Thursday, December 18, 2008

Telecom Overhaul, Part 2 - Now with Sarah Lacy

Listening to this morning's Forum program on KQED (highly recommended, by the way) the subject was about what constitutes "infrastructure" in the 21st century and how an Obama presidency would align his infrastructure priorities. There was discussion of the traditional pieces of infrastructure, ie. roads and bridges, and then there was plenty of discussion on 21st century infrastructure, ie. telecom. The main question is, how much in the way of financial resources to we devote to this newfangled telecom stuff? As I've argued previously, a lot.

At this time, I will attempt to channel Nick Carr:
  1. the "big switch" to universal electricity brought about new business models that weren't possible previously
  2. a similar phenomenon would accompany a shift to ubiquitous, "always-on" broadband that penetrated every sector of the country.
And switching back to my usual themes:
  1. the original "big switch" required a metric crap load of government investment and resources
  2. so would the 21st century equivalent
  3. lots of companies would form around these new initiatives and grow, generating wealth for a new middle class
Look, it's not complicated - if we want a 21st century economy that allows us to maintain our global technology edge, we need this. Cheap, plentiful broadband in the form of end-to-end fiber optic cable as well as new wimax technologies would allow companies to form as cloud services, as well as companies in traditional markets looking to gain an edge by making use of the new cloud services and service providers. It's a win-win for everyone.

As a footnote, I'll point out that Sarah Lacy was most disappointing when interviewed on Forum. She apparently reduced these initiatives down to working in coffee shops and giving poor kids access to broadband. Not that I mind either of these, of course, but she misses the larger point - this sort of large-scale investment by the federal government would inject a great deal of energy into our present and future economic growth. Our economy right now absolutely relies on a strong IT component, and it only makes sense that future economic growth hinges on our IT investment.

Boo, Sarah - it's the economy, stupid.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Building Vibrant Open Source Communities

This is a presentation I gave in March with Fabrizio from Funambol... with a few changes to reflect new observations since then :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's the Infrastructure, Stupid

(or how I learned to stop worrying and love socialism)

As we prepare for the beginning of a new presidency and an ascendant Democratic party, my thoughts have turned recently to governance and what lessons we can draw from the Open Source phenomenon (I refuse to call it a movement).

Infrastructure wants to be free

In the world of open source software, it became quite clear that matters of computing infrastructure, particularly operating systems, were easy pickings for open source processes. The reason for this is that no one wants to pay a premium for items that are taken for granted as the cost of doing business. And with the success of multiple open source projects, you no longer have to pay a premium for software that does the basics. The result is that there were plenty of reasons for a critical mass of people to get involved in the creation of these infrastructure items, ie. Linux, Apache, MySQL, et al. Because of this, you no longer find software companies looking to create proprietary versions of the above and charge a premium.

The success of the open source projects makes that business model obsolete. Instead, what the smarter companies have done is use these infrastructure components as the basis for the pieces that they build – which they can then charge a premium for. As a result, innovation happens because these companies are no longer saddled with the cost of creating infrastructure and can, instead, focus on the innovative pieces they wish to create. By bringing down the cost of innovation, it means that are free to do more of it and advance their field more than they would have otherwise. Whether the company in question is conducting scientific research, running a health care institution, writing software, or providing computing services for clients, all of these benefit from the mass availability of cheap, reliable open source infrastructure. Open source software is the great enabler of innovation in many fields, including, but not limited to, software. This is a direct result of the socialization of software costs.

While open source software is largely free of charge, there is a cost of paying engineers to write it. The big dirty secret about open source software is that many engineers who spend time writing and managing open source projects are paid to do so, whether they work for an independent software vendor, an IT department within a large company, a government agency, a scientific organization, or a non-profit. These institutions do this because of the economic benefits of participating – by distributing the costs around a large block of seemingly unrelated organizations, they all benefit by being able to use freely available open source software, relying on its low cost in order to run their operations more effeciently and economically. The myth of open source is that it's all written by kids in a basement or college students with nothing better to do with their time. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a real economic benefit to participating in open source projects, and the smarter organizations view it as necessary overhead, because it sure beats the alternative of paying premium prices.

