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Re: [] Welcome back to

From: Bradley M. Kuhn
Subject: Re: [] Welcome back to
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2011 14:39:23 -0400
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/23.1 (gnu/linux)

Mike Linksvayer wrote at 00:19 (EDT) on Monday:
> Most of the required software development effort doesn't involve
> solving truly hard problems.
> Exhibit A:
> Yes there are hard and interesting problems that ought be solved;
> fortunately they're pretty attractive to work on. 

That could be true.  I honestly find a it a bit upsetting that, for
example, StatusNet still doesn't have a working "backup my data", which
seems like a fundamental need for autonomous networked computing.

Given the high caliber of hackers working on StatusNet, my assumption
was that the many of the problems like this remained unsolved because
they were somewhat difficult to solve.  But, is it really just a "not
enough coders" issue?  I don't follow the StatusNet codebase well enough
to have an idea one way or the other on that.

> Per above, I think the pool of people who can usefully contribute to
> increasing the use of services and substitutes for that offer software
> freedom relative to the use of proprietary services, is large.
> Furthermore, users, as well as entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers,
> and others can make a difference.

While I agree with this generally, I think in the short term, we've got
to hunker down for some Dark Ages before it gets better.  FaceBook and
Twitter continue to grow in popularity, and it seems to me there will
continue to be, at best, a "hand-off" from one proprietary venue to
another, as there has been in the past (i.e., MySpace -> FaceBook) for
some time to come.

Ultimately this is why I think convincing hackers is so central, much
moreso than users, policymakers, investors, etc..  It's sort of
traditional GNU philosophy: if someone codes up an alternative that
respects freedom that's just as good, people will tend to use it anyway
whether they realize yet they seek freedom or not.

> Ridiculous! The forefront of *what*? A slightly larger circle of FLOSS
> advocates strongly inclined to care once made aware? I doubt we
> reached even a tiny fraction of that population.

If you're right about that last sentence, then my argument in my
previous email was indeed utterly wrong.  I was starting to feel like
most Free Software hackers (particularly in the "under 30" set; which is
always the key hacker group to reach) care about this problem, and I see
a lot of projects starting up and trying to address autonomous network
computing issues.

But, maybe I'm looking too narrowly.  I think we *do* need to reach
hackers about this, and if we haven't, there's work we must do.

However, I think convincing anyone on issues who's not
already aware of software freedom is a huge hurdle that may be
time-wasting until we have really good alternative software.  Anecdote:

  My wife said to me last night: "It sucks that you're not on Facebook."
  I was taken aback, because she knows why I'm not and what I care so
  much about *not* being there.

  Well, turns out there was a greater cause: Lady Gaga is taking votes
  to give away tons of money to non-profits in NYC, and the place my
  wife has been volunteering is seriously in the running and could use
  the votes.  But I can't vote because I'm not on FaceBook.

So, this got me thinking about greater goods and the like.  (The place
my wife volunteers does seriously good work for young people in NYC;
it's tough to argue that the importance of the work doesn't compete
head-to-head with software freedom on the "important cause" scale.) [0]

My conclusion was just this: most people treat these sites as if they're
"the Internet"; a poll taken on FaceBook is seen to be happening "on the
Internet" because "who in the world would be on 'the Internet' without a
FaceBook account?".  In other words, being on FaceBook and Twitter *is*
being on the Internet now.  It's a monumental task, seems to me, to
convince anyone who's not already at least somewhat aware and cares
about software freedom to pay attention today to this problem.

It's akin to trying to explain to a Microsoft or Apple desktop user in
1993 why you wouldn't run one of those systems on your desktop.  In
2011, I can actually say I run something else now that isn't Microsoft
or Apple and have some reasonable chance that they heard about that
"Linux [sic] thing".  But in 1993, I had TSA agents hold me briefly for
questioning about why I had a PC that displayed "login: " when booted
instead of Windows 3.1 or DOS.  (In the end, I actually told them "I use
something like DOS, but different in the details".)

We got from there to here by convincing hackers to write Free Software
for GNU/Linux.  It seems to me this is a problem close enough that we
need the same thing: convince hackers they don't want to code up
something that doesn't respect the Franklin Street Statement.

> I don't think many people are still -- and I suspect we're still in
> early days of even understanding "the issue" relative to software
> freedom and vice versa -- and that's a gigantic gaping hole, and IMO
> where (or something; maybe this group isn't the right
> thing to fill the hole) is needed.

This can be true, although I think this part of your point isn't
incompatible with my "let's try to reach hackers" approach I'm
advocating in this email.

BTW, just to be clear that I haven't given up on advocacy;
I've been submitting my inspired talk "With Software as a
Service, is only the Network Luddite Free?" again at places, which I'll
update with recent facts of course.

I'm delivering it on Sunday at LFNW this weekend, FWIW.

> I was both bothered and pleased -- the failure to keep the group's
> services up in any reasonable way is some kind of a lesson.

Agreed.  Online services are *hard* and take a lot of work; that's why
unFree offerings are so alluring.

Anyway, I don't think we disagree on that much; my previous email might
have been a bit more strongly worded than what I actually believe.  I
definitely agree that advocacy about online service freedom issues to
those already friendly and supportive of software freedom is still very
much needed.

I do meanwhile remain dubious that is equipped or organized
enough to do that.  OTOH, FSF (which is equipped and organized) has
taken up a campaign related to this issue (focused somewhat on the
proprietary Javascript download sub-problem, but it's definitely in's scope).  I think that will be helpful at drawing the
attention of, say, the
gmail-loving-but-otherwise-software-freedom-hardcore crowd.

[0] Anecdote ends with: I didn't sign up for FaceBook, but told my wife I'd
    tell people I know who use FaceBook to vote for the org she's
    volunteering for.  So, if you're on FaceBook already anyway, please
    vote for "The Door" in Lady Gaga's donation poll. :)  But please
    don't sign up just to vote. :)

   -- bkuhn

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