Waste to the Top

Humans are interesting creatures, we are animals that need a certain amount of resources to survive and then again some more resources after that to make life easier, or just less likely to collapse after a trial.

But on the other hand we’re social beings which brings with it a competition innate to nature as much as hunger which drives us to greater social standing. To prove that social standing is important one only has to look at how stress can be measured by how big your house is compared to the houses near to where you live. Think about it for a second, not your house compared to all houses, but your house compared to your immediate neighbours.

So we have this drive to prove ourselves to our peers. That we’re just as good if not better than everyone. This might explain why most people think they’re better than the average for driving, it’s just a part of the whole ego and social standing system.

We also live in a world of terrible waste. I should say, it’s not the natural world that’s wasting, it’s the human world that is using more earths than earths per year and those earths only furnish a tenth of the people with SUV level consumption.

I think that these two things are linked. The passion for proving your place in the social order and the huge amounts of waste. It certainly makes sense that we’re always hitting the upper buffers of what’s available to exploit and never seem to have enough. Because our frail egos depend on having more and proving more. We’ve encouraged this system of waste, with advertising that targets the social climbing “aspiring nature” of consuming products and the way governments want to keep people happy with more and more consumption… this is especially dangerous with energy.

What’s ironic is how egalitarianism has caused some of this. Think about it, in the past if you wanted social stature, you’d fight for it and earn actual titles and patronage or demonstrate piety, politeness or intellect. But when we dismantled all alternative social standing devices to make everyone equal, what we did was leave the last man standing to dominate. That last man of inequality is of course capital. So money and specifically ability to purchase largess becomes the only way to show others your standing. Not to say largess is a new thing, oh lord no, but now it’s pretty much the only thing.

As an environmentalist this is all frightening. And I’d dearly like to think of ways to change the way we talk about and think about the issues of waste.

And I see some movements over the years. More people take pride in recycling, or reusing supermarket bags.

But I think we have to go further, much, much further. Entire nations have to somehow change what national pride is based on and what each person inside considers important for their social position. A full 180 would be using the amount of resources you’re not wasting as a mechanism, you can see these in those letters you might get from your water or gas company comparing your usage to your neighbours.

But that doesn’t have to be only way to show standing. We could get all the ego buffs we ever could want online, the social standing of being the best, most police, most rational debater. Or the most helpful contributor. Or perhaps the best player in Wesnoth. It doesn’t actually have to matter and you don’t need to get really deep philosophically. It only needs to be something you can compete it, something that’s visible to you and your neighbours and if it includes your actual physical neighbours, so much the better!

What do you think? What would you use to show you’re better than everyone else?

Responsibility in Software

Pepper & carrot creator David Revoy has created a good blog post that goes into the problem that he’s personally had with the new release of Inkscape 0.92.

The issue with text and svg is actually kind of complex. It’s at the junction of specification, feature management and dealing with old formats. But it’s also a lot about how Free Software projects deal with users to a degree too.

This is because Inkscape is entirely volunteer driven, which means when Inkscape fails for us developers, only our pride is hurt. But actually out there in the big world there are real people who will be materially hurt by a bad inkscape release.

And my frustration is that there’s no serious Free Software way to connect developers to users in that essentially material way that binds them strongly. I’ve been banging the Money and Economics drum for A VERY LONG TIME, but fellow developers are just not interested in the idea that either Free Software could be a job of service instead of indulgence and that there really is a responsibility that we quite often neglect when we don’t have the right resources to deal with them properly.

This isn’t the case for all projects. Quite a few projects have key developers that manage to turn their pet project into a real full time job. OK so they’ll sometimes get some bias from their employer and the project can turn corporate, but that’s the trade off.

This is where the Inkscape projects really hits the wall. It’s a very big and useful project, that has an incredibly poor user to developer material binding. We need about 50 cents from every inkscape user to hire ten to twenty full time developers, managers and ancillary support. Of course the money would likely be bunched up into a few hands, but the project yearns to be in the greatest number of hands and not a few big players.

