[Squeakfoundation]SqF purpose: supporting the Squeak community?

Paul Fernhout squeakfoundation@lists.squeakfoundation.org
Sat, 26 May 2001 14:25:44 -0400


On reflection, as I try to reconcile Andreas Raab's perspective with my
own perspective, I wonder if we are both looking at the Squeak
Foundation statement of purpose through the wrong end of the telescope.

That is, we are both looking inwards to discussing purposes and projects
to support "Squeak the artifact" as opposed to looking outwards to
purposes and projects to support "Squeak the community".  The two are
naturally related, but the choice of perspective might have a profound
influence on how we all think about the Squeak Foundation, as well as
how the Squeak Foundation carries out its operations and sets its

We could switch the SqF purpose to a "community" focused one about
"supporting Squeak community processes" instead of a "code" or "content"
focused one about "supporting Squeak technical artifact handling". Such
a shift in focus might allow the Squeak Foundation to better view and
handle issues related to conflicts between pink plane (present) and blue
plane (future) Squeak activities.

Perhaps one of the reasons we have not been thinking this way so far is
that many generous individuals in the Squeak community have on their own
(or through allied institutions) already created and maintained mailing
lists, Wikis, and Web servers related to Squeak. They have done this so
well, and for so long, and with such enthusiasm, that we have come to
take for granted the fundamental community infrastructure behind the
Squeak phenomena. The social and technical infrastructure underlying the
Squeak community has become invisible (except perhaps to the actual
providers of it). Yet, there still remain rough edges, for example with
the Wiki technical infrastructure as Simon Michael pointed out on 25 May
2001. This example shows the potential benefit of an organization
dedicated to among other things ensuring reliable community services
(with more resources at its disposal than that of, say, an individual at
a university). This would be especially true if the Squeak community
should suddenly grow immensely in response to a sudden breakthrough
release or even just experience sustained exponential growth through
word of mouth.

How would this shift in perspective change the wording of the purpose?

Here is the current purpose showing an artifact focus:
: The Squeak Foundation's purpose is: 
: To assist in the evolution of Squeak into its ultimate expression 
: as an exquisite personal and collaborative computing environment 
: that is open, well supported, and freely available 
: across the great majority of modern platforms and operating systems.

Here is a purpose with more of a community focus:
: The Squeak Foundation's purpose is: 
: To support the vitality and evolution of a chaordic community
: creating, maintaining, enhancing, discussing, and using 
: an exquisite personal and collaborative computing ecosystem 
: of tools, components, infrastructure, knowledge, and content 
: derived from or inspired by Squeak or Dynabook technology 
: which are open, well supported, and freely available 
: and make use of ever increasing computing power for humane ends.

For me, this purpose passes the test of:
  'If we could achieve that, my life would have meaning.'

Of course, this purpose isn't exactly achievable because it is more a
process of ongoing activity than a realizable goal. But that's a minor
quibble, and for me it defines a direction worth striving towards.

As a shorthand, one can abbreviate this entire purpose in casual
conversation as: 
  "To support the Squeak community and its computing ecosystem."
However, I think the longer formal definition is needed for detailed
long-range decision making, and should be part of a related non-profit's
legal charter.

One could think of SqF as the VM underlying the Squeak community. Note
that under this new purpose, the Squeak Foundation itself might not be
chaordic at first even if it supports chaordic processes in the larger
Squeak community (although I think it should be nonetheless, to preserve
accountability to the community). It also presumes -- I think correctly
-- that what is going on already with the Squeak mailing list community
and current development processes is to a large extent chaordic in the
way it is self-organizing. Also note the principles discussed on the
list before could remain pretty much as they are now.

I added the last clause in the purpose in part related to the recent
comment I made on the Squeak list about Squeak file seek primitives
needing to support 64 bit offsets, given IBM's announcement of 400GB
desktop drives likely in the next couple of years. Moore's law and
related trends mean computers at the same cost will be about 1000x
faster and bigger for the same cost in somewhat over ten years, and
about 1,000,000X faster in about twenty to thirty years. Alan Kay's
Dynabook concept was in part envisioned assuming this trend. Ten to
twenty years is easily the lifetime of any foundation, and I think the
exponential aspect of the current computer technology situation should
be explicitly taken into account in our plans.

