International cooperation through open source

After patiently waiting for me to stop prattling about how useful open source can be to facilitate meaningful cooperation among parties, even when they’re competitors, a colleague asked for examples of how open source has facilitated international cooperation. I started to respond, but stopped short. About three times. I could name all kinds of projects with contributors from many countries, but I couldn’t come up with a list of projects that were explicitly started to facilitate international cooperation. So I asked around, and here’s what I could come up with.

Conservation Commons is an international effort to facilitate the exchange of environment conservation data, tools, and analysis. They have a number of open source projects for GIS work, and creating tools and protocols for data exchange.

Scientific Linux is a Linux distribution put together by Fermilab, CERN, and many other labs and universities. It provides a set of tools specific to researchers that aren’t easily available commercially. Each lab contributes to the effort, providing a common platform for their tools.

The European Grid Initiative and EU DataGrid are similar to Scientific Linux, but the focus is on providing a common platform for grid computing in the EU. It ties together large-scale computing grids across the EU, providing researchers a stable source of funding, and allowing the collective innovations of each national grid program to be rolled up into a shared platform.

Open Source Drug Discovery is a project sponsored by the Indian government which uses the open source model to encourage international collaboration on the development of useful drugs.

I also stumbled on an EU-funded paper “Collaboration within tool and die making industry through open-source ERP-solution with integrated CRM-functionalities,” the intent of which is pretty clear from the title.

If you wander over to the EU Open Source Observatory and Observatory, they list over 2,000 projects, many in academia, which are using the open source model to facilitate collaboration. This is in part, I think, because the academic environment is already predisposed to sharing work and building on the effort of others. Also, many of these programs are funded by the EU, which has something to do with it as well — the EU wants to make sure that the work it’s funded is available to the public.

It’s sometimes difficult to draw the line between projects that are international, and projects explicitly designed for international cooperation. If I’ve missed your favorite, add it to the comments!

[I want to thank Michael Tiemann and Jan Wildeboer, and Venkatesh Hariharan, who gave me some great pointers. Thanks, guys!]