And maybe that’s the big barrier, a cultural one. Inkscape is built on the idea that all developers are equal and the project can be driven forwards in many directions by lots of developers at once.

I really wish I had some solutions. But given Inkscaoe’s current issues, I’m going to focus on actually fixing the issues we have and I’ll have to come back to how we solve the resources problem more fundamentally.

Software Freedom Society

I’ve been mulling over a new idea and I’ve come to my blog to draft my thoughts on it. I’m probably wrong, but I really want you to comment your thoughts below.

We have a Free Software world which is dominated by schools of thought, each focusing on a particular piece of the Free Software problem. Some of them know that they have a limited scope such as the Freedom Software Law Center and Software Freedom Conservancy (legal and sub-incorporation respectively) and then there are groups which try to be all things to all people like the grand daddy of them all, the Free Software Foundation.

I think the FSF itself wants to have a very limited scope, but it just can’t shake the fact that it’s political protests have implications outside of what it wants to do. Things like economics, interpersonal relationships, community culture and creative rights and remuneration to name a short few examples. I think perhaps that people who believe in the FSF’s political campaign, want it to be more. I know I’m frustrated with it’s lack of “do anything productive at all”, that seems to defined the last nine years. Many people who I know here in Boston voice similar low level grumblings think it’s lost focus a great deal because of what users want it to be.

Then there’s another organisation, the Canonical Ltd hype machine that is the Ubuntu community. It’s a pretty good force in the Free Software world (some people will disagree) but again, it’s members want it to be more than a corporate cheer-leading squad. They desire an authority that can standardise, set example, lead. But let’s be honest, Canonical can’t possibly do anything right in a lot of eyes outside of the Ubuntu community itself (even if it empirically did so). So the route to using the boundless capacity of enthusiasm and good ideas about community management and treating non-coders with respect has been watered down or rejected, ever tied to a company that is desperate to make money and over eager for your attention about it’s latest announcement that it drowns it’s own community out.

Now imagine a community that’s dedicated to Software Freedom like the FSF, as respectful and energetic as the Ubuntu Community, as transparent as Debian and as well defined as the Law Center. It’s goals would be to host an open membership, be an arena for debate about community structure, a place to document and explore social standards in both projects and the user communities surrounding them and to invite all to participate in projects as non-coding members.

We could take charge of the areas that the FSF struggles to host, help generalise existing community wisdom that might be tainted by the Canonical brand and provide valuable guides and education on the best ways to run projects and all the pieces needed to make them work.

We could do this by beating a drum and collecting together everyone until we get a critical mass that the social project works. But there is another more useful way too. Many coding projects suffer from a lack of infrastructure for their community operations, not just a lack of know-how. So we’d also start providing the-best-we-know-how pieces of community infrastructure such as mailing lists, forums, chat servers and social media mechanisms. The idea would be to share a lot of the technical burdens and let smaller projects have all the things they need to run a fun, inclusive and accessible community.

This project would of course ask other organisations to dismantle some of their existing structure. We’d have to gain trust and try and close down duplication as much as creating new spaces. This is after all about standardisation of social and community tools and practices and like the xkcd comic states, making new generic standards often leads to more standards. So making our infrastructure fast, pretty and reliable would also be important goals.

So, given that I’ve just rambled on about a passionate but off the top of my head idea (thanks for reading it!), what do you think? Please do comment below, comment in the social media link you might have used or you can email me at doctormo áŧ gmail.com with your thoughts. I really do want to hear from people as this idea could be important to the whole Free and Open Source Software universe.

Total Aid

In politics, I’m not happy. As the world becomes politically harsher, crueller and more self serving; we hear and see the heart breaking plight of millions of Syrians and others fleeing their war-torn countries.

Someone recently asked me what the difference is between the wars we have today and the First and Second World Wars. Apart from the global nature of the wars, the Syrian war is different because it’s not Total War. This concept involves the participating countries dedicating every part of their military, economic and civic power into fighting the war. This was very different from past wars, where non-combatants didn’t usually get slaughtered, far away factories didn’t get bombed and neutral nations didn’t get invaded for resources.

