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[Caml-list] Whither the Caml Consortium?
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Date: 2001-10-23 (08:40)
From: Markus Mottl <markus@o...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] Whither the Caml Consortium?

On Mon, 22 Oct 2001, Michel Mauny wrote:
> Markus Mottl wrote/écrivait (Oct 20 2001, 05:29PM +0200):
> I wouldn't say that Dassault-Aviation is such a small company (~ 9000
> employees, as far as I know).

Right, fair enough...

> I don't see the point in speculating on why current members joined
> the Consortium.

But I do indeed, because it is important to know about the chances that
more members are going to join and whether one can improve these chances.
Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding: I do think that some
kind of industrial (or even private) financial support is very important
for the future of OCaml and that a Consortium would be a good idea. The
question is only how to make the Consortium attractive to people.

> Instead, let them explain why they joined, in case they want to do
> so. And it's no problem if they don't want to explain.

Most likely, because some tireless heroes managed to convince them
(btw.: my congratulations for their great lobbying work!). After all,
the fees are not so high that companies couldn't afford them. The problem
is rather opportunity costs: why join this Consortium and not another?
Big companies usually have many alternative opportunities so we better
make sure that they stay with us and not go elsewhere...

> Furthermore, I'm not sure that such assumptions about the current
> members and their "very specific selfish reasons which may not
> necessarily be for the benefit of the whole OCaml-community" in this
> mailing list, are of great help for attracting new members.

I had expected that one might misunderstand my argument here. The word
"selfish" has a negative touch in most people's eyes: to me it basically
means "they think they will benefit from it". This does absolutely not
mean that they see a benefit in other members not having one. In fact,
they surely know that the benefit of the whole OCaml-community is
to some extent correlated to theirs. The question is how strong this
correlation is.

There is definitely a point where interest conflicts can arise, and then
a donation scheme may not be able to keep members. Nobody will join any
kind of interest group without having an interest in it. If INRIA were
a charity, a scheme that builds on donations would be fine, but this is
not the case here.

Also, I don't fear that any of my ramblings will prevent anybody who
is decided from joining the Consortium (I wouldn't write this much if I
didn't take this issue very serious). But some change (if it were legally
possible) to the current statutes of the Consortium might attract many
more members. This was my primary interest in this discussion.

> I really believe that we can have a useful and successful consortium
> even with a small number of companies at the beginning. Of course,
> 3 are not enough, but I think we can attract a few more, and start
> something that will be useful for the whole community.

The Consortium is definitely better than no consortium at all - no
objection against it as such! If I take a look around, consortia in
this field (languages, compilers) are usually formed to define industry
standards. Not being able to influence the latter to their favour can
be extremely costly for companies, which is a strong incentive for
joining. Unfortunately, OCaml doesn't seem to be widespread enough to
justify this. (At least at the moment ;)

> Not only the developments and promotion of OCaml are of general interest
> for the community, but the existence of the group itself could be a
> rather strong argument when a decision of ``choosing OCaml or not''
> has to be made. Especially when the manager is the only one remaining
> to be convinced.

Sure! This, however, requires that the Consortium consists of a
significant number of influential members. It's great for the popularity
of OCaml that Dassault-Aviation has joined, and I hope that they stay! It
certainly won't hurt to give them some more arguments why continuous
financial support is a good idea (= will benefit them, too). Moral
support alone will probably not be enough to make OCaml really popular...

> For non-European users, I understand that the membership process
> (payment, in particular) can be a bit painful (contract signed by both
> INRIA and the Member, then invoice sent by INRIA, and then payment by
> the Member). I can try to do my best to alleviate it, but I'm afraid
> the French rules applying to state-funded institutes such as ours are
> rather unflexible, unfortunately.

I feared that this would be a major obstacle. The private and public
sectors are usually strictly separated (same here in Austria), which makes
it very difficult to combine their advantages (efficiency and sustained
long term investment). But maybe such an attempt would just foster their
combined disadvantages and create a myopic monster of inefficiency,
who knows? ;)

Anyway, sometimes I really wish that my analyses are wrong, and if not
in the case that concerns the OCaml-Consortium, where else?

Best regards,

Markus Mottl                                             markus@oefai.at
Austrian Research Institute
for Artificial Intelligence                  http://www.oefai.at/~markus
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