Tue 17 Feb 2015 4:38AM

What do we mean when we say "Open"?

AI Alanna Irving Public Seen by 132

We took a stab at addressing this question:

> In recent times, the word open has been used and abused. For us open means aiding and encouraging the human urge to share, explore and improve. Anything that thwarts peoples’ desire to share, explore, and improve is closed, not open. The recent move towards openness in the digital world was enabled by the Internet, as the most powerful communications infrastructure that has ever existed, which was built on free and open source software. This digital movement taps into the underlying human urge for openness that has always existed. OS//OS is a celebration of efforts to consciously reverse practises that deny people the right to share, to participate, to collaborate. We celebrate “the commons”, both physical and virtual, and work to improve commonly-held resources that benefit all, rather than exploit them for our own limited gain.

In his keynote talk, Dave Lane will help give us the language for the next two days. What do we mean when we say open? He'll expand on the thinking above and bring into the room some of the conversation we're having here on Loomio on this topic.

Dave Lane is President of the NZ Open Source Society, and an advocate of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) adoption in business, education and government. He works for Catalyst IT, which in 2012 acquired Egressive, the FOSS company he founded in 1998. Among many other interests, he is passionate about his adopted home, NZ, and would love to see the government and education become far more open for the inherent social, economic, and pedagogical advantages openness offers. He goes to great lengths to use FOSS exclusively himself, he's a fan of anyone who knows what "Commons-based peer production" and "permissionless innovation" are, and he has been advocating for "open" since long before it was cool.


Jaco van der Merwe Thu 19 Feb 2015 5:53AM

One the one end I think the notion of "Open Source" is a bit of a misnomer, as the underlying philosophy has a far wider application. In a sense we've already "won", in that there is a growing expectation for transparency, Open Data & API's, but it's an ongoing struggle - e.g. something we're seeing with TPPA undermining hard won battles we've achieved ridding NZ of software patents. Some of the biggest names in tech base their stacks on FLOSS - even MS now rolls W10 @ RasPi & .NET @ GitHub - but the reciprocation is not always forthcoming.

I think it may be more appropriate to address Free Culture, whereby the Shared Commons should become the norm, infusing the status-quo of other aspects of life & culture.

FLOSS is very important to me, personally, but it's cherry on top.
What I believe is more important, leading up to full FLOSS (as the next is dependent on the preceding), is:
* Open Standards
* Open Protocols
* Open Data
* Permissive Licences
* then Open Source
In many cases, I believe FLOSS is a philosophy people need to come unto their own, rather than being imposed upon them.

Dave Moskovitz touched on some of this in his TEDxWellington talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLCkjfUI_fs

I've also recently picked up an axe to grind, whereby FLOSS contributors work is valued less, simply because they contribute towards the Commons, rather than working for proprietary $BIG_CORP.
I believe that good people doing Good Works - not just developers, but also others contributing to a well-rounded eco-system - should be compensated well (but not exorbitantly), but I have yet to figure out a good model to make this work. This has lead to critical issues in our shared infrastructure, such as poor support & maintenance for projects like GnuTLS, leading to the likes of HeartBleed & ShellShock.
I think a large part of this problem stems form the term "Free Software", and a 'bug' in the English language that implies "gratis" ($), rather than "libre" (i.e. Liberty), unlike other languages spoken by the majority of the world (including very many developing nations), and so I think we may be doing ourselves a great disservice.

Are we on the right track?
I think we're in the right direction (encourage wider adoption of FLOSS), but I think we can do more to ensure those that draw from the commons contribute back (AGPL rather than SaaS?), and encourage share-alike.


Matt McGregor Thu 26 Feb 2015 6:06AM

Hey Alanna - great work with this. A bit late to the party, sorry. It's tough, as you're working with various types of 'commons', which have different vocabularies.

For example,at the end of the passage, you say "work to improve commonly-held resources." In terms of culture and knowledge, I would tend to rephrase this as "expand the store of commonly-held resources" - i.e. putting the accent on growing, rather than improving, the commons. But I realise you are also referring to common spaces, so it might take some rhetorical dexterity to do this!

In terms of knowledge and culture, broadly defined - i.e. works that are by default restricted (or 'closed') by copyright - there are some pre-existing and well-accepted definitions out there. The open knowledge foundation have done some work on this: http://opendefinition.org/ You may not want to be so specific as them, but it's worth checking out.