There’s pressure from both sides of the Atlantic to increase the amount of our country’s power dedicated to fighting Russia, Syria, whoever else. In the name of democracy, or in the name of survival. I’m just not sure it’s helpful for the two western countries doing the least for Syrians to be the ones advocating more violence.

For example. The UK Government is under attack for it’s position that foreign nationals should pay for all National Heath services. Including pregnant women from Syria. At this stage, anyone from Syria can hardly be said to have a country where you could send the bill, anyone who is missing a safe home country should be helped by the health system in the UK and anywhere else in the word. Not just emergency care, but pre-natal and other care too.

Instead of Total War and partial war I’d like to propose the concept of Total Aid and Equivalent Aid. The Later is simply that in times of crisis, we can mobilise our countries to fight, not fight with violence, but fight with compassion. To give everything we have to help, protect, heal and stabilise the people and structures that the crisis is threatening. This doesn’t have to be war, although the Syria crisis prompts me to consider this.

One would imagine us taking in Syrians in large numbers, to take the risk that a rare minority will be criminal or idealogical. Our security and police services ARE strong enough and competent enough to help too and I see no reason they should be missing from a plan for Total Aid. Health care, education, social support and basic structural support can come from all quarters of society, from all classes and all means. Your country needs you, to help another country.

Once mobilised, we our support and teaching would leave many people and their organisational structures able to go back and rebuild (if possible) or relocation and rebuild. It’s easier to rebuild if you have a social structure that’s not torn apart and the friendships and good will created by reaching out and embracing our brother country in whole would lead to better relations even surpassing idealogical and religious tensions.

We would also be leading by example and showing how strong we are that we can help so well and with so much good. Until the crisis is put to bed and the world as a whole can move on.

OK, so maybe you’re not convinced by Total Aid, maybe the troubles in the world could get so great that we need to think about our own lot. For you I offer option two. Equivalent Aid. That is, under agreement, treaty or convention a country will not spend money or take action with military violence without committing the same scale of operating and budget to helping survivors cope with what we have wrought on them.

I’d consider this the bare minimum human effort. The point at which a country goes from being a good country to a bad country. We are far from the point of spending the kinds of trillions on aid that we would have to to meet this target. But if we want to bomb places, if we want to invade things and generally mess up the place. Then we should at least be ready to pay for helping put some of it back together with equal force.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

To Parent or not to Parent

I was reading “Leave them kids alone” in my New Scientist last week and thought back to discussions I’ve had with my dear sister about how unhappy or happy our upbringing was and what it might have done to our resulting adulthood.

This is a difficult topic because our childhood contained many horrors, much that was difficult and down right damaging. But speculating on which parts of it have made us weaker and which parts have made us stronger, is just as subjective to us as it would be from anyone from the outside.

Poverty is like that. Not all bad, but not at all good.

But getting back to the thrust of the book review above. The warning there is that modern parents are far too attentive to their children. They structure their lives too much and expect far too much from them.

As someone who came from a family that was too insecure to provide much structure at all, I have to reflect on this. Was my ability to hang out with friends until 2am from the ages of 13, good or bad? Was I ever given too much latitude? Probably.

But then I think to the if the goal is to make your child’s environment supportive and loving no matter what they do, seems to have produced the most positive of my friends and the most well behaved children I know.

I think kids are all different. They’re born different and they grow differently as they come of age and learn. I think natural development of brains mostly shakes out the stupid from most people I know. It might be that we’ve all had experiences that changed us, or I think, it might just be something human brains do.

So in a way, I don’t think we should be too anxious about our children. They’re going to be ok so long as they don’t get injured, or have severely negative mental issues. Letting them play will make them wider and more social individuals, and providing them ways to study will make them deeper and more capable. But only so much as the balance between nature and nurture will allow itself to be bent and even then I think most of the middle class in both the UK and USA have left that balance far behind.

