“Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

Danah Boyd has written an amazing analysis of “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace” that is well worth reading.

I thought this was especially interesting:

Class divisions in military use A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. This was a very interesting move because the division in the military reflects the division in high schools. Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook. Facebook is extremely popular in the military, but it’s not the SNS of choice for 18-year old soldiers, a group that is primarily from poorer, less educated communities. They are using MySpace. The officers, many of whom have already received college training, are using Facebook. The military ban appears to replicate the class divisions that exist throughout the military. I can’t help but wonder if the reason for this goes beyond the purported concerns that those in the military are leaking information or spending too much time online or soaking up too much bandwidth with their MySpace usage. MySpace is the primary way that young soldiers communicate with their peers. When I first started tracking soldiers’ MySpace profiles, I had to take a long deep breath. Many of them were extremely pro-war, pro-guns, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, pro-killing, and xenophobic as hell. Over the last year, I’ve watched more and more profiles emerge from soldiers who aren’t quite sure what they are doing in Iraq. I don’t have the data to confirm whether or not a significant shift has occurred but it was one of those observations that just made me think. And then the ban happened. I can’t help but wonder if part of the goal is to cut off communication between current soldiers and the group that the military hopes to recruit. Many young soldiers’ profiles aren’t public so it’s not about making a bad public impression. That said, young soldiers tend to have reasonably large networks because they tend to accept friend requests of anyone that they knew back home which means that they’re connecting to almost everyone from their high school. Many of these familiar strangers write comments supporting them. But what happens if the soldiers start to question why they’re in Iraq? And if this is witnessed by high school students from working class communities who the Army intends to recruit?

30 Minute Video Introduction by Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman recently made a 30 minute introduction to free software, at http://db.hbcse.tifr.res.in/rms.ogg - this file can be played with VLC on any computer.

This is especially noteworthy because at the end he outlines his current strategy for the free software movement:

When the GNU project started, it was unclear if the free software community could make a large collection of software at all. Today we have two different free OS, two different free desktop systems, two office productivity suites, and thousands of other tools. So we can have all the free software we need, we can develop the software people need, and we’re within an order of magnitude of doing the whole job. Whats not certain today is if powerful wealthy companies will let us. To continue, we now need to do political organising, as well as software development.

(paraphrased)

(Also: I ought to look into mvembed for embedding ogg theora video into pages sometime…)

I could have died this week.

I could have died this week. On Monday night I was in a major road traffic accident which killed a motorcyclist. Out of respect for the family of the deceased I won’t go into detail about what happened, but I was on my way home, about 3 minutes from my house and a Suzuki SV650 collided head-on.

Sadly I’m unable to work for a while, starting with missing out on delivering a free software speech at a local computer club on Tuesday (which I hope to reschedule for later this year)

But I’m in one piece, and basically unharmed in the context of not being dead: Wrong place, wrong time, and lucky to be alive.

Reevaluating my life this week, some of my priorities are going to change :-)

Tiemann supports Affero!

Today I was very pleasantly surprised to see a blog post by Michael Tiemann supporting Affero and thought I’d drop him a line about Fontly:

I’m a 24 year old hacker in Bournemouth, England, and I’m starting to work on free software fonts. I presented the emerging free font movement at the Libre Graphics Meeting in Montreal last month, and OGG recording and ODP slides are at http://people.xiph.org/~giles/2007/lgm/ :-) Part of the community architecture I envision for growing free fonts is a collaborative font design web app. My friend Raph Levien has just finished his math PhD at UCB where he’s been working on a new kind of spline. The C prototype is at http://levien.com/spiro but Raph is also very enthusiastic about a font design webapp, and has made a Javascript prototype at http://fontly.com/sandbox/spiro.html We are obviously planning to use Affero, and so when I saw http://opensource.org/node/152 I thought I’d drop you a line, and will keep you updated with how things progress! :-) While I’m emailing you, there’s something else I’d like to know about :-) I’m starting a Masters degree in Typeface Design at the University of Reading in the fall, and as part of my preparation for my dissertation, I’ve been doing some deep searching on the history of the free software movement. If you could explain to me, or blog about, how Red Hat went from http://www.crynwr.com/cgi-bin/ezmlm-cgi?mss:1160:medkbdodficknnkdkppb to fully supporting “open source,” that would be fascinating for me.

I was amazed that Michael replied in 2 minutes. Gotta love real hardcore hackers! :-)

Free Wireless Internet Access at UK Wetherspoons

Free Wireless Internet Access at UK Wetherspoons! Awesome. Catch is, you have to buy a drink every 30 minutes.

Free Software Business

Is there a solid business model for a free software business? Must free software only, in the long run, be developed by consultants and coops? No, the rest of this essay gives an alternative.

While searching around on this topic, I also found the astounding Free Software Business mailing list, which stars pretty much all the major characters of the 1990s chapter of the free software movement story, including Eric Raymond defending the term “open source” from good criticisms almost the day it was coined:

There’s a way to address this [problem of co-option of the term]. Bruce is going to trademark it and attach it to the Debian Open Source guidelines (formerly the Debian Free Software Guidelines).” I spoke with RMS earlier today and this satisfies him. I hope it’s good enough for you.

