Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sage vs. GSoC 2008

Oh well, Sage didn't make it into the GSoC 2008. Looking at the selected projects one can see that mathematical Open Source software is underrepresented. Only the R project (which is technically a statistics software package and not mathematics - some people insist on that distinction) made it in out of many mathematical software projects who applied. In recent years various projects made it into the GSoC via other orgs, i.e. sympy via multiple orgs and at least one Axiom related project via LispNYC.org.

So why didn't Sage make it in? It is hard to tell since there is little transparency during the selection of the mentor organizations. Various people put up theories at Slashdot. Specifically pongo000 commented after hanging out a couple hours in #gsoc when various mentor orgs showed up and inquired why the hadn't been selected. pongo000's observation was that the following issues did play a large role:
  • the size of the organization
  • whether an org participated in years past
  • the quality of the ideas list
So how does Sage fit the bill?
  • the size of the organization: not huge, but certainly not at the low end of the spectrum. Interestingly enough OpenOffice.org didn't make it as a mentor org this year. Somebody did show up in #gsoc and inquired why that had happened and was informed that they allegedly didn't apply.
  • whether an org participated in years past: we applied twice and got twice rejected.
  • the quality of the ideas list: Some Sage developers did hang out in #gsoc and did talk to lh and ask questions about the application and list of ideas Sage had submitted. One aspect was the quality and accesibility of our idea list. Apparently there are people out there who are not familar with the more abstract aspects of mathematics :) and who do need a little more info about the projects, i.e. it isn't obvious to many people what commutative alegbra consists of. We had initially discussed at Sage Days 8 what kind of application we wanted (new blood vs. tried and true contributors) and come down pretty much in favor of tried and true contributors. While we had at least two projects on the list that didn't require mathematical expertise (the notebook and Cython) the other projects were very specifically tailored for the people who wanted to do them and do contribute to Sage in that area. I won't go into details here, but if we do participate in another GSoC we need to do have more CS that mathematical projects - at least that is worked for the R's project idea page. Another highly recommended feature is a template system that list requirements and difficulty of a given projcet. But in mathematics that is highly subjective, i.e. "Drawing Graphs on Surfaces with Genus greater than 0", is not something the average non-math student will be familiar with or get up to speed in three months. Emily Kirkman on the other hand has been working in Graph theory for a while, so while I am sure it is far from trivial it would have been a nice project. Other projects like "Combinatorial Species/Decomposable Objects" or "Free abelian groups and integer lattices" aren't exactly know to the average College graduate either.
So in the end while we aren't happy with the decision of Google it is up to Google in the first place where they spend their money. And it isn't game over for Sage yet and the GSoC 2008. We have various project suggestions that we are trying to get accepted via other mentor orgs like the PSF.

And while I cannot go into details right now I can tell you that this might not be the end of the road, so stay tuned for further announcements.



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