My plan with violet, for as much as I have one at all, is to provide her with as much opportunity as possible without being disappointed if she doesn’t take to any of them. I can only keep her safe in a loving home and that must be my primary goal beyond thinking too hard about her personal development.

What are your thoughts? and do you think the article above should have mentioned Gen-X vs. Gen-Y like it does?

Talking to Friends about things

I have a family who aren’t religious. Some of them might go to church, and if they do, they’ve never mentioned it. Others are spiritual, in that they search for ways to understand the world and try to come to grips with everything through a non-academic social philosophy. This is important for most people, but I think especially important to the poor and working class who quite often see their lives twisted capriciously by unknown forces.

On the other hand, I’m a skeptic. A rationalist who has done a bit of philosophical reading (enough to be embarrassing at least). When I was younger I was much more hard line about my rationalism, anti-god, anti-fairy, anti-mystical thinking. I was righteous as only a neerdy teenager with a degree in wikipedia can be. And it did put a strain on my relationships with family. Although to be honest, most of my family at pretty kind to all sorts of odd thinking and my rationalism didn’t seem mad or anything, just one of many colours available in the pallet of local family philosophies.

As I’ve aged and consumed more understanding about skeptical thinking and pro-social philosophy; the two have often been at an interesting contention. How to be rational enough not to get taken in by gimmicks and snake oil, but social enough not to sneer and demean friends and family who have taken to believe in those things.

Over the years I’ve learned that there is an important factor about humans that is important to understand… we take shortcuts. A lot of them. When I say I believe in science, science based policy or health care, or that I trust the data, this is a shortcut. I haven’t gone into all the data, I haven’t read the papers and done due diligence. I’ve trusted that the network of trust I have between the people involved and the ideas we share is enough that my modest reading with my small contributions in critique is enough to be far more confident than my personal data has any right to make me.

A peer group with a shared set of ideas that embellish trust. That sounds like a tribe, a community of people who have created a in-group. And being part of that in-group makes me feel things, positive things when we socialise and anger when I feel it’s threatened.

But peer in-groups are exactly what my ginseng drinking family and friends have too. Just like me, they take short cuts too. There’s a trust there between the people involved and the understand about how the world works. I might claim that it’s moving away from what is true to what is not true, but that won’t change the social dynamics. And just like me, they will feel good when their ideas are verified and angry when those ideas (or people) are threatened.

So how is it even possible to challenge notion when almost anything you say will result in either anger, frustration or a heavy rolling of eyes? I think it is possible, but only if one focuses on two specific points.

Firstly, the social aspect is important. The closer you are to someone, both physically and kinly, the better the chance is that your reasoning will be seen as helpful and not destructive. Having constructive conversations that aren’t about ourselves being verified as right, but about breaking the ideas down as a social activity between friends and then seeing what results are built back up, can I think go a long way to preserving friendships despite radically different views.

The second is to be stateless. By which I mean, you can’t go riding into battle all kitted out in skeptical pennant banners flying. Your ideas are yours and you shouldn’t stand behind a peer group while trying to discuss a contrary idea. That just turns it into a fight between your self-assigned clans. Which you can’t win, because your tribal leaders aren’t here to make peace or barter terms and you aint no hero ready to let your friendship fall on the sword of truth.

Besides, no one ever changed their mind because someone shouted the truth at them.

What do you think? How do you talk to people with drastically different perspectives?

Rebuttal: Crash Course Philosophy “Determinism vs Free Will”

This subject gets my imaginary goat every time I see or read it. It’s a subject that is presented to me as an iron-clad “this is how the world is” sort of fact and I just don’t see philosophy being that cut and dry.

The homunculus free will idea is surely dead and there is no separate non-physical part of us that’s directing our choices. This idea of a super-natural spirit injecting choice into our heads from outside the universe is the old free will idea that is very much defeated by the above video.

