Kuali Reboots Itself into a Commercial Entity

Did you feel a great disturbance in the open source force last week? At noon on Friday in a conference call with members of the Kuali community, the Kuali Foundation Board of Directors announced a change of direction:

We are pleased to share with you that the Kuali Foundation is creating a Professional Open Source commercial entity to help achieve these goals. We expect that this company will engage with the community to prioritize investments in Kuali products, will hire full-time personnel, will mesh a “software startup” with our current culture, and will, over time, become self-sustaining. It enables an additional path for investment to accelerate existing and create new Kuali products.

As outlined in the Kuali 2.0 FAQ:

The Kuali Foundation (.org) will still exist and will be a co-founder of the company. It will provide assurance of an ongoing open source code base and still enable members to pool funds to get special projects done that are outside the company’s roadmap. The fees for Foundation membership will be reduced.

There have been some great observations on Twitter this morning. First, a series of tweets from Roger Schonfeld:

Lisa Hinchliffe points out a similar struggle by the Sakai Foundation last year.

— Lisa Hinchliffe (@lisalibrarian) August 25, 2014

Dan Cohen adds:

— Dan Cohen (@dancohen) August 25, 2014

And lastly (for the moment) Bryan Alexander adds a brief quote from Brad Wheeler’s conference call:

— Bryan Alexander (@BryanAlexander) August 25, 2014

My first interpretation of this is that there is a fundamental shift afoot in the perception of open source by senior leadership at higher education institutions. Maybe it is a lack of faith in the “community source” model of software development. Having a company out there that is formally responsible for the software rather than your own staff’s sweat equity makes it easier to pin the blame for problems on someone else. Or maybe it is that highly distributed open source projects for large enterprise-wide applications aren’t feasible — are communication barriers and the accountability overhead too large to move fast?

I do wonder what this means for the Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) project. Kuali OLE just saw its first two installations go live this week. Will Kuali’s pivot towards a for-profit company make OLE more attractive to academic libraries or less? Does it even matter?

Lots of questions, and lots to think about.

(This post was updated on 07-Dec-2014.)