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Sloan and Ford Foundations are requesting proposals for projects to support our digital infrastructure

Benjamin Nickolls
by Benjamin Nickolls
on May 8, 2018

The Ford Foundation and the Alfred P Sloan Foundation just opened a request for proposals for their new ‘digital infrastructure’ programme. If you’d like to help the community understand more about the open source software that provides the foundation of modern world, the issues that emerge as a result of this, and how we might provide a more sustainable future for the people behind these projects, you can apply here.

A bit of background

Years ago, Heartbleed shocked the world. OpenSSL, a core component in many of the world’s internet connected devices, was broken. People scrambled to fix the problem, certificate authorities handled unprecedented demand from organizations that were at risk, and countless hours were spent fretting over end-user safety. But only a small number of people asked ‘why did this happen and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again?’

Michael Brennan and Josh Greenberg were two such people. They work for two foundations, the Ford Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, with a shared interest lying between internet freedom, collective action, and scientific research. Open source software, and particularly OpenSSL (the subject of Heartbleed), were right at the centre of this. They wanted to know more.

The Ford Foundation commissioned a study. The end product was a seminal paper by Nadia Eghbal entitled Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind our Digital Infrastructure that educates the reader about the core principles of open source software and the risks to the software that underpins our society—risks which lead to events like Heartbleed and the Equifax data breach.

The Ford Foundation and the Sloan Foundation agreed to support a number of key infrastructure projects like Let’s Encrypt, and projects that would serve to help others lead research in this space, like our own Libraries.io project.

The next generation of research and experiments

Now the Foundations are opening up a new programme of research to dive deeper into the problems that were identified in Roads and Bridges and to explore the impact various groups and approaches could have on sustaining it.

Tidelift is, in effect, one such experiment. Andrew and I joined Tidelift last October—after a year’s supported work on Libraries.io—to dedicate our time to solving the open source sustainability problem by giving both professional users and open source maintainers what they need.

We also recognize that Tidelift is part of a broader movement that will involve government, commercial companies big and small, and public-good and charitable organisations. So we wholeheartedly support Ford and Sloan foundations in putting this programme together and we’ve offered our assistance to anyone looking to collaborate with us by using Libraries.io, the largest, public database of open source software. We encourage you to get in touch with us if you’d like to do so.

Concept notes will be accepted until 11:59pm on June 13th for projects in the small (<$50k), medium ($50-125k), and large ($125k+) ranges, which you can submit through Ford’s website.

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