But, at the same time, the above argument about determinism requires that we are looking at the system of a person from /the outside/ perspective. Every time proof is presented, it argues that you can’t have free will because the system that makes you is deterministic. This sort of perspective fine if you’re doing science and need a non-subjective perspective to sort out what is objectively true; but this is philosophy and we don’t need to stick to those kinds of rules here.

From the subjective perspective we are physical beings with stored data in our heads. It is ours, we own it. Just like we own the bodies we control. Actually more than own, we incorporate it, we are it. So when the data in our heads “makes” us choose a thing, that data is /us/ making that choice. Even if the data is mixed with data from our sense of smell rendering a tasty oatmeal breakfast in our attention one morning.

The only way we subjectively wouldn’t have free will is if the data that causes the choice never becomes incorporated into the self and the choice is thus forced upon us from the outside. Information in this rebuttal is truly a thing of self and non-self. Information you are, and information you are not. And it promotes the brain further in importance as it stores a great deal of self referential information and both a sense of self and the conscious thought process.

This is fundamentally different from inanimate objects like balls rolling down hills, because they don’t have any information about their trajectory, it only becomes information when we measure it and incorporate it. That’s why we can predict where a ball will go and the ball can not predict where itself will go.

We can pick a harder problem for ourselves though. Imagine your body’s immune system; it’s a bag of information too. It “knows” about different threats and it chooses to fight things based on that information. It’s very deterministic, you can make vaccines to prompt it and prod it in various ways. But at a fundamental level, it is /you/. We talk about our bodies as if they are creatures we look after or meat machines we drive around in. But I think this way of talking obscures the deeper truth that when our bodies fight infection, it is we who are fighting that infection. How it chose to fight is not a matter for our conscious mind, there was no introspection on the data and the systems are simple when compared to the brain at least. But my argument requires that you have to be choosing to fight that infection, the choice is somewhat out of the control of one part of you, but not all of you. The cleaving of self into conscious self and “the rest” would need to be a mistake in order for this rebuttal to be effective and you must take ownership of all of you.

The definition of self gets to a deeper point I like to make about our own extent. I think we want to imagine freedom to mean that we are capable of separating ourselves from the universe, so we’re disappointed when we find ourselves inseparable from it. But just because we’re a mutable constituent of the deterministic universe doesn’t mean that we aren’t owners of that piece of the universe determining it’s path, our view of ourselves must take into account the subjective ownership, the self conjuring separation we make of ourselves from the universe that does create freedom within the determined system. Magic.

We’re always going to need to understand things around us in order to understand ourselves and why we make the choices we do. But I think it’s a mistake to drive so far to the inanimate automaton perspective that we choose to stop enjoying the universe’s wonderful roller-coaster ride that is life.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below and my thanks to Hank Green and the team at Crash Course for delivering such good content for the mind.

New Labour

I come from a North English town, a family that strongly supports Labour and a community that believes in traditional Labour values.

The recent turmoil in British politics has me activated. I’ve been thinking about lots of things and people are probably not surprised to hear that I support Corbyn. In the same way that I support Bernie Sanders here in the USA.

But I’m also trying to be critical of all this politics, because Science based Policy is something we desperately need in many places. When Gove started tearing into the education system in the UK, the process was driven by arrogance. The assumption that Gove and friends knew better than any body and were ill prepared to try to experimentally define policy. They didn’t define what results were being sort, have any exit in place for a policy that’s failing and what kind of remuneration is available for policies that fail and leave people worse off.

I’m still very much a socialist in the European sense and I’ll continue to believe that people are mostly good, mostly do better working together and caring for people is not always a bad thing. But I want to be just as critical of socialist policy as I would of neo-liberal policy. I’d like to see that any assumption about what policy might work, might be thought deeply about and all policies not be held quite so inflexibly to heart. Because we might find that it’s just not doing what we think it is.

How strong would we be if we could fail without fear.

What is my Work Ethic?

In response to this post about getting a job after graduating.

