Inside VPR's Open Source Initiative
While writing this post to announce the open sourcing of the Vermont map used in the Mapping the Money project, Tim Johnson brought to my attention that the average reader of the VPR Blog might not have any idea what "open source" even meant. Given that the map marks VPR's first contribution to the open source community, it seems like the opportune time to explain the concept as well as VPR's intended role as an open source contributor.
Traditional Software vs. Open Source
In the traditional model of software distribution, the organization that wrote the software "owned it" and could then package it and sell it, and that would be the end of the line. In this model, if a company produced a tool like the Vermont map mentioned above, they would keep the code for internal use and it would be considered proprietary.
The open source model, by contrast, is about sharing. The software is offered for free and can be modified or even reproduced exactly. The primary beneficiary of open sourcing is the code itself, as it allows for other developers to look under the hood and even offer improvements to the code, making writing software a more collaborative effort and increasing the quality of the code.
VPR's Role in the Open Source Community
During my brief tenure at VPR, we've already taken advantage of a number of open source projects. For Mapping the Money alone we've leveraged projects such as Twitter Bootstrap, a tool that makes designing websites and applications easier, and have used open data published by the Vermont Center for Geographic Information to build the map that we are now open sourcing ourselves.
As a beneficiary of the open source community, it seems natural that VPR should give back too. With the open sourcing of our Vermont map, we've taken our first step in sharing the technologies that we use to create our news apps. We'll continue to open source relevant projects and will occasionally provide commentary on how we've executed a particular news app in an effort to flatten the learning curve for creating similar projects.