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Boy Scouts of America look to open-source community for help

Some former scouts, now open-source advocates, see value in project, despite some concerns

By Todd R. Weiss
June 9, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Scouts honor — the 98-year-old Boy Scouts of America (BSA) organization is adopting open-source software as a path to building better software to support the almost 3 million scouts and 1.1 million adults who make up the group.

Faced with the need for a streamlined, organized way for its more than 121,000 local scout troops to find and use software for fundraisers, event registration, facilities maintenance and more, the Irving, Texas-based BSA last month launched a Web site to begin its BSA Open Source Initiative.

So far, the group has done little to publicize the site, which has nary a post on it. But that could change as the BSA gets the word out and as the open-source community finds out what's being done.

The site is envisioned as a place for scouting leaders to go when they need an application for their troop events or when they want to help other troops with their software projects, said Dan Nelson, director of application services for the BSA information systems division. The idea emerged last year when BSA officials met with a group of corporate CIOs who suggested open-source software as a potentially valuable resource for the organization, he said.

But until the BSA open-source Web site was created, there was no way to organize such an effort. "We're in the perfect place to coordinate it" now, Nelson said.

Having a centralized Web site for its open-source projects enables scouting leaders from around the nation to go there to find applications they need for their own projects, such as organizing a popcorn fundraising sale or a special event. By posting such custom applications on the site and working together to modify, build and improve them, scout leaders won't have to start from scratch when they need an application.

"I think there's a lot of potential to get some software into the hands of [scouting] offices that don't have the resources available" to do these things on their own, Nelson said.

He acknowledged that little has been posted to the site since it went live May 8 after six months of work, but he said the group plans to "seed it" with several open-source projects that were done previously by others for scouting activities.

And while there are no plans for anything like a scout merit badge in open source — although there has been a merit badge in computers since 1967 — Nelson said it is possible that if the program is successful, it could eventually be used by IT-savvy scouts themselves.

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