I think the core of finding a job and being motivated to do it is: How are you going to serve the people around you? At the end of the day society isn’t about what you can get out of it, but what possible super-power do you have which could effect the people around you in a positive way. Is that art? Is that cleaning? Thinking? Programming? I find that in the modern society too much emphasis is put on person gain, noble voluntarism or doing what’s enjoyable. The problem with these perspectives is that the focus is never on the individuals being served by the work and this blog post is a defence of direct service to others needs and having that be a mark of a successful career.

Doing a Thing

Sometimes something just needs doing. I think if you are in a strong community, you can sense when there’s pent up demand. I ran a campaign to raise funds to get aluminium computer case badges printed and this was before Kickstarter existed. I handled $4k and 20k case badges and they were sent around the world and I had an enormously positive experience serving the people who really wanted Ubuntu case badges. I was transparent about the money. I put the leg work into my relationship with the manufacturer and published news as soon as I had it. I published the designs so everyone knew what they were getting and in the end I had a thousand positive recipients and one negative one because they had been mangled in the post (sorry!) and I used my basic talents using a graphics package to put together something acceptable for users. Anyone could have done this, but to act is to be bold sometimes.

The side effects were more interesting. I asked people for ‘at cost’ payments which despite being based on estimates and the shipping costs wasn’t certain. People were generous and they almost always sent more than asked or needed, often with a note saying “keep the rest”. I didn’t feel bad about this, I think because I was honest with the costs and they were being served genuinely. The other effect was that we introduced the manufacturer to the idea of “open source” by licensing the designs under CC-BY-SA. I encouraged other groups or companies to use the designs to make their own. There are now many, many different aluminium case badges for different Linux distribution and I see them at conferences all the time. I feel good about this. Because imagine all the Fedora, Debian and Mint users who get something cool and the organisers who got a pattern to follow and a manufacturer to talk to. In a way I didn’t just serve people directly with the pre-sales, but also incidentally people through positive open source licensing and I can feel good about both.

Validity of Competence

But then, don’t I just feel good about it because I got praise for it? Well that’s true, I feel good when I get praise. But I think praise is more than just the warm fuzzies. It’s an important reminder to us that our work matters, that we’re still good at it and of the kinds of people who we have served.

One Harvard school gives awards to people who do good work in the anti-alarm professions. You know, those jobs where if the work is done well then no one even notices. But if something goes wrong the alarm bells ring loud. The facilities team, the system admins, the people who order those weird coffee machine cartridges. And that’s a really good thing to do, because it reminds those workers that their job is important and effects probably everyone else in some small way as well as for everyone to thank them once in a while. That feedback from server to served and served to server is the validity of competent altruism. I say it’s altruistic because only thinking about one’s self will not make you great at serving others.

There is a cross-walk near where I live where the snow had been repeatedly ploughed into the pavement one and a half meters high and had frozen solid with thaw. People walking to the train station would have to climb this mountain of snow to cross a very busy road. What if they had kids, or groceries or a bad leg? The night I thought about those people I got the ice breaking tools and shovel and cleared the whole corner. The next day as people shuffled to work, they probably didn’t notice their commute was a little better than before and had no way of knowing if it was the city or not. But I certainly reminded myself of all these slightly less miserable faces as I pounded away at the ice with the sweat pouring off me and the echoes of each thwack, crunch late at night for two hours.

Ethic

I hear about “work ethic” a lot, and it’s usually about “working hard to get on in life”. But anyone successful knows that there’s more to a good work ethic and I believe the largest missing piece is that is “one must work hard for other people, for them and not what one may want to do for them“.

There are communities in the Free and Open Source world who have chosen to work hard at imposing what’s good on their users. That’s a risky service ethic, a sort of pre-emptive competent guess. If your community has set up no way for your guess to fail or you mishandle the push back from your users then you can’t claim to have a good service ethic or to have actually served well. So how can these workers and their work be tied to the people they serve so that it heads in the right direction for the served rather than for the server?

I know that people will pay for good service. there’s no reason to slave away as a volunteer if your work is genuinely in service to others. Caveat, except for people who have nothing, but then grants, government programs, charities can help fill that hole. For my fellow Free Software developers, they do good work and yet many are failing to make the link between the work they do and the people they serve. Thus making it harder for them than it needs to be to earn a living from writing Free Software.

