Tag Archives: open source

Free software activities (August 2019)

A photo of a beach in Greece, with bleach and tourquoise water and well trodden sand. In the forground is an inflatable uniforn with a rainbow mane.

August was really marked by traveling too much. I took the end of the month off from non-work activities in order to focus on GUADEC and GUADEC-follow up.

Personal

  • The Debian Community Team (CT) had a meeting where we discussed some of our activities, including potential new team members!
  • CT team members went on VAC, so we took a bit of a break in the second half of the month.
  • The OSI standing committee and board had meetings.
  • I handled some paperwork in my capacity as president.
  • I had regular meetings with the OSI general manager.
  • I gave a keynote at FrOSCon on “Open source citizenship for everyone!” TL;DR: We have rights and responsibilities as people participating in free software and the open source ecosystem — “we” here includes corporate actors.
  • I bought a really sweet pair of GNOME socks. Do recommend.

Professional

  • The LAS sponsorship team met and handled the creation of some important paperwork, and discussed fundraising strategy for the event.
  • I attended the GNOME Advisory Board meeting, where I got to meet and speak with the Foundation Board and the Advisory Board about activities over the past year, plans for the future, and the needs of the communities of AdBoard members. It was really educational and a lot of fun.
  • I attended my first GUADEC! it was amazing. I wrote a trip report over on the GNOME Engagement Blog.
  • At GUADEC, I spent some time helping out with basic operations, including keeping time in sessions.
  • We, the staff and board, did a Q&A at the Annual General Meeting.
  • I drank a lot of coffee. Like, a lot.

Free software activities (July 2019)

Again, much belated with apologies.

Personal

  • Debian AH rebranded to the Debian Community Team (CT) after our sprint back in June. We had meetings, both following up on things that happened at the meeting and covering typical business. We created a draft of a new team mission statement, which was premiered, so to speak, at DebConf19.
  • While I did not attend, I participated remotely in the CT and Outreach BoFs at DC19 remotely. Special thanks to the video team for making this possible.
  • The Outreach team also had a meeting.
  • The OSI had its monthly meeting, and the Standing Committee also had a meeting.
  • The OSI Staffing Committee, of which I am a member, had a meeting.
  • I had a meeting with someone interested in working with the OSI.
  • I had weekly meetings with the General Manager of the OSI.
  • Another instance of someone being mean to me on the internet. I am almost losing count.

Professional

  • I learned a lot about the GNOME ecosystem, and the toolkit that is a necessary part of it, and parts of the project that organizations use even if they’re not using the GNOME desktop environment.
  • I had several fun meetings with people about the work we’re doing at GNOME.
  • I worked on fulfilling sponsorship benefits for GUADEC. This mostly means writing social media posts, blog posts, and working with an awesome volunteer to keep the web site updated.
  • I wrote a Friends of GNOME newsletter.
  • I wrote and published a Meet the GNOMEies interview.
  • I met with the Linux App Summit organizing team concerning sponsorships and fundraising for the event. The CFP is open and you should submit!

Free software activities (June 2019)

I know this is almost a month late, but I am sharing it nonetheless. My June was dominated by my professional and personal life, leaving little time for expansive free software activities. I’ll write a little more in my OSI report for June.

A photo of a multi-use path with trees in the background. There is a short pole in the foreground with a "Catuion Newt Crossing."

Activities (Personal)

  • The biggest thing I did was head over to the Other Cambridge (a.k.a. Cambridge Prime, a.k.a. Cambridge, UK) for a Debian sprint with the Debian Project Leader, Debian Account Managers, and Debian Anti-Harassment team.
  • We had some Anti-Harassment meetings.
  • We had some Outreach meetings.
  • I helped both teams prep for DebConf.

Activities (Professional)

  • Worked on organizing sponsorships for GUADEC. If you’re interested in attending or sponsoring GUADEC, I highly recommend it!
  • Wrote profiles of members of the GNOME community for the GNOME Engagement blog. I also wrote a newsletter for Friends of GNOME. You can see both online.
  • Attended Diversity & Inclusion team meetings, participated in the Engagement team discussions, and spoke with several GUADEC organizers.

