Open source: for the birds

The Cacophony Project has been founded on the idea that some problems are too big, too complex (and too important) for any one commercial entity to solve. For a really huge problem like restoring NZ's native ecosystems, innovation is needed from all over the place. We recognise that a few experts can contribute what they know at low cost to themselves but at high value to the rest of us.

Because our goal is to improve NZ for all of us, it was pretty obvious that the project had to be built using and producing via open source software, documentation, data, and sharing in general. Anything we create in this project can be used by anyone for at no cost and with few restrictions (except that we hope, and in some cases require, that improvements are also shared with the community on the same basis).

Our goal is to empower our "users" to be participants as well. Just about anyone has something to offer if they're so inclined, and our goal is to make it possible for their contributions to be meaningful, useful, satisfying, and for them to be acknowledged in having played a part in making NZ better.

This set of free and open source principles - originally developed for software development, but now applied in many other areas of human endeavour (some refer to it as "a movement") - has created some amazing things for society:

Example of students and professional developers working on Free & Open
Source Software. Catalyst Open Source Academy - Source: Flickr

  • the Internet is almost entirely built on open source software and open standards,
  • email was open source from the start,
  • the web browser is increasingly the most important software on any computer. Today, the most powerful and most widely used web browsers (desktop and mobile), Google's Chrome (and the fully open source Chromium on which it's built) and Mozilla Firefox are open source,
  • the worlds largest cohesive collection of knowledge, Wikipedia, is both built on open source infrastructure and software and the means for adding more information and maintaining its quality, are all open source inspired,
  • the Linux computer operating system, an open source community-developed competitor to proprietary Windows, OS X, and UNIX, is considered to be perhaps the most complex and valuable coordinated engineering project ever undertaken by humanity,
  • you might be surprised to find that Linux is now by far the world's most widely used computer system.
  • nearly all your favourite web services depend on open source: every Google search, every Tweet, every Facebook visit, every Wordpress blog you view or write, every Amazon service you use,
  • almost all of "The Cloud" is built on, and runs, open source software,
  • the mobile and embedded computing markets are dominated by open source and Linux - every Android phone, most flatscreen TVs, most Internet routers and Wifi access points - just about every "Internet-connected" appliance,
  • 98% of the world's top 500 super computers run open source Linux.

We can never predict where important innovation will come from, all we can hope to do is spread seeds far and wide, and create fertile conditions in which ideas can grow.  The coolest thing about the Internet is that anyone, for very little cost, can have a world beating idea, and, more importantly, they can let the world know about it and scale up with minimal cost, from just about anywhere in the world. Much of this has been made possible by open source software and the infrastructure it allows. With the open source software method, people can progress from spreading ideas to spreading tools (see "code forges" like Github and Bitbucket, which host millions of open source projects).

With open source software and the Internet, only one person has to dream up and build a tool, for it to become something on which anyone and everyone else in the world can build. If a tool has a bug or shortcoming, it only takes one person in the world to go to the effort of fixing it, and everyone else benefits. Open source + the Internet is to complex projects what Moore's Law is for raw processing power: the ability to achieve exponential growth and improvement.

For The Cacophony Project the open source part becomes powerful because as soon as anyone creates a better digital lure, or sound analysis tool or pest recoginition tool it can be rolled out to all devices and dramatic improvement become possible. This is a system that has the opportunity to evolve faster than the predators and enable us to get our Cacophony back!

Check out our existing open source projects on Github - we encourage you to get in amongst it!