Being Good at what you Like

One part I’ve not talked about is getting a job that you like doing. This is a tricky one because being good at something makes you more likely to enjoy doing it. And Enjoying doing something makes you more likely to do it and thus overcome failures faster and become good at it. I say do what you are good at and like doing that gives the most benefit to others. It’s not as pithy a personal moto though.

A friend of mine who works in mental health once turned a job down for more money. Not just because it would mean serving people who really didn’t need the help, but mainly because being good at helping a certain kind of person with certain kinds of harsh needs is important work. Being good at this job wouldn’t mean there would be lots of recognition from patience, but it would mean truly serving and making a difference to those individuals. And it’s better to have the job one is good at making a difference than the job that could make a difference if only you were good at it or the job that makes no damn difference at all.

And serving individuals I think offers the best perspective on one’s own work. It motivates better than saving the world and feels more accomplished than earning stacks of cash. When one can see the good work well done and be validated for it there is no reason not to go to work every day and earn a living doing it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from me after a year of no blog post. Please leave your comments below as I love hearing from people.

Platform Money is Key to Free Software Success

Post was drafted Feb 2nd, delayed for review but is published now without finale edits.

Platforms are everything these days. They drive users in specific, and well structures ways and can make or break different ways of production. Take for instance the World Wide Web, it’s a platform that allows anarchy and it fundamentally breaks the traditional media’s economic model of charging for content per user. The World Wide Web does this by delivering content not just more cheaply, but more quickly and more succinctly than ever before.

By comparison consider iTunes which came well after. A platform which like the World Wide Web is built upon the internet with similar technology. This platform provided a more cohesive and contained experience for getting access to content that users could have gotten through the World Wide Web. Even though it was more expensive to do so, users have bought music and other media through the iTunes platform because the platform is more effective at delivering content to users than the World Wide Web’s anarchy.

The iTunes platform could be credited with helping solve a key economic problem that was befalling the music industry. How to get users to pay for music and thus make music creation worth being in involved in.

We Have Failed Here

Knowing this about iTunes, I’m jealous. That platform has achieved something which we in the Free Software industry have failed to do. That is; meaningfully provide the platform necessary to get users engaged in software production. Economically speaking, we need users who do not make code, but who want to use our software. Socially speaking, if we wish to Free users, we must serve their needs and therefore be willing to be told what they need and deliver on their expectant demand.

This isn’t just about making money for developers so they can quit their proprietary jobs and sustain their lives on making Free Software. This is also about the incredible disservice we give to users. Our ignored users. Those people who we SHOULD be serving with every key press but who we don’t pay attention to unless they morph into helpful bug reporters or fellow programmers. Which plenty do, just so they can be a part of the process.

This is a problem that not only hurts people’s perceptions of Free Software projects, but it also makes our industry weaker than it needs to be. Projects exhibit fragility and an inability to grow. Users pick software on existing features and compatibility and not on future prospects. User involvement is suppressed.

Just Saying No

There are many programmers, project leaders, Free Software members, who ask that money never be involved in Free Software production. These people do not know what damage they are doing to their projects. Not knowing how to get user money into a project is a typical problem, but there is a mindset from the leadership in some projects that having users pay developers should not be allowed. I _do_ understand why money is stigmatised, but this is a symptom of a project’s lack of codified user focus which would provide strong definitions of self-serving, charitable and user bought developer attention. No programmer serving his own needs should be jealous of another getting paid by serving user’s needs. We all need to grow up a little here.

What we need in committed Free Software projects is a meaningful service ethos that makes the users of software the firm target of the project. It would supply direction and impetus to many projects that can’t understand why users don’t like their code and provide economic input to drive projects faster towards those user centric goals.