Enbies and women in FOSS Wikipedia edit-a-thon

To be brief, I’ll be hosting a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on enbies and women in free and open source software, on June 2nd, from 16:00 – 19:00 EDT. I’d love remote participants, but if you’re in the Boston area you are more than welcome over to my place for pancakes and collaboration times.

Busy during that time? I recommend making some edits between now and then. Feel free to share them with me, so I can share your work with others!

For details and ideas, check out: this super cool etherpad!

remuneration

I am a leader in free software. As evidence for this claim, I like to point out that I once finagled an invitation to the Google OSCON luminaries dinner, and was once invited to a Facebook party for open source luminaries.

In spite of my humor, I am a leader and have taken on leadership roles for a number of years. I was in charge of guests of honor (and then some) at Penguicon for several years at the start of my involvement in FOSS. I’m a delegate on the Debian Outreach team. My participation in Debian A-H is a leadership role as well. I’m president of the OSI Board of Directors. I’ve given keynote presentations on two continents, and talks on four. And that’s not even getting into my paid professional life. My compensated labor has been nearly exclusively for nonprofits.

Listing my credentials in such concentration feels a bit distasteful, but sometimes I think it’s important. Right now, I want to convey that I know a thing or two about free/open source leadership. I’ve even given talks on that.

Other than my full-time job, my leadership positions come without material renumeration — that is to say I don’t get paid for any of them — though I’ve accepted many a free meal and have had travel compensated on a number of occasions. I am not interested in getting paid for my leadership work, though I have come to believe that more leadership positions should be paid.

One of my criticisms about unpaid project/org leadership positions is that they are so time consuming it means that the people who can do the jobs are:

  • students
  • contractors
  • unemployed
  • those with few to no other responsibilities
  • those with very supportive partners
  • those with very supportive employers
  • those who don’t need much sleep
  • those with other forms of financial privilege

I have few responsibilities beyond some finicky plants and Bash (my cat). I also have extremely helpful roommates and modern technology (e.g. automatic feeders) that assist with these things while traveling. I can spend my evenings and weekends holed up in my office plugging away on my free software work. I have a lot of freedom and flexibility — economic, social, professional — that affords me this opportunity. Very few of us do.

This is is a problem! One solution is to pay more leadership positions; another is to have these projects hire someone in an executive director-like capacity and turn their leadership roles into advisory roles; or replace the positions with committees (the problem with the latter is that most committees still have/need a leader).

Diversity is good.

The time requirements for leadership roles severely limit the pool of potential participants. This limits the perspectives and experiences brought to the positions — and diversity in experience is widely considered to be good. People from underrepresented backgrounds generally overlap with marginalized communities — including ethnic, geographic, gender, race, and socio-economic minorities.

Volunteer work is not “more pure.”

One of the arguments for not paying people for these positions is that their motives will be more pure if they are doing it as a volunteer — because they aren’t “in it for the money. I would argue that your motives can be less pure if you aren’t being paid for your labor.

In mission-driven nonprofits, you want as much of your funding as possible to come from individual or community donors rather than corporate sponsors. You want the number of individual and community donors and members to be greater than that of your sponsors. You want to ensure you have enough money that should a corporate sponsor drop you (or you drop them), you are still in a sustainable position. You want to do this so that you are not beholden to any of your corporate or government sponsors. Freeing yourself from corporate influence allows you to focus on the mission of your work.

When searching for a volunteer leader, you need to look at them as a mission-driven nonprofit. Ask: What are their conflicts of interest? What happens if their employers pull away their support? What sort of financial threats are they susceptible to?

In a capitalist system, when someone is being paid for their labor, they are able to prioritize that labor. Adequate compensation enables a person to invest more fully in their work. When your responsibilities as the leader of a free software project, for which you are unpaid, come into direct conflict with the interests of your employer, who is going to win?

