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Memoirs of a Community Cat

Presented at the GeoRabble forum. Actually, a bit more than that - also how to tap into, and coordinate the expertise of hundreds of world leading developers, packagers, technical writers, project managers, marketers, translators and educators. And have all these people volunteer their time for free. Because we have actually done all this - in building the OSGeo-Live project. At its core, OSGeo-Live is a DVD pre-configured with close to 50 geospatial Open Source applications, along with accompanying data and documentation, available in multiple languages.

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It is used in workshops and is handed out at conferences all around the world. I think I'm safe in claiming that OSGeo-Live has grown into a highly successful project, and that we have a learned a number of key lessons worth sharing. The FOSS4G conference provides an attractive international marketing pipeline that we could offer projects. We laid out a very clear vision of our target deliverable - namely a stable release of Open Source and accompanying marketing documentation. This clear and simple goal helped us many times by providing a framework to test the multitude of decisions that are inevitably encountered in such a project.

The process of building our first version of OSGeo-Live involved installing geospatial applications on a base ubuntu distribution. We followed install instructions, configured applications, resolved dependencies and conflicts, asked questions on email lists, and finally, after much hard work, we produced our first release for the FOSS4G conference. This was a very important first step as it showed that we had the commitment to follow through and deliver.

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However, it also highlighted a number of our failings. We had followed a fully manual install process, so when the next ubuntu release came out, we had to start the installation process again, from scratch. This was completely unsustainable. We needed to automate the install process, and we needed projects to show us how. But our first calls for help from projects was embarrassingly underwhelming. You see, the perceived learning curve for a developer to learn the intricacies of packaging was considered unacceptably high and volunteers were not stepping up. To fix this, we got one of our packagers to write an example install script along with clear, step-by-step instructions.

We then went back to developers with the message of "if you can spend a couple of hours writing a short install script which looks like this, then we will market your application on the OSGeo-Live DVD". And this worked! We followed the same process with documentation, as our first round of documentation was mostly written by developers and as such was quite We then asked projects to write the documentation, and the technical writer followed up with documentation reviews, then all the documents went through our publishing pipeline in order to produce consistent, quality material.

Another key to our success is that OSGeo-Live doesn't provide free rides for projects. If a project's community doesn't write installers and documentation, then they don't gain the marketing value of OSGeo-Live. This creates the business incentive for projects to help. It also frees up the core OSGeo-Live team to support a multitude of projects.

And by multitude, I mean 50 odd, and 70 odd volunteers, which becomes a project management challenge for a flat organisation structure like ours. Dewey, a friendly fur-ball found in a returned books slot at the library in Spencer, Iowa, was adopted by Myron, the library director. He became an international celebrity before his death, aged 18, in November Meryl Streep is set to play the author in a film version of the cat's life.

The Gulf War veteran Allen Parton was embittered by his injuries, which left him unable to walk, talk or write — until he bonded with Endal, a young Labrador who'd failed his training as a disability assistance dog. Of course, there have been highly successful animal-themed novels in the past, but the bestseller lists are new territory for non-fiction family pets. That was about the relationship between a horse and a girl, and how they could rescue one another.

The trend isn't exactly new, but it's turning up in slightly different guises now, and there's a lot more of it about than there was 10 years ago.

Grooming traps

There has been a book about a tortoise. There's even one about hedgehogs I'm hoping that pet memoirs will replace misery memoirs on the bestseller lists. Maybe animals are going to cheer us all up. There are signs that this may, indeed, be the case. But, as pet-lit proves, life lessons needn't be delivered in such a harsh fashion. Animals are exemplary guides to being human. Dewey, Myron says, "didn't care what you looked like, what you smelt like, what colour you were, how much money you had. If you wanted to cuddle, so did he. As Pen Farthing discovered when he travelled to Afghanistan to work with the country's canine population, bonding with a pet is a universal experience.

In his new book, One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Helmand, he describes how, after British soldiers befriended stray dogs and took them on patrol, they found the locals far more responsive and sympathetic. In such serious times, it may seem frivolous to be buying books about Labradors, but, says Grogan, "the human heart is large and complex and, if anything, I think having a pet makes us better humans — more empathetic, kinder, more generous-spirited and responsible.

It enhances the human experience, rather than detracts from it. I don't think it's frivolous at all. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?

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