XO laptop was designed to be used as a beginners computer, it has become a cool, low cost laptop favoured by geeks – as proved by the number of LCA attendees carrying them around this week.

The local OLPC chapter will be selling XOs to the public, although it’s expected they’ll be sold in small batches  of five units or so, rather than one at a time.

The website for the group isn’t live yet, but should be up in about 2 weeks at

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Python 3.0: Breaking the snake

Python release manager Anthony Baxter gave the only Australian keynote speech at this morning. He laid out the roadmap for Python leading up to the release of Python 3.0 which will be backwards *incompatible*. I wrote the story up for ITNews and you can read it here.

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Google's Summer of Code program heads down under

Some exciting news is on the way from Google – it looks like they’ll be announcing a southern hemisphere version of their Summer of Code program for uni students. This will mean that Australian uni students will have access to the program during their summer holidays. I wrote the story up for ITNews, and you can read it here.

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