Forking Encouraged: Folk Programming, Open Source, and Social Software Development

Emerging Topics, People, Programming
Location: Ballroom A3/A6
Average rating: ****.
(4.67, 3 ratings)

For decades people have been learning to program by copying and modifying other people’s code.

How did you first learn to program? For us, it was by copying and tweaking simple BASIC programs on ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s.

Folk Computing (a term coined by an MIT project which encouraged children to learn programming in exactly this way) has been a common factor in programming environments from LambdaMOO to Yahoo Pipes, the OLPC, Second Life, and more.

We look at the history of folk programming from the 80s to today, and then examine some modern folk programming platforms.

Some topics we’ll explore include:

  • Open Source licensing: the right to fork as a fundamental of folk programming
  • Programming in the cloud: how hosted development platforms lower barriers to entry
  • What other features are common to folk programming environments, and how can you spot one in the wild?
  • Case studies of modern platforms and their relationship to folk programming: GitHub, Ning, Second Life, and Freebase Acre to name just a few.
  • The issues, challenges, and lessons learned from building a folk programming platform.
Photo of Kirrily Robert

Kirrily Robert


Kirrily Robert has been involved in open source software since 1993, as a Linux user, Perl developer, and community leader and advocate. She is best known for her work in the Perl community, where she has been a CPAN contributor, author, speaker, and trainer. She has worked extensively in the Open Source and Internet industries since the mid 90s, as a developer, sysadmin, and community manager. She has presented and given tutorials at many conferences, including OSCON, Yet Another Perl Conference,, the Open Source Developer’s Conference (Australia), and has also spoken to numerous user groups and at BarCamps and unconferences.

Kirrily has recently been working on several projects related to women in Open Source and other geek communities. In 2008 she launched the Geek Feminism Wiki, and more recently she has been contributing to and writing about two large open source projects with majority female developers: the Dreamwidth journalling platform and the Organization for Transformative Works’ “Archive Of Our Own.” Her interests also include free culture, open data, and technology for social justice.

Kirrily currently resides in San Francisco, where she works for Metaweb Technologies as Community Director for, an open, creative-commons-licensed, API-accessible, structured database of the world’s information.

Photo of Yoz Grahame

Yoz Grahame


Yoz Grahame has spent 15 years watching what happens when you give online communities their own programming languages. He currently works for Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, which runs approximately 50 million user-created scripts. Previously, he was Developer Advocate for Ning, presenting the programmable social software service at ETech 2006 (with David Sklar). In the past he’s been involved in several
renegade e-democracy services in the UK such as and, as well as commercial projects related to the
works of Douglas Adams. On the amateur wrestling circuit he goes by the alias “Dr. Henry Metzger”.

Jason Douglas


Jason is Director of Platform Products at Metaweb Technologies. He leads the Acre project, a hosted app development platform for Freebase.

  • Intel
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Sun Microsystems
  • Facebook
  • Gear6
  • Kaltura
  • Liferay
  • MindTouch
  • Novell, Inc.
  • Open Invention Network
  • Rackspace Cloud
  • Schooner Information Technology
  • Silicon Mechanics
  • Symbian Foundation
  • Twilio
  • WSO2
  • Yabarana Corporation

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