Note, however, that it’s important to make sure the funding to pay your leadership does not come with strings attached so that your work isn’t contingent upon any particular sponsor or set of sponsors getting what they want.

It’s a lot of work. Like, a lot of work.

By turning a leadership role into a job (even a part-time one), the associated labor can be prioritized over other labor. Many volunteer leadership positions require the same commitment as a part-time job, and some can be close to if not actually full-time jobs.

Someone’s full-time employer needs to be supportive of their volunteer leadership activities. I have some flexibility in the schedule for my day job, so I can plan meetings with people who are doing their day jobs, or in different time zones, that will work for them. Not everyone has this flexibility when they have a full-time job that isn’t their leadership role. Many people in leadership roles — I know past presidents of the OSI and previous Debian Project Leaders who will attest to this — are only able to do so because their employer allows them to shift their work schedule in order to do their volunteer work. Even when you’re “just” attending meetings, you’re doing so either with your employer giving you the time off, or using your PTO to do so.

A few final thoughts.

Many of us live in capitalist societies. One of the ways you show respect for someone’s labor is by paying them for it. This isn’t to say I think all FOSS contributions should be paid (though some argue they ought to be!), but that certain things require levels of dedication that go significantly above and beyond that which is reasonable. Our free software leaders are incredible, and we need to change how we recognize that.

(Please note that I don’t feel as though I should be paid for any of my leadership roles and, in fact, have reasons why I believe they should be unpaid.)

advice

Recently I was asked two very good questions about being involved in free/open source software: How do you balance your paid/volunteer activities? What sort of career advice do you have for people looking to get involved professionally?

I liked answering these in part because I have very little to do with the software side, and also because, much like many technical volunteers, my activities between my volunteer work and my paid work have been similar-to-identical over the years.

How do you balance paid/volunteer activities?

My answer at the time was, effectively: I set aside clearly defined time to work on my different activities, usually once a week — generally on Sundays. I check my email a few times a day, and respond to things that are immediate within a few hours, but I handle the bulk of my work at one time. The Anti-harassment team has a regularly scheduled meeting/work time during which we handle the bulk of our necessary labor. I’ve learned to say no, I’ve learned how to delegate, and I’ve learned how to say “I’m not going to be able to finish this thing I said I could do, how can we as a team make sure it gets completed.”

This works for me because 1) I’ve put a lot of work into developing my confidence and the skills needed for working collaboratively; and 2) my biggest responsibilities outside of my job (and free software, in general) are taking care of plants and having bash. (Note: Bash is my cat.) I don’t have children or a partner. I have a band and climbing partners, but these things, much like my free software activities, are time constrained. My band meets for practice at the same time each week; I sneak in moments to play a song or run through scales during the rest of the week. I climb with the same people at the same times each week. With my fancy new job, I work remotely and am able to now even work at the climbing gym, and take little breaks to run through a few bouldering problems.

Because of all these factors — my limited and optional responsibilities towards others (I travel a lot for free software, and miss band practice and climbing sometimes, for example) — I have been able to take up leadership positions in Debian and the open source community at large. Because of my job, I was able to take on even more responsibility at the OSI. I’ve held leadership positions in my unpaid work for over ten years now, since I was a student and able to use my lack of responsibilities beyond my studies (and student job) to focus on helping to stack chairs for open source. (Note: “Stack chairs” is Molly for “perform often unseen labor, often for events.”)

As an aside, one of my criticisms about unpaid project/org leader positions is that it means that the people who can do the jobs are:

  • students
  • contractors
  • unemployed
  • those with few to no other responsibilities
  • those with very supportive partners
  • those with very supportive employers
  • those who don’t need much sleep.

I’ve slowly been swayed into the belief that many (not all) leadership positions should be paid, grant funded, come with a stipend, or be led by committee. More on this in a future blog post.

In summary: learn to tell other people you can’t do things and work on those scheduling skillz.

