FITS is a classic case of a great digital preservation tool that was developed with an initial injection of resource, and subsequently the creator (Harvard University) has then struggled to maintain it. But let me be very clear, Harvard deserves no blame for this situation. They've created a tool that many in our community have found particularly useful but have been left to maintain it largely on their own.
Wouldn't it be great if different individuals and organisations in our community could all chip in to maintain and enhance the tool? Wrap new tools, upgrade outdated versions of existing tools, and so on? Well many have started to do this, including some injections of effort from my own project, SPRUCE. What a lovely situation to be in, seeing the community come together to drive this tool forward…
Unfortunately we were perhaps a little naive about the effort and mechanics needed to make this happen as a genuine open source development. FITS is a complex beast, wrapping a good number of tools that extract a multitude of information about your files which is then normalised by FITS. What happens when you tweak one bit of code? Does the rest of the codebase still work as it should? Obviously you need to have confidence in a tool if it plays a critical role in your preservation infrastructure.
From the point of view of the SPRUCE Project, we'd like to see all the latest tweaks and enhancements to FITS brought together so that the practitioners we're supporting get a more effective tool. But we also equally want future improvements to find their way into the codebase in a managed and dependable way, so that upgrading to a new FITS version doesn't involve lots of testing for every organisation using it.
So in partnership with Harvard and the Open Planets Foundation (with support from Creative Pragmatics), SPRUCE is supporting a two week project to get the technical infrastructure in place to make FITS genuinely maintainable by the community. "FITS Blitz" will merge the existing code branches and establish a comprehensive testing setup so that further code developments only find their way in when there is confidence that other bits of functionality haven't been damaged by the changes.
FITS Blitz commences next Monday. Please get in touch with myself, or Carl Wilson from the Open Planets Foundation, if you'd like to find out more.
By paul, posted in paul's Blog
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