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Apache and Mozilla Sponsor Organization to Collect FOSS Oral History

With the generation that founded the free software and FOSS movements rapidly aging, a new group called FOSSDA plans to collect open source’s oral history, straight from the mouths that made it. Funding and infrastructure is already largely in place and work is already being done.

Collage of interviewers and interviewees from FOSSDA
Source: FOSSDA

Since you’re reading FOSS Force, you probably don’t need to be told that there’s a rich history behind Linux and open source, going back to at least 1983, which is when Richard Stallman founded the GNU Project.

Along the way Stallman wrote his requirements for The Four Essential Freedoms of Free Software and issued the GPL; Linus Torvalds started work on Linux, the operating system which has in many ways taken over modern computing; BSD battled AT&T for the right to issue Unix software as open source; and more.

When you consider that someone who was 30 years old back when the GNU project was cranking up will turn 70 this year, it becomes obvious that if we want to preserve open-source’s rich history, especially its oral history, it’s past time to get the ball rolling.

The Free and Open Source Stories Digital Archive Foundation, or FOSSDA, plans to do just that.

The FOSSDA Project

In a press release issued Wednesday, the not-for-profit FOSSDA foundation announced its launch and said its mandate is to “engage open source software pioneers and share their legacies.” In the same release, it announced the launch of the FOSSDA Project, to create digital recordings and archives of open source history.

This is important. While considerable amount of open source history is already known through press accounts and the like, this project will be going out into the field to collect open-source’s oral history from the people who were involved in various open source projects.

The organization was founded by Heather Meeker, an open source licensing specialist, who has already picked up financial backers for the project.

“I am thrilled to announce that, with generous support from Mozilla and the Apache Foundation, we have officially launched FOSSDA, the Free and Open Source Stories Digital Archive,” she said in a post on her blog. “It’s time to tell the story of the free and open source movement! This project is now officially underway, thanks to all those who have helped make it happen.”

According to the foundation’s website, in addition to Mozilla and Apache who are onboard as financial supporters, the project is partnering with TheirStory, a remote audiovisual interviewing platform; Rochester Institute of Technology;, a digital archiving company; and Aviary, a photo editing platform.

The organization was evidently already operating in something akin to stealth mode before Wednesday’s announcement. The organization’s website already has available a dozen video interviews, which includes recordings of conversations with historically notable open sourcers such as Bruce Perens, one of the people behind the Open Source Definition and the Open Source Initiative; Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Dannenberg, who co-founded the free and open source Audacity audio recording and editing platform at Carnegie Mellon University in 2000; and others.

What to Expect

“FOSSDA is about the personal stories of those who came together to revolutionize our modern technological world,” Meeker said in a statement. “A lot has been written about open source development and open source licensing β€” some practical, some dogmatic, some thought-provoking. But the FOSSDA Project is about a trailblazing human journey.”

The foundation sums up the FOSSDA Project’s aims in a five point bullet list:

  • Collect Oral Histories. Identify and interview pioneers in open source development and community leaders
  • Organize. FOSSDA will leverage the TheirStory video platform to remotely record, transcribe, and index oral history interviews
  • Synthesize. FOSSDA will liaise with filmmakers, journalists, educators, and content curators to bring the oral histories to life in short and long format films, books, and interactive websites
  • Educate. The public is invited to learn about the Free and Open Source movement,including at
  • Preserve. FOSSDA partners with to ensure that the raw oral histories remain in the public domain and are permanently available

One name that’s connected with the project that might be familiar to those who spend time at open source conferences is Brian Proffitt, a FOSSDA Project contributor who’s evidently behind some of the interviews that are already available. Proffitt has been with Red Hat for nearly 10 years, currently as a senior manager of community reach, and he took the role as VP of marketing and publicity at the Apache Foundation in January.

“Open source brought the power of collaboration to innovation, created the backbone of the Internet, and revolutionized computing,” he said in a statement. “I’m excited to help FOSSDA tell the story of the free and open source software movement and highlight the pioneers who are making the critical software we all rely upon.”


  1. Ricardo J. Barberis Ricardo J. Barberis February 25, 2023

    I love this!

    I’ll be sure to follow FOSSDA in this journey of collecting the Voices of the Open Source Revolution πŸ˜‰

  2. Jon "maddog" Hall Jon "maddog" Hall February 26, 2023

    In reality “Open Source” goes back much further than GNU. There were the days of DECUS, SHARE and other vendor user groups that shared their software freely. There were bulletin boards, magazines such as Kilobaud, Byte and Dr. Dobb’s where people put their code into articles.

    It was not until the mid-1980s that copyright was applied to software, so anything published was basically in the public domain. copyright meant that there needed to be a license, which both gave you permission to use the code and limited the liability to the person who used it.

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