What sort of career advice do you have for people looking to get involved professionally?

This question was asked in an evening of panels and one thing that really stood out to me was many of the panelists saying — in response to completely different questions — that they no longer cold apply for jobs, or that all of their jobs have come from social connections, or that they just don’t apply to jobs (and only go work for places where they have been given soft offers or are invited to go straight to an interview stage).

An acquaintance of mine once said to me: I don’t believe in luck, I believe in social connections.

Our social connections form complex causal graphs, which lead to many, if not all, of the good things that happen in our lives. I got my first job in free software not because of my cool skillz, but because I happened to hang out with a friend of someone who had a friend looking for an intern.

I actually have gotten (two) jobs where I cold applied — but in both cases the people were interested in me because of a certain social connection I had — whether they realized that or not. Even my job in college, at the school library, came because I had a friend who worked there.

Telling people to network really is general job advice that works for everyone in every field of endeavor.

If you’re an introvert (like myself!) one of the best ways to form social connections is through public speaking. When you give a talk at a conference not only are you building up your personal brand and letting other people know about your skills, competency, and expertise, but you’re also giving people something to talk to you about — and they will talk to you. Giving a talk is like putting a sign on yourself saying “Come talk to me about X,” when X is something you’re actually passionate about. It’s great because you don’t have to put yourself out there to talk to strangers — strangers come to you!

Public speaking also increases your visibility in the community — this is good if you want a job. That way, when someone sees your CV/resume your name will stand out because they’ll remember seeing it before. They might not remember your talk, or maybe they didn’t even attend your talk, but they will remember seeing your name. Having a section on your CV that lists presentations you’ve given helps you stand out from everyone else because it shows you can share information well and are actually interested in what you do. Where you speak and have spoken is a shibboleth for where you see yourself in the community and what values you have: Seeing “Open Source Bridge” tells me that you’re interested in communities and building spaces where everyone is a welcome participant; OSCON and PyCon convey confidence because you know you’re opening yourself up to a potentially big audience; local meetups and conferences share a value of wanting to participate in and build up your local community; international events say that you really understand that we’re looking at a global scale here.

We also just learn to communicate better when we speak publicly. We learn better ways to share ideas, how to turn thoughts into a cohesive narrative, and how to appear confident even if we’re not.

Building off of that, learning to write is extremely, extremely important. There is an art to written communication, whether it’s a brief letter between colleagues, presentations, comments in code or other documentation, blog posts, cover letters, etc. Communicating well through writing will take you so far, especially as more jobs, especially in tech, become increasingly focused on using chat tools for collaboration.

All of the things that are true for public speaking are also true for writing well: it helps you become a recognized and valued member of your community. When I was a community manager I loved the developers (and translators and doc writers and…) who were interested in writing blog posts, participating in community Q&A/round table sessions, etc because they were the ones who made us an approachable project, who made us a great place that included people whether they were getting paid to work on the project or not.

Anyone can learn to be a passable developer (or fill in your specific role here), and anyone can learn to be a passable writer. Someone who chooses to do both is special and who I want on my team.

In summary: Learn to talk to strangers, learn public speaking, learn to write.

The people asking me these questions were, I believe, developers or at least people with technical skill sets rather than administrative, community, organizational, social, etc skill sets. This advice holds true across the spectrum of paid labor.

One person came up to me later and explained that they had been working in generating content, but wanted to switch to a more organizational role managing the aggregation and sharing of content. They asked me how they could make that transition, and my advice was exactly the same: learn to talk to people so you can learn who has opportunities and learn to communicate well because it will help you stand out and also just make your life a lot easier.

I’d also like to briefly point out that ehash gave some great answers geared towards technical roles, and I hope will share them in some public forum.

OSI Update: May 2019

A brick buildig with a wooden sign that says "Come in we're open source!"