Example 1: Healthcare

When applying the lessons from open source infrastructure to the inner workings of government, one thing becomes clear – our infrastructure costs are way too high. One obvious example is health care. Our businesses are saddled with the rising cost of healthcare, which puts a damper on their ability to compete in a global marketplace. The reason businesses have to face this challenge is that, at least historically, Americans have resisted the idea of socialized medicine, refusing to pay the taxes required for such a system. The open source approach would be for the costs of medical care to be socialized and available to everyone at a nominal cost. The societal and economic benefits of such a system are readily apparent, for not only would more people be able to afford health care, but our businesses would be free to spend their dollars formerly reserved for employee health care on innovation. It would seem, then, that the traditional argument against socialism, that of preventing innovation, is turned on its head. Instead of socialized health care being an obstacle to innovation, it is a catalyst for more innovation.

Example 2: Telecommunications

Now let's consider the issue of our telecommunications providers and why fundamental reform is necessary to repair the economy. I will use as an example our subsidies for roads and highways. We don't expect to pay tolls for most of our roads. We expect our roads to be available, relatively free of problems, and a cheap way to get from point A to point B. The benefits of this are obvious – by subsidizing our highway system, the cost of transporting goods is significantly reduced, thereby freeing up capital that would otherwise be spent building roads and bridges. A similar tactic would yield similar results with telecommunications.

The state of our national telecom infrastructure is hardly becoming of an industrialized country, particularly the world's largest economy. By not pushing our telecom capabilities to at least match the levels of Korea, Japan, and several other industrialized nations, we are missing many opportunities to bolster our struggling economy and reestablish ourselves as a global technology leader. I call this, the “infrastructure gap.” Imagine a federal program to lead a nationwide effort to construct fiber optic cable plus all the necessary infrastructure pieces to reach every municipality, in the same way that electricity grids were constructed. What would that do to the price of bandwidth? Now consider how much our modern economy relies on the fast, efficient transfer of bits around the globe – let's face it, as a culture we're completely dependent on bits and bytes delivered via telecommunications infrastructure.

Socializing the cost of telecom infrastructure will have 2 clear benefits: there will be greater bandwidth available in places where it currently doesn't exist or is prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, with the drastically reduced cost of telecommunications services, businesses will have more capital available to invest. Given the recent developments around cloud computing, imagine the possibilities with cheaper, ubiquitous bandwidth. This would fuel a boom of more services delivered via the cloud in ways that aren't possible now, with 2 clear beneficiaries: entrepreneurs rushing to provide services via the cloud as well as entrepreneurs who build new business that take advantage of those cloud services. The latter would be able to make money off of services that cannot currently be efficiently automated.

With the Obama administration and the continued global economic crisis, there has been talk of a *new* new deal. Drawing from what we know about the proliferation of open source software, the new new deal should focus on programs to eliminate the infrastructure gap. Let's start with telecommunications - establish a nationwide effort to push our telecom infrastructure into the 21st century. Doing so will lead to a boom in new startups taking advantage of this technology and showing the way forward to future economic success.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Reiser Case Proves Geeks No Different from Others

I, and many others, have long considered geeks to be quite different from the general populace. One of the ways this manifests itself, or so I thought, was in our ability to look at a situation objectively and divorce ourselves from pesky human emotions. I call this "geek exceptionalism" - that some things which apply to others simply don't apply to us. We laughed at many a convicted felon's family and friends who defended said convict's innocence because, in our view, they simply weren't able to look at the situation from a distance. We, or at least *I*, knew that I wouldn't make that same mistake.

Unfortunately, the Reiser case has brought to the fore the fact that, at least in some ways, we're really just like all the other numbskull humans on the planet, subject to the same emotions and biased points-of-view as everyone else. It's painful to conclude that we're really not all that exceptional, but as I recall those of us who defended Reiser and accused the jury of convicting someone without the necessary evidence, my main takeaway is that we really cannot place a higher value on our judgment over anyone else's. Speaking only for myself, I didn't think it was possible for someone as nerdy as Hans to harm anyone. The few times I met Hans, "prone to physical violence" was not a characteristic that came to mind.

