Search Engine on

Jeff Spaleta jspaleta at
Thu Jul 22 22:27:35 UTC 2010

On Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 11:33 AM, Mike McGrath <mmcgrath at> wrote:
> Thoughts, comments?
>        -Mike "Sorry but the free road is a hard one sometimes" McGrath

Mike and I had a nice little discussion on irc about all this and I
want to sum up my thoughts for everybody about what our policy should
really be in terms of web services.

First and foremost i think we all need to come into door with an
understanding that all external webservices break traditional
assumptions about how traditional open source licensing(prior to
AGPL-like constructions) provide freedoms to users. Such licensing has
primarily relied on the act of distribution as a key provision to
protecting particular freedoms that we want to retain as users and
developers. Web services break the assumptions that usage by a new
entity requires distribution to that entity. So a lot of our hard
fought consensus understanding on how all this open licensing stuff
works gets thrown under the bus with that underlying assumption.

A web service could be completely built with openly licensed code
under traditional open licensing (BSD) and we'd never be required to
be given access to that codebase. And even for services that offer
access to a codebase (AGPL), we have no practical ability to verify
that the externally running service does indeed match the codebase we
have access to making it difficult to ensure compliance to the

So with that in mind. I'm going to ask everyone to throw away the
language in the policy that Mike pointed to and ask people to answer a
more fundamental question. What freedoms do we need to
protect/maintain when we choose to rely on _any_  externally built and
maintained web service.

I'll go ahead and give you how I've answered that question in my
conversation with Mike, but I'm more than happy to have others
disagree with me and express an alternative opinion.

What I think we need to protect is API compliance and to ensure that
we can reimplement a service on our own as a replacement if the
external service goes up in smoke for some reason. Which means we need
services with documented stable APIs and we need to identify an
existing open codebase that we can rebuild into a replacement service
that conforms to the APIs we make use of in any 3rd party service
provider we choose to rely on.. but not necessarily the same codebase
that the 3rd party service provider is running.

Anything more restrictive than that as a policy and I think we pretty
much prevent ourselves from depending on any external service without
bending the policy way way out of shape to meet the practical
realities of relying on any external service provider...cough Red Hat

And I don't mean that we ensure that we can build an equivalent
service in-house either. There's a lot about the day-to-day utility of
a service, even with open codebase, that can't be replicated without a
signficant infrastructure investment that we simply aren't going to be
able to make all the time.  We _could_ build our on in-house search
engine, but we aren't going to be investing in the infrastructure to
index the web very effectively so our in-house service would have
drastically reduced utility.  But we could build it if we felt we had

It really comes down to API restraint on our part. We restrict
ourselves to the use of services with published APIs, and we ensure
there is an open codebase out in the wild that conforms to those APIs
and we squirrel that codebase away as a hedge against the external
service provider going dark or closing down its public APIs.


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