By Andy Nicholls, Head of Consulting
Earlier this week a press release from the Linux Foundation formally unveiled The R Consortium: “a group of businesses organized under an open source governance and foundation model to provide support to the R community, the R Foundation and groups and individuals, using, maintaining and distributing R software”. Mango Solutions were announced as founding silver members alongside the R Foundation; Microsoft and RStudio (Platinum); TIBCO Software Inc. (Gold); and Alteryx, Google, HP, Ketchum Trading and Oracle (Silver). Clearly we think The R Consortium is idea. But what does it mean for ordinary R users?
One of the primary aims of The R Consortium is to make R more accessible, typically therefore this means to new users but existing users are going to notice some changes. It is still too early to say exactly what these will be but “developing, maintaining, distributing and using R software” are activities that will affect every day users of R. Practically this may mean an extended R core’ or perhaps a big green button to download R but it will mean better documentation around the installation and set-up of R and key R packages. Indeed for those who have been to r-consortium.org but are perhaps lost in the business speak you will at least note “developing documentation” listed as a potential infrastructure project.
When I teach R training courses and show people CRAN and the (nearly) 7,000 packages available to download, one of the first questions I typically get is “how do you know which one is the best”? My standard answer to this is suitably woolly and combines looking at CRAN Task Views to find an initial list of packages and then, depending on who I am speaking with, I suggest looking at published download logs from RStudio, checking questions on Stack Overflow or using their free training support to ask Mango! In other words it’s not that easy or obvious to find out which are the best for any given task. A problem that is compounded when several people write packages to do the same thing (see my recent blog post, R: the Excel Connection). Another important aim of the consortium is to encourage collaboration, which should increase awareness of the tools that are already available and help ensure that would-be problem solvers are all pulling in the same direction.
To ensure that a growing R community continues to be well-serviced the Consortium are also looking to play a stronger role in the advertisement and organisation of R conferences. This includes UseR! in Stanford next year and of course the upcoming EARL conferences in London and Boston this year. It is worth noting that many of the founding consortium members are already active in local R meet-ups around the world but I fully expect the involvement to increase in the coming months and years.
Now that the consortium has officially been announced everyone has the opportunity to get involved. Clearly there will be a period of planning before R users, new and existing, start to notice changes. But the changes are coming and I doubt it will be long before the R Consortium website becomes the starting point for R users.