Lopes awarded Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest

March 24, 2016

The Tides Foundation honored Lopes for her work in developing OpenSimulator, making her the first woman to receive the prize.

The Tides Foundation—a social justice and sustainability-focused organization—has awarded Informatics Professor Crista Lopes the Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest. The prize, which includes a $10,000 cash grant, is given annually to a leader in open source software development who has made strides in the nonprofit sector and in social change movements. Lopes is the first woman to receive the honor.

Lopes receives the award for her groundbreaking work in developing OpenSimulator, an open-source platform that allows users to run virtual world “Second Life” environments on their own servers. OpenSimulator was crafted by 124 individual contributors who exerted an estimated 107 years of individual effort in just six years of collaboration. The platform has seen many uses, including serving as a virtual educational environment. Lopes and her fellow organizers also hold an annual virtual conference for the OpenSimulator community.

“I strongly believe in the benefits of a public software infrastructure, something that has been emerging over the past 20 years or so, but that needs a lot more investment by everyone,” Lopes says. “Modern society runs on it, and the developers who contribute to it are unsung heroes. So I am honored to be given this award by the Tides Foundation, who seems to have a similar attitude.”

The award honors the brief life of Antonio Pizzigati, an early champion for open source software development. Pizzigati received his degree in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he also worked at the world-famous MIT Media Lab and later the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science. From a young age, Pizzigati was active in data-driven activism and was one of the earliest World Wide Web authors.

“The Pizzigati Prize seeks to honor software developers who create, for free public distribution, open source applications and tools that nonprofit and advocacy groups can put to good use,” the Tides Foundation says. “These developers are making a two-faceted contribution to social change. First, they are having an important practical impact: their software helps nonprofits both become more effective on a daily basis, and build their capacity to better inform and mobilize their constituents.”

The foundation especially lauds prizewinners’ commitment to collaboration and sharing in a traditionally cutthroat and competitive path to software development progress. “We hope and expect that this prize initiative will also help link public interest software developers with each other and with the nonprofit and advocacy groups that so strongly need their assistance,” according to the Tides Foundation. Lopes will receive her award at the end of March at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Jose, Calif.