With the apparent location and retrieval of Nina Reiser's remains, mine and many others fears have been confirmed: Nina was in fact murdered, and it was at the hands of Hans. So whenever we need to make a judgment about something to which we have a personal attachment, we would do well to take into account the opinions of those who can truly provide an independent, unbiased point-of-view... even if they're not a geek :)

Today, my thoughts go out to Nina's children and other family members. May they find health and happiness in the future.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Lug Radio Live; New Position Paper

I’m happy to announce that will be represented at its first event, Lug Radio Live, which will be held at the Metreon in San Francisco on April 12th and 13th. Several of us have been working on the challenge of gettings things going organizationally, and appearing at an honest-to-goodness event looks to be a tangibly rewarding experience.

We will have a table at the expo. Also, Ilan and I will be speaking on Sunday at 3pm.

If you’d like to come by and say hello, or if you’re interested in helping out, please do let us know.

In getting ready for Lug Radio Live, we've had to refresh the site material to reflect some of the changes we've made organizationally, including a new mission statement:

Note: is a group of concerned citizens currently in the process of incorporating as a non-profit in the state of California.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nick Carr: Bebo and Digital Sharecroppers

This was an interesting article by Nick Carr that popped up in Google Reader today - it's about the Bebo acquisition by AOL and how the founders have been rewarded handsomely, to the tune of $800 million, with diddly squat going to the artists who contributed site content. From the article:

As for the millions of members who have happily served as sharecroppers on the Birches' plantation, they'll get the satisfaction of knowing that all the labor they donated to their "community" did indeed create something of tangible value. No doubt they're thrilled that the little Bebo plantation, which they've tended so lovingly, is now part of the giant AOL plantation, itself part of the Time-Warner conglomerate.

The article goes on to reference a great NY Times op-ed by Billy Bragg. It's all must-read stuff.

In the Open Source world, we deal with this all the time. People often ask how we can make money off the backs of free labor, to which I always answer: we don't. But the question lingers, and for good reason. Being a community-centric company is a double-edged sword. After all, if you've successful in convincing a fair number of community members to buy into your vision, what, if anything, is your responsibility to them? Ultimately, my opinion rests on the assumption that is a rather different example from most Open Source community sites, because in those cases, the company gives the community items of great value, whether it's the software, better documentation, or simply the investment into care and feeding of the community.

This is in stark contrast to a community like Bebo's, where the vast majority of content comes from the users. Sure, web sites like my employer's are geared towards providing conduits for community contributions and feedback, but it's always clear in that case that the owner of the web site is the primary source of an overwhelming amount of the content. In Bebo's case, without user-generated content, there wouldn't be anything of value at all.

Well, at least I see a difference. What about you? What do open source companies owe their communities? What are their responsibilities? Put it in the comments below.

More Questions on the Open Source Initiative

In addition to my post yesterday on the subject of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and whether they represent us, I was encouraged to see a few others pop up with a similar line of thinking.

Mark Hinkle actually delved into the OSI by-laws and reported what he found.

Reuven Lerner opened the question of who should lead the Open Source community.

Both of these attack the problem from different angles, but the question remains: is the current setup the best we can manage? I would argue no.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Blogging Hyperic: Whither Initiative?

I just posted this on the blog:

There has been significant conversation around the OSI of late, spurred by Bruce Perens campaign to become a board member. Having had a long history myself in Free and Open Source Software, the recent activity bears reflection and begs the question “What is the purpose of the Open Source Initiative?” Let’s take a look at the definition of Initiative (noun):

  1. an introductory act or step; leading action: to take the initiative in making friends.
  2. readiness and ability in initiating action; enterprise: to lack initiative.

When I think of the OSI, I think of an organization that started 10 years ago to help define a market around Open Source. That market is now booming, so what is their current “Initiative”? The protection of the term “Open Source”? This is contradictory in that to protect it, they chose echo-chamber myopia as their methodology.

Read the entire post here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scientology and Apple?

I take back every bad thing I ever said about Dan Lyons. As reported in Michael Cote's tweet from Lyons' EclipseCon keynote:

"If the church of scientology chose to go into the electronics industry, you know, they'd be Apple."

Frankly, I didn't know he had it in him. And then Lyons followed that up with this sidebar on a slide:

"Apple PR is like a Russian prison guard with a rifle on the ramparts."