And we can see Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond pushing the “mere relabelling” angle - which of course came out as either disingenuous or lying pretty quickly: Adam Richter (who I’ve not heard about at all recently; I wonder where he’s gone…) immediately suggested that such a trademark application would fail, and was totally correct about that.

Just a few hours later Richard Stallman rejected the term “open source” and the CEO of Red Hat seconded him. Another excellent moment in the thread is when Len Tower said:

In retrospect, I wish that the FSF had named itself either The Freed Software Foundation or better yet The Software Freedom Foundation.

The FSB list archives are a very pleasing find in my research on the deep history of the free software movement.

SFLC aligned with Ubuntu

SFLC’s CTO will discuss the challenges and successes using Ubuntu exclusively as both the server and desktop environment for a non-profit law firm.

I guess its a fault of mine that I care what other people think, but I found it very interesting to read that the SFLC has aligned directly with Ubuntu, and this does influence me to be more Ubuntu friendly.

Freeing the Mind

Making a thing that your users can’t understand, can’t improve and therefore can’t fall in love with is not a good way of to be a manufacturer of anything.
A system which depends for its continuation upon the universalisation of ignorance for private profit is an immoral system

What Is Open Source About?

Epic blog comment by Tom Lord:

In the 1970s, a lot of people in the “hippie left” (including some effective business people) shared the vague idea that computers are somehow liberating: people who have computers, in this view, and who have all of the tools program and reprogram those machines are somehow more free, more complete human beings. Computers were understood as instruments for expressing creativity, for simplifying work, for learning, and for communication.

Intellectual property law came to be applied more widely to software. This was perceived (especially by Stallman) as a threat to liberating potential of computers. The free software movement formed initially around a tactical attack on the way software was being locked up: namely, the movement’s practical aim was to build a complete substitute for proprietary software systems and ensure that that substitute consisted of freely sharable, freely usable source code.

The free software movement, then, was the one about software and licensing. It was also, believe it or not, about labor:

As I recall, a lot of us working on the GNU software back then shared an assumption: that once the system was complete, there would always be work for systems programmers qualified to work on it, probably on an hourly basis, and mostly paying a little bit better than plumbing. It was well known that Stallman himself did occaisional $100/hr gigs: we imagined that completion of the GNU system would create a large market for such gigs, mostly working for direct end-users of the software.

Open source came about for business reasons:

The source code generated by the free software movement became commercially interesting: Before the GNU system could be completed, some businesses began to notice that the parts built so far had commercial use, largely as components in larger, proprietary software products. A good example: GCC (the compiler) was finished very early in the GNU project. Embedded systems hardware developers had a business need to sell their customers development kits, including a compiler. Compilers are expensive to develop and proprietary compilers are expensive to sub-license for a developer kit… so there is an opportunity there for a service company that supplies GCC to embedded systems companies as a component part for developers kits, redistributable without licensing fees. That’s just one example. There were others.

The problem was that the political aims of the free software movement are anathema to business models that make component-wise use of an incomplete GNU system. If your customer sells or can imagine wanting to sell proprietary software it’s a little bit difficult to say “Oh, this compiler we’re offering you? Yeah, it was written by a bunch of folks who are working hard to make sure that nobody ever has to pay a licensing fee for software. Today a compiler, tomorrow the world. Oh, and, we give them all the code we write and several of them work for us.” It’s a little off message.

Some brainstorming took place and open source was born. Open source was invented as a narrative story for the new class of businesses to tell — an alternative to the free software movement. It was invented to explain the participation of these companies in the world of source code sharing without endorsing — or even mentioning — the free software movement’s political aims or tactical objectives.

“Why is it better,” Raymond’s documents seem to ask, “to develop components for proprietary systems in this no-license-fee, code-sharing zone?” (And he comes up with the now-familiar list: many eyeballs v. bugs, the magic cauldron of free labor, free testing, free end-user focus grouping, etc.) The yarn can be spun lots of different ways.

So, Nick, open source was never about licensing (but was about licensing fees) and was never about software for software’s sake. It was about giving businesses a better story to tell their customers than “We faithfully contribute all our patches back to some guys who are out to smash proprietary software.”

The form that story took was shaped by Raymond’s writing and his famous “fetchmail” experiment. In order to make it appear business-wise rational to share source code with external projects, it was necessary to say how that participation created greater efficiencies. Raymond found that, with a little song and dance, the crowd of people participating in the fetchmail project could be drawn upon as a source of free labor, in several ways. It’s not a good story to say that that free labor came around because he is a good salesman, and so the open source yarn imagines some vague “magic” property of crowds on the internet.

Tim was right. Open source was never about licensing or software (except as petty technical matters). He writes: It was about viral distribution and marketing, network-enabled collaboration, low barriers to cooperation, and the wisdom of crowds. He’s right. Exactly right. Open source has been about exactly that same bullshit, all along.