Informal openness evaluation of Maavis
Maavis was created by the University of Sheffield as part of an ACT Programme research project into the use of Information and Communication technology by older people . A prototype system was created using a proprietary product but a low cost solution was required for deployment, particularly for care homes. The possibility for commercial exploitation was seen as a way to meet the EU Objective 1 funding performance indicators for regional development. An open source solution was seen as a route to collaboration, innovation and sustainability. In particular it was hoped that Maavis would continue to be useful and further develop after the initial research project finished. The Maavis project analysed here is the software project itself rather than the broader research projects which are effectively the primary customer and so driver of requirements.
The original Maavis software provided simplified touch screen access to media and communications. The latest subsequent phase, Maavis@school, is for another research study with children in schools, predominantly with students who access computer with switch devices. The lead developer was contracted to create the program and was selected for his open source experience.
Maavis has become an OSS Watch strategic project meaning it will benefit from OSS watch project membership and guidance on community development.
This informal analysis of openness follows that used in A 2007 overview of JISC projects in terms of openness.
Governance and leadership
Maavis is an Open community project, though the membership at this point is limited to those involved in the research projects that have created Maavis. These are the research project PI, the lead software developer and 2 staff from Barnsley NHS AT Trust who have provided domain experience for assistive technology issues.
Governance is not explicitly described and this has been identified as something to be resolved in the near further in order to help encourage community participation. Leadership is largely divided between PI and developer with each tending to concentrate on requirements and technical features respectively. The lead developer is familiar with open development and has taken some steps towards encouraging community participation as described below.
The Maavis website uses the Assembla forge which is similar to Google Code. This is text based and provides a wiki based main page with associate documentation along with tickets and version control for open development. There is no obvious branding and it is not particularly attractive. Neither does it give a succinct introduction to Maavis from a user's perspective in order that a quick decision can be made if the project is of interest.
The wiki content provides an introduction, with much detail provided on an external blog post. A single mail list (google group) is provided for contact and team work. Some user documentation is provided which is far from complete. Detailed developer documentation is provided to allow development environment setup and build instructions, but architectural notes are not yet available.
A "front of house" website was planned for the original project but this never materialised and the forge acts as a temporary place holder.
Maavis is a software project and is open using the GPL licence. No CLAs are in place for contributors to sign. The Assembla forge provides the open development tools with the addition of a single google group shared between users and developers.
A document from the ACE centre has been used to inform a standardised approach to switch access nomenclature and delivery.
Skype is used but the desire is to move to open VOIP standards or a suitable open source project.
Relationship between projects
Maavis is a Firefox add-on and so has access to all the services and features it provides. These include user interface and strong internet connectivity with an emphasis on web technologies.
Outfox is used to provide a Python server to access Skype and joystick devices. However this is a fork of an early release. There is an open ticket to migrate to a more recent version and contribute to Outfox as required.
VLC is used for media playing, and the Firefox plugin is included in Maavis. There is an open ticket to report a bug found in the plugin and provide a patch.
Maavis requires an open source VOIP project to replace Skype video calls.
The PI has been actively promoting Maavis at various health related conferences in an attempt to find users and other projects. There has been some interest from users who like the attention to simplicity of configuration. Barnsley Education are showing some interest. There has also been interest from Gregg Vanderheiden of Raising the Floor, an open source accessibility initiative with a broad scope and wide participation.
A top priority is to provide web site that provides clear introduction to Maavis and signposting to other resources such as Assembla. This need not be complex, and a Google Sites would do as an interim. A governance model should be selected and CLA should provided. A clear release process is also needed
OSS watch have worked with Maavis to help grow the community and an early success has been Barnsley Education Services's interest in using Maavis with their customers and also to ensure their staff are trained in it's use. This has also attracted funding in the form of University of Sheffield Knowledge Transfer 'pump priming' funding which will pay for implementing some small new requirements for Barnsley and working with them to engage their staff and users.
Peter Cudd (PI) also had this to say: "There are soem key differences in working in open development. First and foremost is being able to talk openly with anyone about the project and what we are doing – this greatly facilitates engagement with new contacts. This has lead to new partnerships and joint working. For example we have successfully obtained some Knowledge Transfer funding to transfer the health and social care Maavis into the Adult Education field.