open software, cont. (66)

Thu, 9 Feb 89 22:02:35 EST

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 583. Thursday, 9 Feb 1989.

Date: Thu, 9 Feb 89 10:17:04 EST
From: Darrell Raymond <>
Subject: In reply to Richard Goerwitz <>

>Then the folks with commercial ties would get up and give their demos,
>using SBL time to make money for themselves. In return, we expected
>to hear from them something of what they were doing and how. Instead,
>we got the clear message: "It's proprietary."

As the person who actually said these words, I feel a reply is in order.
My presentation at the SBL was invited. I agreed to speak at the conference
because I was assured by Robin Cover that people would want to hear about
our experiences with the OED, and because it would be an opportunity to talk
with CARG members about their specific text database problems. I intended
to present not a sales pitch, but a research contribution in our approach to
text management, which involves more than just our search algorithm. I did not
think the SBL invitation involved an encumbrance to tell you everything you
want to know. I had no intent to make money for myself or my project, nor did
I seriously expect any orders for software.

My statement was in response to Greg Crane's question about whether we used
hashing to index the OED. When I replied that we didn't, he said that he was
glad and wanted to know what we did use. Hence the infamous line, "It's
proprietary". Perhaps I should have said instead, "We use patricia trees,
but the details of the implementation are really irrelevant to your question."

>My own feelings were that such messages were contrary to the whole
>point of a convention. Presumably we were all there to share know-
>ledge. Sharing was simply not on the agenda of some of the business
>interests represented there.

Apart from the specifics of the indexing used in Pat, our search engine,
I was willing to discuss anything that we are doing. I'm sorry that this
part of my message didn't get through to you. I did discuss our stuff in
much greater detail with several people who came to see me later on; I don't
honestly remember if you were one of these.

>Although I think people should have a right to make money off of soft-
>ware they have written, I also feel that the rest of us should be
>granted the right to be annoyed when such activities begin to stifle
>the free flow of information at an academic conference.

You have the right to be annoyed whenever you want. Whether your
annoyance is justified is another matter. I certainly agree that a
conference shouldn't become a forum for developers to vend their wares.
But on the other hand if I invite Apple to talk about Hypercard I am not
justified in complaining that they don't hand out free source code.

While we at the New OED project are primarily researchers, our funding
is contingent on the pursuit of "technology transfer" i.e., the commercial
exploitation of our work. I hope that any resulting bouts of schizophrenia
on our part won't upset the academic community too greatly.

Darrell Raymond
Centre for the New Oxford English Dictionary
University of Waterloo