August 20, 2008

Help your favorite "public interest" free software project win $10,000

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

Nominations are now open for the Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest. The winner could be someone you know, or someone whose work you admire, but don't mull over your recommendation too long -- entries must be submitted by September 30. had a brief email conversation with Nicole Puller of the Tides Foundation, which administers the Pizzigati Prize fund. Here's a lightly edited transcript: Who originally funded the prize?

Nicole: The Pizzigati Prize was started by the Pizzigati family in memory of their son. Antonio Pizzigati had an affinity for computers: he was programming when he was 10, and by the age of 14 was helping in the national office of CISPES. After graduating from MIT, he worked in Silicon Valley as a software consultant. Unfortunately, he was killed in an auto accident on his way to work. His family created this award to help other people fulfill their computing dreams. The projects I see that have been considered in the past two years are "end user" software. What about programs like gPXE, which is the "heart" of virtually every net-booted (client/server) computing network? Do back-end programs and the people who develop them have a chance?

Nicole: Yes, this award, and who it gets awarded to, is really based on who applies. Other than the basic guidelines on the Web site, there are no limitations. Can you nominate yourself and your own software?

Nicole: Yes, you can apply yourself, which is basically nominating your work. However, as part of the application process, each person must also submit a nomination from a peer. So even if you apply yourself, you will need a separate nomination/letter of support. How much weight is given to public input when selecting finalists and the eventual winner?

Nicole: Public input can be given at once all of the applications are in. However, this tool has generally not been widely used by the public, and so not much weight is given to it. Currently, the winner is chosen by the advisory committee. The current committee is comprised of Allison Fine, Joseph Mouzon, and Katrin Verclas, who all have broad experience in public interest computing. Nick Pizzigati also sits on the panel as an ex officio member, representing the Florence and Frances Family Fund of Tides Foundation. Each previous winner is also on the panel, and you can read blurbs about them.

Last year's winner was Barry Warsaw, who wrote Mailman, the GNU Mailing List Manager. You can see finalists from last year and the year before (which was the first year the prize was given out) here to get an idea of what kind of projects get selected -- and also to get some insight into why they were chosen.


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