At the most recent Open Source Initiative face-to-face board meeting I was elected president of the board of directors. In the spirit of transparency, I wanted to share a bit about my goals and my vision for the organization over the next five years. These thoughts are my own, not reflecting official organization policy or plans. They do not speak to the intentions nor desires of other members of the board. I am representing my own thoughts, and where I’d like to see the future of the OSI go.

A little context on the OSI

You can read all about the history of “open source” and the OSI, so I will spare you the history lesson for now. I believe the following are the organization’s main activities:

There are lots of other things the OSI does, to support the above activities and in addition to them. As I mentioned in my 2019 election campaign, most of what we do vacillates between “niche interesting” to “onerous,” with “boring” and “tedious” also on that list. We table at events, give talks, write and approve budgets, answer questions, have meetings, maintain our own pet projects, read mailing lists, keep up with the FLOSS/tech news, tweet, host events, and a number of other things I am inevitably forgetting.

The OSI, along with the affiliate and individual membership, defines the future of open source, through the above activities and then some.

Why I decided to run for president

I’ve been called an ideologue, an idealist, a true believer, a wonk, and a number of other things — flattering, embarrassing, and offensive — concerning my relationship to free and open source software. I recently said that “user freedom is the hill I will die on, and let the carrion birds feast on my remains.” While we are increasingly discussing the ethical considerations of technology we need to also raise awareness of the ways user freedom and software freedom are entwined with the ethical considerations of computing. These philosophies need to be in the foundational design of all modern technologies in order for us to build technology that is ethical.

I have a vision for the way the OSI should fit into the future of technology, I think it’s a good vision, and I thought that being president would be a good way to help move that forward. It also gave me a very concrete and candid opportunity to share my hopes for the present and the future with my fellow board directors, to see where they agree and where they dissent, and to collaboratively build a cohesive organizational mission.

So, what is my vision?

I have two main goals for my presidency: 1) strategic growth of the organization while encouraging sustainability and 2) re-examining and revising the license approval process where necessary.

I have a five point list of things I would like to see be true for the OSI over the next five years:

  • Organizational relevance: The OSI should continue its important mission of stewarding the OSD, the license list, and the integrity of the term open source.
  • Provide expert guidance on open source: Have others approach us for opinions and advice, and be looked to as an authority on issues and questions.
  • Coordinate contact within the community: Have a role connecting people with others within the community in order to share expertise and become better open source citizens.
  • A clear, effective license approval process: Have a clear licensing process, comprised of experts in the field of licensing, with a range of opinions and points of view, in order to create and maintain a healthy list of open source licenses.
  • Support growing projects: Provide strategic assistance wherever OSI is best placed to do so. For example, providing fiscal sponsorship where we are uniquely qualified to help a project flourish.

An additional disclaimer

As I mentioned above, these are my thoughts and opinions, and do not represent plans for the organization nor the opinions of the rest of the board. They are some things I think would be nice to see. After all, according to the bylaws my actual privileges and responsibilities as president are to “preside over all board meetings,” accept resignations, and call “special meetings.”

Cyberbullying

For about a year now I’ve had the occasional run-ins with “light” internet abuse and cyberbullying. There are a lot of resources around youth (and sometimes even college students) who are being cyberbullied, but not a lot for adults.

I wanted to write a bit about my experiences. As I write this, I have had eight instances of being the recipient of abuse from threads on popular forum sites, emails, and blog posts. I’ve tried to be blithe by calling it cute things like “people being mean to me on the Internet,” but it’s cyberbullying. I’ve never been threatened, per se, but I do find the experiences traumatic and stressful.

Here’s my advice on how to deal with being the recipient (I hesitate to use the word “victim”) of cyberbullying. I spoke with a few people — people I know who have dealt with internet abuse and some professionals — and this is what I came up with.

Take care of yourself.

First and foremost, take care of yourself. Stop reading the comments or the blog post. Close your email or laptop. Remove yourself from the direct interaction with the bullying. I know this is hard, sometimes it’s really hard to look away, but it’s important to do, at least for a bit.