Wow, I'm sad to have missed it! I never thought I'd be a kindred spirit with the Fake Steve.

Edit: Ok, that's a tad hyperbolic. Lyons has said some monumentally stupid things in the past. But I'm with him this time.

Getting Ready for OSBC - March 25 - 26

I was quite startled to learn yesterday that next week is OSBC. Apparently, I'm the only person crazy enough to go up against Mark Shuttleworth, John Roberts and Marten Mickos. I am moderating a panel titled The Community Imperative: Building and Leveraging Community into IT at 10:30am on Tuesday, March 25. For the remainder of this week, I'll report on who's on the panel, what they've been doing in the world of Open Source, and why you should care.

I'm really looking forward to this, as I've always been a fan of OSBC. It will be fun. If you're going to OSBC and have already seen Mickos, Roberts and Shuttleworth speak multiple times, then this is the panel for you!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Good Moves by the OSI

I was heartened to read this writeup on CAOS and the canonical blog post by Simon Phipps. I have thought for some time that the way the OSI (and by extension, the OSD) is set up does not meet the needs of the current software landscape. If you look at Creative Commons, they explicitly recognize different use cases and different licensing terms based on use case. I never understood why the OSI insisted on a one-size-fits-all strategy that didn't recognize the different goals of some "open" technologies that did not meet the criteria of the OSD. While they always claimed to be business-friendly and not about ideology, their inflexibility seemed to indicate otherwise and resulted in some not-so-friendly encounters with companies who published software under

Now it seems that Simon Phipps may be attempting to move the organization into a more nuanced, flexible direction. I can only applaud this line of thinking as it's long overdue. He suggests renaming the OSD to "Open Source Copyright Definition" and creating the entirely new "Open Source Patent Definition" and "Open Source Trademark Definition." This is a welcome change. It's not exactly the Creative Commons model, but I look at it as the first step to recognizing that not all open definitions are the same - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Dear Dan Lyons: Open Source was Never 'Counter Culture'

Day 10,274 of misunderstood musings on Open Source. Dan Lyons talks about Open Source being in "an identity crisis" likening it to some punk band from the 70's that's now playing stadiums and losing touch with its original ethos. This is wrong on many, many levels.

First off, Open Source was never counter culture. This has been a difficult lesson for many to learn, due to the casual conflation of Open Source with Free Software and the FSF. One could argue that there is a significant set of Open Source developers and users who believe very strongly in things like information rights, code reciprocity, and the like (I count myself in this group). But the real impetus behind the Open Source ecosystem has been decades-old economic trends which I outlined in this article.

However, I do have to give Dan Lyons credit for this bit when discussing Sun's acquisition of MySQL:

"It's a great publicity stunt, but how will giving away products Sun already owns, and spending $1 billion to acquire another free product, save Sun? Pixie dust would have to be at work here. It reminds me of a sketch from South Park where gnomes steal underpants as part of a three-phase business plan..."

For whatever reason, Sun has spent a great deal of time commoditizing both hardware and software. One wonders if they're actually trying to back themselves into the services corner, because they seem to be headed in that direction.

So score one for the Fake Steve.

The GPL as IP Protection Tool

Via 451 CAOS Theory, just learned that the Software Freedom Law Center settled its GPL infringement suit with Verizon. I’ll leave the details of the case as an exercise for the reader, but it basically involves a company not adhering to the terms of the GPL.

As Jay Lyman of The 451 Group notes, this result is hardly a surprise:

…the GPL is not some exotic, first-of-its kind license, document or legal doctrine. Actually, it is based largely on U.S. copyright law, particularly in the case of GPLv2, which is the BusyBox license. It amazes me that some people think the GPL will be refuted, defeated or ‘thrown out of court.’ That would mean ‘throwing out’ U.S. copyright law, and I don’t see that happening, ever.

It amazes me how much misunderstanding of the GPL still exists. No, the GPL does not cede your intellectual property to the public domain - as a matter of fact, it does a pretty good job of protecting it. In fact, the GPL is a pretty good compromise between granting rights to all parties and protecting IP. This case is another demonstration of that. Verizon knew they couldn’t win, so they settled. Makes sense to me.

