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Simon Phipps

With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

Open Source Video Streaming

Kaltura video is open source - their only issue seems to be a weak developer community

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At OSCON I had the opportunity to discuss Kalturu - the video is above. Kaltura is an online video platform, enabling its users to manage and stream video content. They have a collection of high profile clients, including HBO, Warner Brothers, and the NBA to name a few, not to mention an array of educational institutions using their product to create individualised campus video services.

Given that impressive customer list, it may be a surprise to discover Kaltura is open source. Licensed under the Affero GNU General Public License (AGPL), the code is all publicly available and checks out as a solid open source project. Indeed, I'm told that Wikipedia -- a project known for high standards of software freedom for the systems used in its infrastructure -- uses Kaltura for managing video content.

Yet despite the GitHub repositories sat waiting to be forked -- an essential first step if you want to work on the source code and go on to make pull requests -- and despite the obvious high quality of the product, it seems that very few people are actually forking the project and there's only a small number of regular contributors.

There could be a number of different explanations for this, but I'm inclined to see it as a sign of a set of conflicting ideas. Whilst pushing its valid open source credentials, Kaltura's use of the AGPL combined with its own reservation of copyright ownership of the code makes it unlikely any commercially-motivated co-developers will show up to collaborate. Anyone doing so would not be able to keep their devops proprietary as Kaltura does because of the terms of the AGPL.

As a consequence, "community" can only mean users for them. As you'll note in the video, their upcoming conference revolves around uses for the code rather than its development - a sure sign of a project without co-developers.

I'm delighted Kaltura is tackling the challenging video market, and that they are finding customers for their excellent work. I'm also pleased their work can be used freely by anyone, just as Wikipedia is using it. But I do question the extent to which they can develop a market opportunity around the code without also cultivating a co-developer community.

This inherent conflict is not limited to Kaltura. Open source is a collaborative development model powered by the flexibility open source licensing delivers. That flexibility can induce a fear of competition in the minds of startup entrepreneurs, who choose to use rather than pass on the flexibility that arises from the "four freedoms" delivered by open source licensing.

So this is promising software that could prove valuable for your own deployment of video. But don't expect there to be a strong community to step in if Kaltura ever runs into difficulties.


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