I like to get myself a mocha (if you like to use food/treats as a source of comfort — this may not be your style). I joke that this is me celebrating being successful enough to make people publicly upset with me.

I joke a lot about it. Some of it I find genuinely funny — someone on Slashdot said of me: Molly has trust issues, which is why she’s single. I think this is -hilarious-. Humor helps me deal with difficult situations, but that’s just me.

I also have a file of nice things people have said about me. I don’t feel the need to reference it, but I have it there just in case.

Reach out to your support network.

Tell your friends, family, or whomever. Even if you’re not interested in talking about your feelings — tell them that — just let other people know what you’re going through. In my experience, I enjoy a little solidarity.

Don’t engage.

Really. This is the hardest part. Part of me wants to talk with people who are obviously hurting and suffering a lot, part of me wants to correct factual errors, or even share with others the things I find funny. Engaging is about the worst thing you can do, according to everything I’ve heard.

Talk to a lawyer or reach out to local law enforcement.

This is for more extreme cases — especially when people are threatening you harm. This particular episode of Reply All, “The Snapchat Thief,” covers a bit about when talking to law enforcement might be the right thing to do.

This part is easier to figure out when you are in the same general area or country, or know the identities of those harassing you. Several people I know (myself included) have dealt with international harassment.

On not being a man.

A number of the men in my life are upset about this recent round of abuse — they’re generally more upset than the women. The men come off as shocked or surprised, angry and upset, and some of them are desperately searching for something to do.

The women and enbies in my life are a lot more blase about the whole thing. They respond with commiseration, but, like me, accept this as a part of life.

Women and enbies I have spoken with about this just assume that people are going to be trashing them on the web. When I decided to become more visible within free software, I understood that I was going to be abused by strangers on the internet (enbies, men, and women — all of which have said harmful things about me).

Abuse is an assumption, rather than a possibility.

I was discussing this with a friend and we considered the problem of trying to not be a target. Bullies will find targets. If you try to hold back and be unobjectionable, other people are being abused in your place. Abusers gonna abuse. If you’re strong (or self-sacrificing) you may decide to  make yourself a target, or at least accept the risk of being a target, by being visible in your work.

A few final thoughts

Being bullied, in any form, is terrible. I was badly bullied when I was younger, and facing that again as an adult is equally traumatic.

I’m sorry if you’re going through this experience. Solidarity, empathy, and sympathy.

OSI Board elections – 2019

I’m running for the Open Source Initiative board of directors!

To be more precise, I’m running for re-election, as I’ve served on the board for the past three years.

Deciding whether to run again has caused me to ask a few questions:

  • Do I feel like I accomplished enough over the past three years?
  • Do I think I would do a better job than other candidates?
  • Is this the right use of my time?

What have I accomplished?

The first and foremost responsibility of a board member is to participate in calls and meetings. I’ve participated in weekly check-ins with the general manager, team calls for the Membership team, monthly board calls, twice a year face-to-face meetings, and other miscellaneous calls and meetings as they became necessary.

When talking about the election, I keep emphasizing the mundane aspects of being on a board. Having policy opinions and vision and ideas are great — but can you focus during a six hour meeting?  (I knit and keep my laptop mostly closed to help with that.)

I enjoy tabling at conferences, and have done a lot of this on behalf of the OSI at events like Paris Open Source Summit and OSCON.

I served as assistant treasurer of the organization, and helped with fundraising activities — I consider it part of the duty of a board member to help with the fiscal stability of an organization. I participated in the organization of activities to expand affiliate engagement in the OSI, and helped instigate initiatives to expand the membership of the organization. I regularly read license-review and license-discuss, to keep up with the conversation around FLOSS licensing.

Above all, I’ve been an advocate for the necessity of recognizing user freedom in all conversations around FLOSS.

Do I think I would do a good job over the next three years?

As I said in my platform, working on a board isn’t glamorous. I’m interested in organizational sustainability and keeping the lights on at the OSI. Having vision and ideas is important, but you have to also be interested in seeing an organization continue to exist and being able to do the work required on a basic level.