User Focused not Business Focused

“But Open Source is very economically successful” I hear you say. Well, yes, if your a business it’s been great. The bigger your business, the more meaningful relationship you can have with projects by hiring developers. Having developers (or being a developer) is a sure way to have input. Open Source and the OSI have focused hard on making sure the business to business open source industry works.

I always wondered why Open Source was doing so well and yet doing so badly and it’s this: Big business needs are being met, small business and user needs are not. This isn’t good enough. As a developer if you’re not taking money from users then you aren’t serving user’s needs. Follow the money, follow the demand.

Social Justice

And if your thinking that this economic problem isn’t important for Free Software, think instead of all the users who are disempowered. This is what Free Software social justice is all about. A user is a super important component to development and with continuous development strategies and increasing segregation between developers and non-developers; we need to have thought about getting all users in a position where they can truly be a part of our development practices. They’re the core and source, not the periphery to be ignored.

Demand Change

I’ve been involved with two projects where I see a problem. The first is Inkscape, a project with no economic steam and plenty of users who have no idea how the inkscape sausage is made. It has direction, but no growth. Programmers, but no self-serving power left. Users with needs, but no way to meet them.

The second is XBMC plugins. Here there are thousands of tiny self contained projects and they’re all organised into a forum. Go onto any plugin forum thread and the pattern will be the same: “The plugin stopped working”, “It doesn’t work here either, where’s the developer?”, “I hope the developer comes back to fix it”, “I hope someone else comes in to fix it”, “Has anyone got it working yet”. Again and again, users who are putting their time into begging developers for attention. It’s a depressing situation that must put users off and certainly doesn’t speak well of the stability of XBMC when it’s most useful features are plugins which fail all the time from patchy maintenance.

Demand is important and getting user demand focused in a meaningful way has been our failure. Focusing on support models and business to business open source processes has been our distraction. Harnessing the paradime shifting nature of the platform should be out solution!

A Platform Example

The Ubuntu Software Center is a platform. The way it’s been set up is as a clone of Apple’s iOS store and it’s incompatible with the Free Software industrial process. Instead of helping Free Software it’s driving economic sustainability to proprietary software development and away from Free Software. It’s got unintentional institutional bias which is rooted in the ideas of the developers and managers at Canonical. The suggestion that donations are somehow a meaningful way to drive money to Free Software projects is a sure sign that a person doesn’t ‘get it’, Free Software isn’t a charity case in need of a one off anonymous tip. It’s an industry and with a unique production process that requires careful cultivation and sustainable connections that focus latent user demands to developers and potential developers attention. The USC and it’s makers fail to see that.

Use the User Force

A platform like the Ubuntu Software Center should be made though. But made to specification for the Free Software industry instead of the Proprietary one.

Imagine it embed directly into every Free Software desktop and mobile distribution. The same user focused invitation to join a Free Software project, involving money and time without stigma. Think of a framework available to Fedora, Debian and Ubuntu at the same time, users able to come together and join us in the community by opening their wallets and telling us to get to work on their dreams.

Imagine the power, the vitality and yes, even the vibrancy of the ideas users demand we make for them; all developed into a platform that like iTunes could take a wild west and focus it with good design into a platform that delivers successful sustainability for creators and meaningful dialogue with users.

We need transparency in the accounts of projects to foster trust. Progress of bugs and roadmaps delivered to the desktop so users can see a future in our projects. Reviews and statuses of developers working and available to work. Users electing favourite developers as heros of their causes with monthly payments to kick their bugs before they ever get to the archive. Kickstarter style risk investments to push radical designs and brand new projects. Bug reports where money can be added to the heat to indicate demand for attention and the rewards for completion.

It’s all possible if we dare to make users the center of the Free Software universe and scale it big, VERY big.

We require the courage and vision of the leaders from Canonical, Red Hat, Debian, the FSF and every project leader out there to advocate for User focused Free Software and economic sustainability. With a willingness to embrace our industry’s unique software production method, good design of the frameworks and an invitation to users and paid developers we can make the Free Software industry a powerful and successful part of every user’s computer experience.

Are you with me? Let me know below in the comments.