Introduction: Computer-based outbreak and disease surveillance requires high-quality software that is well-supported and affordable. Developing software in an open-source framework, which entails free distribution and use of software and continuous, community-based software development, can produce software with such characteristics, and can do so rapidly.
Objectives: The objective of the Real-Time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance (RODS) Open Source Project is to accelerate the deployment of computer-based outbreak and disease surveillance systems by writing software and catalyzing the formation of a community of users, developers, consultants, and scientists who support its use.
Methods: The University of Pittsburgh seeded the Open Source Project by releasing the RODS software under the GNU General Public License. An infrastructure was created, consisting of a website, mailing lists for developers and users, designated software developers, and shared code-development tools. These resources are intended to encourage growth of the Open Source Project community. Progress is measured by assessing website usage, number of software downloads, number of inquiries, number of system deployments, and number of new features or modules added to the code base.
Results: During September--November 2003, users generated 5,370 page views of the project website, 59 software downloads, 20 inquiries, one new deployment, and addition of four features.
Conclusions: Thus far, health departments and companies have been more interested in using the software as is than in customizing or developing new features. The RODS laboratory anticipates that after initial installation has been completed, health departments and companies will begin to customize the software and contribute their enhancements to the public code base.