In general, the OSI needs a working board. It can be hard to build one from community votes, when everyone involved is already accomplished and hard working in FLOSS. I have a number of other projects I am involved with (most notably my day job in free software, my work on the Debian Outreach and Anti-harassment teams, and baking, biking, climbing, and music). I’ve already proven that I am willing and able to make time for the OSI.

I know I can help the OSI, and that’s my primary goal. I have started projects, and there are more projects I would like to start, that are only possible as a member of the board. I would not like to abandon my work half-way finished, and instead see it through to fruition.

Is this the best use of my time?

I dedicate most of my professional and personal time to creating a world where rights respecting technology is the standard.

With licenses like the Server Side Public License, proposals like the Commons Clause, and criticism of the Open Source Definition, it’s become more important than ever to push for the integrity and necessity of open source. Open source is not a developmental model — though there are certain models of development enabled by using an open source license. Open Source is about user freedom. If I want to make sure our rights are respected in technology, there is no better place to do it than on the front lines.

In summary

Vote for me! I’m running for an affiliate seat. If you know someone who is at or representing an affiliate organization, please share this with them or put them in touch with me! If your user group, community organization, or FLOSS nonprofit isn’t already an affiliate, consider becoming one — even if you miss the opportunity to vote for me.

The OSD and user freedom

Some background reading

The relationship between open source and free software is fraught with people arguing about meanings and value. In spite of all the things we’ve built up around open source and free software, they reduce down to both being about software freedom.

Open source is about software freedom. It has been the case since “open source” was created.

In 1986 the Four Freedoms of Free Software (4Fs) were written. In 1998 Netscape set its source code free. Later that year a group of people got together and Christine Peterson suggested that, to avoid ambiguity, there was a “need for a better name” than free software. She suggested open source after open source intelligence. The name stuck and 20 years later we argue about whether software freedom matters to open source, because too many global users of the term have forgotten (or never knew) that some people just wanted another way to say software that ensures the 4Fs.

Once there was a term, the term needed a formal definition: how to we describe what open source is? That’s where the Open Source Definition (OSD) comes in.

The OSD is a set of ten points that describe what an open source license looks like. The OSD came from the Debian Free Software Guidelines. The DFSG themselves were created to “determine if a work is free” and ought to be considered a way of describing the 4Fs.

Back to the present

I believe that the OSD is about user freedom. This is an abstraction from “open source is about free software.” As I eluded to earlier, this is an intuition I have, a thing I believe, and an argument I’m have a very hard time trying to make.

I think of free software as software that exhibits or embodies software freedom — it’s software created using licenses that ensure the things attached to them protect the 4Fs. This is all a tool, a useful tool, for protecting user freedom.

The line that connects the OSD and user freedom is not a short one: the OSD defines open source -> open source is about software freedom -> software freedom is a tool to protect user freedom. I think this is, however, a very valuable reduction we can make. The OSD is another tool in our tool box when we’re trying to protect the freedom of users of computers and computing technology.

Why does this matter (now)?

I would argue that this has always mattered, and we’ve done a bad job of talking about it. I want to talk about this now because its become increasingly clear that people simply never understood (or even heard of) the connection between user freedom and open source.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and I think it’s important context for everything else I say and write about in relation to the philosophy behind free and open source software (FOSS).

FOSS is a tool. It’s not a tool about developmental models or corporate enablement — though some people and projects have benefited from the kinds of development made possible through sharing source code, and some companies have created very financially successful models based on it as well. In both historical and contemporary contexts, software freedom is at the heart of open source. It’s not about corporate benefit, it’s not about money, and it’s not even really about development. Methods of development are tools being used to protect software freedom, which in turn is a tool to protect user freedom. User freedom, and what we get from that, is what’s valuable.

Side note

At some future point, I’ll address why user freedom matters, but in the mean time, here are some talks I gave (with Karen Sandler) on the topic.