There’s a reason we chose the GPL v2 when releasing Hyperic HQ under an Open Source license. As Eben Moglen himself has been known to say, It’s Good Not To Be Your Competitor’s Free Lunch.

Dirk Riehle: Total Growth of Open Source

Via Dana Blankenhorn's blog, I came across an excellent article, "The Total Growth of Open Source" from Amit Deshpande and Dirk Riehle from SAP Research. In it, they look at over 5,000 active and popular Open Source projects and concluded

"...that the total amount of source code as well as the total number of open source projects is growing at an exponential rate. Previous research showed linear and quadratic growth in lines of source code of individual open source projects. Our work shows that open source is expanding into new domains and applications at an exponential rate."

It's one thing to read that. It's quite another to actually see it in action (see graph above tracking lines of source code over time).

This is pretty heady stuff. One of my assumptions has been that Open Source, being a child of the internet, directly benefited from the sheer numbers of people who understood more about software development. My hypothesis was that, as more knowledge was distributed online, the growth in Open Source development would continue. The evidence would seem to corroborate that assumption.

Also interesting was the methodology of the study. As online tools grow ever deeper, the data at Riehle's disposal is richer than ever. In fact, they pulled their data from, using their data pulls from source code repositories to measure the additions and subtractions for Open Source projects. They used a measure of the number of incoming links to project home pages to determine the top projects to measure, and then tracked their growth over time.

One thing I would have liked to see and didn't - at least, not that I can tell - is how much of the growth was "organic" and how much was due to more projects springing up. It's great to know the total number of lines of code and the total number of projects. What we don't know is which of these projects are chiefly responsible for the growth, or what the average "health" rating is for each project. Even better still would be to divy up the projects into general categories based on growth in lines of code: would that give an accurate representation of a project's overall "health"?

Back in 2001, when it seemed that our world was imploding, I recall some folks wondering aloud whether Open Source contributions would stop. Judging from this study, at least, it seems pretty clear that the .com implosion had little impact on Open Source growth, if any at all.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Yahoo's Zawodny: We're Open, Too!

I've met Jeremy Zawodny, although I don't know him. From what I have gathered, he and a bunch of people at Yahoo are doing some great work on the Open Source side of the house. In a blog post, Jeremy talks about how Yahoo! has "been on the openness road for a long, long time." The focus of his post was in response to an absurd Mary Jo Foley post about Yahoo's openness being a poison pill for MSFT. Matt Asay also picked up on this and gives Yahoo well-deserved kudos for their efforts. But I couldn't help but notice this little nugget from Jeremy:

Some times it hasn't been as visible as others, but believe me, the trend is quite clear when you look at all the data.

Er, not as visible as what others? Well, we know the answer to that one. You would think that with this admission that Yahoo's efforts lack the same visibility as Google, that the higher-ups might, you know, take notice and learn from the success of others. I know Jeremy has promised more openness, and I look forward to it, but something tells me that they lack Google's knack for maximizing the exposure of their Open Source contributions. It's one thing to make real Open Source contributions and give your community value. It's quite another to make those contributions *and* get real value in return. When it comes to reaping benefits from Open Source efforts, no one comes close to Google.

But Yahoo's not the only one who fails to understand this. I continue to be amazed at those companies who insist on repeating mistakes from the past and refuse to learn from successes and failures. Google has already shown how a major technology company can use Open Source to its advantage. "Tier 1" tech companies should be lambasted by shareholders for not following a winning example.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Toward a $0 Cost Future?

By now, you've no doubt heard of Chris Anderson, Wired's Editor, and his recent article, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. If you haven't, you should read it - it's an interesting compendium of how technology is changing the value of things. However, as was the case with 'The Long Tail', it's a bit light on analysis and a bit heavy on broad proclamations that don't stand up to further critique. However, all told, reading the article in a commercial open source context can be rather revealing.

I'll summarize some of the article's tasty bits: what Chris calls "cross-product subsidies" are becoming more and more prevalent as technology allows companies greater flexibility than ever to create free complements to what they actually sell. This creation of more and more free complements means there are more and more free things to consume, and this will continue. Thus, everything will be free! Or not... This is a nice, elegant idea, but the article tends to deviate from this elegant description into a hodgepodge of pseudo-economics and other seemingly random bits of information that may or may not prove the author's point.

But before I get into that, a word about how the media is treating this article. You would think, based on the fawning reports in the mainstream press, that Anderson had somehow written some groundbreaking thesis on economics. He hasn't. And in fact, he's far from the first to describe this in the popular media. As I was reminded by a friend earlier today, Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame wrote a brilliant, concise article on the same subject way back in 2002, a whole 6 years ago. Considering that the half-life of news in the Internet era is measured in days, if not hours, I suppose our hardworking media members can be forgiven for not realizing they were scooped by about a century in Internet years. Once upon a time, it was the job of the media to suss out fact from fiction and empirical facts from parlor tricks. To, you know, critically analyze something.

As someone who also likes to dabble in economics and technology, Anderson's vision of the free(r) future is tantalizing. However, the primary failing of his article is the lack of any explanation of *why* this is happening. He starts with the premise that technology gets cheaper, particularly Internet-driven technology, and then tells us that this cheaper technology gives companies greater flexibility to give away products and services. But there's something missing here - a big something, fundamental to the whole article. Why does "anything that touches digital networks" quickly feel "the effect of falling costs?" He never bothers to explain. Perhaps he doesn't think it's interesting.

As I mentioned, the basic points are stated well, and I find them interesting. The bit about disruption of markets due to the increasing number of free things is right on the money. But again, this point has been made several times when describing the function of the internet. It's also a point used to often describe how companies can make money off of Open Source software - give away something to drive other lines of revenue. But mostly, my issue with the article is that it pretends to be something its not - it could have stated the point in less than two pages, but it trudges on through a narcoleptic seven pages in a misguided attempt to appear to have found cutting-edge answers to a perplexing problem. Oh well, at least with all the media coverage, maybe we won't have to deal so much with annoying questions about how people are going to get paid for producing free things. I won't hold my breath.

I probably would have never written this without all the media coverage given to the article, but I found all the hubbub incomprehensible. It appears Anderson has an upcoming book about free stuff. I'm sure it will be an interesting read. I, too, am working on a book on this subject. Except, in my case, I'm going to publish it as a work-in-progress wiki book and collect money via adwords (thank you, Google!). *That's* how you do it.

The Google Open Source Program Office - A Model to Emulate?

At a recent SDForum event, I was doing my usual schtick about communities, when I happened to mention one of my recent thoughts: that Google's Open Source Program Office kicks major ass. I can think of no other company that has merged marketing, PR, real code, real community events, and real *stuff* that geeks find enthralling as cohesively as Google. It seems to me, as an outsider, to be an almost perfect blend of how you develop community and derive real value from it. And as I always like to point out - in order to do that, you must first give your community real value. Google seems particularly good at both giving and getting value. Better, in fact, than anyone else.

And yet, you would have thought that the audience were a collection of cows staring at a newly-installed gate. Crickets chirped. And then I heard some push-back:

They do it for recruiting!

Well, yes, this is true. But then, I didn't say they were altruistic, but rather that they knew what they were doing with respect to community development. They invest in communities, many of them related to Open Source, and this devotion to community helps them tremendously. It helps them when they launch a new set of services, because the communities they target will no doubt be the early adopters. It helps when Google launches a new platform, such as Android, because their communities will be the source of a great number of hackers who will enjoy bending Android to their will.

As is often the case, whenever I say something that meets with any sort of vehement disagreement, I obsess over why my view differs so greatly from those whose opinions I normally agree with. So, expect to see more posts as I dive more deeply into this issue. It also helps that this happens to coincide with the latest installment of the Google Summer of Code.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Thoughts on Open Source Users and Freedom

I posted this over at The subject matter is about Linux, specifically, but really it could apply to any Open Source software user. Re-posting below:

Over at the TuxToday blog, there’s a post about Linux users not caring about freedom - because they’d rather just use Adobe’s Flash plugin in lieu of Free Software like Gnash. Or they think Richard Stallman and the FSF are morons who are hurting the Open Source movement.

I’m torn by this argument, because I can see both sides of this. On one hand, it is true that fewer Linux and FLOSS users today care about the “free” in Free Software, and I lament this occurrence. On the other hand, however, I would be remiss not to point out that, at times, the FSF and Richard Stallman can be their own worst enemies. Note, however, that I am in full agreement with the stated goals of the FSF.

Also, we must understand why this phenomenon is taking place. I think a big part of it is that simply Free Software has expanded beyond the traditional techno-libertarian space it once occupied. And furthermore - and this is why groups like even exist at the moment - we have done a very poor job of explaining to people why they should care. If you look beyond the techno elite, very few people understand the underlying problems of the lack of protected freedoms in the digital space.

This is why is dedicated to the idea that everyone deserves the protected right to access what we own, on our terms. Because identifying the problem in that language makes it apparent to the layman what is wrong, ie. we *don’t* currently have the protected right to access what we own. And in fact, with laws like the DMCA, not only do we not have that right, but we can run afoul of the law simply by acting on the supposition that we have that right.

We believe that the secret to these issues lies in addressing them in a language that everyone can understand. This is about the right to education, our mandate as human beings to wipe out the digital divide and ensure tech access for everyone, and the simple fact that the prominence of technology in 2008 raises information rights to the level of human rights. Note the term I chose there: information rights. Not “digital rights”. “Digital rights” seems to be a term reserved for the technorati, something that everyday people need not care about. “Information rights” - ok, that’s a term more people can identify with.

So, if we want things to change, we’re going to have to get organized and make an effort to speak “right down to earth, in a language that everybody can understand.” At, we’re working on political efforts to make sure that both politicians and the non-techie audience can understand why we care.

Won’t you consider joining

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Open Source Politics BoF at SCALE

For those of you with a dislike of all things political, I strongly suggest you avert your eyes from this post.

If you've already booked your ticket to SCALE, I hope you'll drop by the Open Source Politics birds-of-a-feather on Friday at 8pm in the appropriately named "Kennedy" room. There, I and Ilan Rabinovitch, one of SCALE's co-founders, will discuss a Voter Information Project as well as some of our other thoughts around Of most importance is how to approach the upcoming June primaries in California (Feb. 5 is "just" the presidential primary).

If you want to know more, sign up for the mailing list.

Of False Dichotomies and 'Proprietary Open Source'

On the Open Sources blog, Savio Rodrigues goes to great lengths to basically say "It's proprietary Open Source! Not that there's anything wrong with that..." Savio's point is to define as "proprietary open source" when you cannot post your modifications upstream into the canonical project. He uses the following example to illustrate his point:

I buy a license for RHEL
I find a bug or want a new feature
Lucky for me, I have the source code to RHEL
I also have the technical skills to pay the billz
I fix the bug and add that new feature to my copy of RHEL
I no longer have RHEL, I have RHEL*

Can I get support for RHEL* from Red Hat? A candy bar to readers who answer, “nope, you’re out of luck, Red Hat won’t support you on anything other than RHEL (i.e. RHEL* != RHEL)”.

Well, yes, Savio. It's called gating your community to prevent any riff-raff from contributing their riffy-raff into your codebase. Put another way - let's say that the people producing RHEL* above were to, say, learn from their experience and become more involved with the software projects that form parts of RHEL or Fedora. In that case, their changes are not for nought and are then propagated throughout the RHEL ecosystem. Yes, it's true that before you build up that trust you are basically SOL when it comes to pushing your changes to the upstream project(s), but I can't see this trust mechanism going away, and for good reason.

Savio's larger point, and the reason he calls it proprietary, is to state that this is the moral equivalent of good ole regular proprietary software... not that there's anything wrong with that! However, the fact remains that Savio's commentary would have been just as valid if he used any of the .org-iest of the .org's in his example. I defy anyone to name an open source project, no matter how academic or non-profit in structure, that will immediately take on a new contributor's code. They won't, and they shouldn't. The RHEL / RHEL* example above would have been just as valid if it were about Linux kernel / Linux kernel* or bash / bash* or any number of other projects in the world.

So yes, being the creator of the code does place you in a position of power with respect to what goes into it in the future. This is true whether you're a traditional proprietary ISV or a college professor itching to form a non-profit foundation around your pet project. This is not news, and I'm pretty sure it's not proprietary.