Free Software in the Social Era


Jon says:

After arriving at work this morning, I came across Bradley Kuhn's 'No, You Won't See Me on Facebook, Google Plus nor Skype' post, thought it was excellent and wanted to share it.

I share many of Kuhn's concerns about social networks and other proprietary network services. For starters, I believe that there are substantial problems with private, propreitary companies becoming the de facto standard for identity on the web: there's all kinds of tracking they can do, that they do, which users don't know about.

I also worry that as a service becomes more central to the way we use the web, it becomes harder and harder for those of us with concerns about these services to avoid them, the peer pressure that Kuhn talks about. This is a minor inconvenience in many countries around the world, but in some it actually puts lives at risk.

Before reading this post, however, I hadn't noticed the trend of free software taking advantage of these services for hosting development discussions, and this is worrying. As Kuhn says:

'When I point out that I use only Free Software, some respond that Skype, Facebook, and Google Plus are convenient and do things that can't be done easily with Free Software currently. I don't argue that point. It's easy to resist Microsoft Windows, or Internet Explorer, or any other proprietary software that is substandard and works poorly. But proprietary software developers aren't necessarily stupid, nor untalented. In fact, proprietary software developers are highly paid to write easy-to-use, beautiful and enticing software (cross-reference Apple, BTW). The challenge the software freedom community faces is not merely to provide alternatives to the worst proprietary software, but to also replace the most enticing proprietary software available. Yet, if FaiF Software developers settle into being users of that enticing proprietary software, the key inspiration for development disappears.'

I think this is an excellent point. It's also one that Richard Stallman has been making for years: if we don't tell people about the freedom part of free software, if they just use it because we tell them it's better than the proprietary alternatives, as soon as something that's more convenient, easier to use or more beautiful comes along, they'll stop using free software.

Note that I don't necessarily agree with Kuhn or Stallman that free software is a necessary condition for securing trust in digital technology. It's certainly important in many cases, but I also think that, if the free software alternative is just plain bad, it's no good for non-technical users who are going to end up loosing data or unable to get their work done. In these situations, legal protections, data portability and standards support are also useful means to establish and strengthen trust.

Oh, and I'm also aware of the fact that this post is being shared to Facebook, and that I have Twitter and GMail accounts...

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Your comments

Opposites also deflect

I also saw it and thought it was pointless. It is a website. Would Bradley refrain from commenting on New York Times website because not all of it is free software? The blogs are hosted on Drupal, does that make it okay?
There are privacy/data mining issues, but honestly, don't we know that? Isn't the point of commenting that people read your comments? It is a public forum, shame on those who discover it?
I feel that Bradley is taking a software approach to content, and I do not think that makes sense.

open source social networking...

have you tired *Diaspora got my invite last week, it's all the others are, but open source. It just needs people to get on board and popularise it....

long veiw, short veiw

Everybody jumped onto Facebook without much question? It was like Email without Email.
After a time there seemed to be a realization that some spotty little Arse was making millions out of us just because we where on Facebook talking to each other¿
Of course Facebook, Google Et al are all contemptible, they have turned this very mode of communication into a monetized capitalist system. Our likes and dislikes are up for sale, every word every utterance every thought that has meaning every word every utterance every thought you thought had no meaning betrays it's counterpart...

It is worth remembering thought that they didn't invent the system. They simply modelled it better to suit this (still) very new environment.

The pay off for us though has been immeasurable. There are tools online now that are proving indispensable to millions. They are here NOW in the present not in some idyllic future.

The word they use is Expedient. These tools are expedient to us and the company's that deploy them. They profit us both. In the short term they are proving very useful, as seen in the mass protest movement, a notable example.
In the long term what's the worst that can happen? They already know your Psychographic Profile.
Are these company's any different from your classic Victorian philanthropists? With questionable employment records or a history with slavery.

Proprietary software uses free software, so we should use it for as long as it is expedient.

Above all. the truth of to all of this has always been in the address bar. Dot com, Dot org those three letters at the end of the address just after the dot, send all the message you need to know.

Viva *Diaspora

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