I suspect some open culture folks would also nitpick the final clause - part of the joy of the cultural commons is that you can 'exploit' the resource all you want (copy, commercialise, remix, mashup) without taking away from what the next person can do. Not saying you should take it out - just being a pest and noting the difficulty of the job!


Dave Lane Sun 15 Mar 2015 11:00PM

Sorry to be so late to the discussion... I had a bit to do with the "definition of Open" on the OS//OS website...

Jaco - definitely agree with many of your questions there. I tend to think that the "Free Software" motivation has been pushed aside in many cases by the pseudo Free (exploit the commons!) approach of many 1st and 2nd generation companies/corporations who are building on FOSS, and releasing OSS when it suits their strategic interests, but not embodying them by actually making their primary products proprietary. To me it's jarringly inconsistent, and seems a lot like fair weather friendship.

Matt, I like your idea of "expanding" the range of resources in the commons. WIll review the website you cited, too - sounds like it's right up my alley!


Dimitar Mon 16 Mar 2015 12:59AM

Isn't open as much about open access to resources as it is "open" opportunities to actively engage in the production of these resources? And if so, then what do you think is the motivating factor to contribute to the production of a public good?


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:15AM

@dimitar1 what do you mean by "resources"? I would've thought that anything that isn't open "all the way down" isn't really open at all... Remember, for those of us who write software, it's just another resource. It's fundamentally no different from the curriculum materials and other textual content/media to which I suspect you're referring. To me, the whole point of this "Open source everything" question is to explore the real ramifications of doing it... all the way down to (and including!) the bare metal.


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:25AM

@dimitar1 - to me, "access" to resources to means "consume" rather than "contribute"... That's not very open at all, from my perspective.


Dimitar Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:27AM

maybe I can explain with an example. In open-source software projects like the R-project you can openly use the packages people coded and which the community leaders tested and approved. However what would you say motivates you not only to consume these but also build (and share) new ones?


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 3:02AM

@dimitar1 in my experience it works like this: there are many and varied resources available to us via the FOSS commons... we may use quite a few, but our finite abilities, time and interests mean that we're likely to be moved to actively contribute to only a few of them to improve them. We might do that for posterity, to give back to those who have donated their time and expertise before, to make a given app do things we need it to do ("scratching our own itch"), or just to have fun. Only a tiny proportion of the userbase for any given resource in the commons might contribute back, but if the userbase numbers in the thousands-to-millions, it's still plenty to ensure the project is vibrant and is constantly improving. Ultimately, our interest in a project becomes greater as our dependence on it (and it's ongoing viability) increases. The more people in this situation, who perceive value from a given FOSS project, the more likely it is to be sustainable in the longer term. The beauty of FOSS is that it exists independently of inherently ephemeral commercial entities - if it has value to someone, they have the freedom to either maintain and improve it themselves... or pay someone else (who has time/motivation/expertise, etc.) to do so. Remember, if there's something wrong with a FOSS application that millions of people use... it still only takes one person with sufficient knowledge, time, and motivation to fix it. Luckily, in many thousands of verifyable cases (e.g. all the 2820 FOSS packages currently installed on this Linux Mint laptop), that's exactly how it works.


Dave Lane Mon 16 Mar 2015 3:12AM

I should also add, @dimitar1, that contributing to FOSS projects consists of far more than just writing code. Other ways to contribute: participating in the community through mailing lists, writing documentation, testing on diverse platforms and submitting thoughtful bug reports, and even promoting software to others (advocacy)... I'm sure there are other ways, too, that haven't occurred to me :)

The key thing: participating, not just consuming. We're all trained to be good little consumers - the participation part has dimished in our society (witness our "learned helplessness" when things take an unexpected turn, like inclement weather or no 3G reception for smartphone). FOSS is like "slow foods" - embracing the idea that we have a ''responsibility'' to understand at least some of the complex stuff in our world, particularly that which we value the most.


Dimitar Mon 16 Mar 2015 1:43PM

@davelane thank you for your detailed answers.
OS projects clearly differ from conventional ones in the ways which you enumerate above. Do all these differences imply that there is also something different in the means and overall ways that people in OS projects communicate?

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