I wanted to include the terms "humane ends" 
and Alan Kay's "Dynabook technology" 
because, for me, this purpose then also takes on some aspects of Doug
Englebart's Augment vision to improve humanity's ability to collaborate
using computers [to solve pressing world problems] 
as well as including some aspects from the Theodore Sturgeon short story
"The Skills of Xanadu". 

I'd put Doug Englebart's "Augment" in explicitly in the purpose as in
"Squeak, Dynabook, or Augment technology" if it would fly with people on
this list. Augment-like technology is implicit in where the Squeak
community is heading now with Nebraska. I feel the Augment collaboration
ideal will only grow in prominence in Squeak as time goes by. When asked
recently how the web could be made better, Alan Kay cited Doug
Engelbart's 1968 Augment work, so I think there is some synergy there as
Squeak moves into supplying more web services. In a way, all the
concrete SqF projects Andreas Raab outlined on 25 May 2001 from faqs to
web indexes are in effect collaborative Augment type projects.

Kay, Engelbart, Sturgeon (and others like Vannevar Bush
or Ted Nelson)
all had key visions of a hopeful future using computing around the 1950s
and 1960s. A missing piece of these visions was the free software
(Richard Stallman) 
or open source models (Eric Raymond). 
Free implementations of the still relevant parts of these visions done
using Squeak can help steer computing to what I feel is the better end
of the possible spectrum -- as far as helping humanity survive with
style the upcoming "Singularity" related to the exponential growth of
computing capacity foreseen by Vernor Vinge.

What sorts of concrete projects would fit under this purpose? Certainly
all the ones Andreas listed, as well as any of the other ones mentioned
so far on this list. In short, anything that would benefit the Squeak
community would be possible, which would in many cases include projects
directly benefiting the development of Squeak related artifacts.

These projects could include:
* coordinating one or more mainline Squeak releases,
* strategic investments to get over hurdles hindering collaboration
(whether involving handling licenses, underwriting development, or
managing complexity),
* rewriting a license for a version of Squeak without fonts,
* negotiating with Apple for an alternate base license if desired,
* serving as a single point of contact for organizations outside the
community (like foundations or businesses) wishing to support the
grassroots Squeak community,
* creating and organizing educational materials about Squeak,
* supporting talks and conferences to promote Squeak usage,
* helping catalog orphaned projects and passing them onto new
* creating mini-Faqs like Andreas suggested and distributing them on a
regular basis,
* providing free web hosting and mailing lists related to community
projects (like SourceForge but for Squeak and running on Squeak),
* creating or fostering self-organizing indexes of what is out there in
the Squeak ecosystem and presenting these catalogs both within and
without the community, 
* giving SqueakC a home if Disney is ever foolish enough to let them go,
* setting up community accepted processes to "bless" versions of various
Squeak artifacts as they are collaboratively developed and released.

Fundraising might then commence related to supporting such projects
(although many of these could be done without funds by individuals
willing to volunteer time or resources as they do now). Naturally, the
Squeak Foundation might then undertake to raise significant funds from a
variety of sources and spend them for targeted development, integration,
or testing to support certain goals for subcommunities (say business
Squeakers). As long as this funding was done in the light of supporting
the community (say to overcome specific hurdles holding the community
back), aspects of fairness related to keeping voluntary efforts going
would be considered in the funding decisions as a matter of course --
since the fundamental purpose of a chaordic organization needs to be
kept uppermost in mind in planning activities. The assurance that the
Squeak Foundation would always put the interests of the Squeak community
foremost would address a major concern related to the potential negative
effects of such funding on volunteerism. (Not to say there might not
still be significant negative effects from funding, but hopefully the
community benefits would outweigh them.)

To summarize, a purpose oriented around supporting a "community" rather
than a "code base" permits more room for managing conflicting priorities
related to using Squeak for:
* educating creative children,
* empowering individuals to be productive and creative,
* helping groups to work together to solve complex problems,
* making shippable applications, 
* creating embedded systems,
* providing commercial web application services,
* implementing in-house IT solutions,
* exploring the frontiers of object computing, and finally
* mitigating as best as possible any negative effects of the exponential
growth of computing.

All in all I feel this community perspective is more sustainable in the
long run for supporting the common goals that have brought us all
together to the Squeak mailing list. I also think the community
perspective is an easier short run sell to everyone on the list.

-Paul Fernhout
Kurtz-Fernhout Software 
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator