[plug] Sobering read on the reality of open source software development

Onno Benschop onno at itmaze.com.au
Wed Mar 23 08:29:36 AWST 2022

Aside from the issue that Google search is currently pervasive and
"leaving" it seems, let's call it, "difficult", the thought of leaving
those platforms appears an attractive solution, there is a fundamental
issue with it that doing this does not resolve.

Consider the act of making content. In our digital world most humans can
for the first time publish their creativity, taking shape as source code,
articles, videos, music, podcasts, 3D models, games, online forums like
PLUG, repair guides, HowTo documents, restaurant reviews, mapping updates,
media reports, data visualisations, and all the rest of it.

Within the context of PLUG, we're often focussed around the concepts of
Open Source Software, so let's stay there, but keep the rest of it in mind.

All that content is available online, for the most part free of charge. For
some content there are licensing requirements, but I doubt that many of
those licenses are actually followed since enforcement requires money and
that's in short supply.

With that level of "freedom" comes a level of abuse. Some of it is
accidental, but I have no doubt that much of it is not.

You can argue that this situation evolved and given that I've been online
since 1990, I've seen that evolution first hand.

It started with individuals sharing their knowledge using email and usenet
news. Some universities and libraries made their content available via FTP
and Gopher. Given that most of the people "online" were academics, it
seemed appropriate to share the knowledge around. Anyone who was online was
likely to be employed by the university that provided them access to the
Internet. If not employed, then at the very least a student.

Once AOL became part of the mix, people who could afford to pay a service
provider could instantly access all this "free" content, but with that came
an imbalance. Until that moment the content providers and the content
consumers were the same organisations. Once AOL joined in, these two
diverged and have continued to do so in the 30 years since.

Today there are vast hordes of consumers and few creators.

The creators are by enlarge not being paid for their content, but big
business is.

In the way that they have access to "free" source code, or any other

They can use that code to develop or on-sell a product and because they
have money, they can outperform any little content creator.

You can see the outcome of this in the debacle that was Heartbleed,
faker.js and others. Individuals or small groups maintain a codebase that
is in widespread use, but not actually paid for in any way by its massive
user base.

High profile products like OpenSSL are the visible part of this discussion,
but the problem goes much deeper than this, it goes to the heart of how we
make and share content.

Changing platforms away from the "evil" empires does nothing to fix those

What's needed is a deep discussion about the value of content and how
content creators are remunerated for their efforts.

The people to start this discussion are people who actually make content.

What the outcome looks like, I don't know at this point, but what I do know
is that what we're doing is not sustainable and frankly it's exploitation.


On Wed, 23 Mar 2022 at 06:31, Yuchen Pei <ycp at gnu.org> wrote:

> On Tue 2022-03-22 07:12:29 +0800, Onno Benschop wrote:
> > Hi Yuchen,
> >
> > My point around those platforms was around my content being used to
> > advertise to others. Their search indices integrate my content, as they
> do for
> > all content they hoover up.
> >
> > With that, they then present "relevant advertising" to people who search
> for
> > things that I'm answering with my content.
> >
> > I see none of that revenue, neither does anyone else.
> >
> > Not to mention, Google maps and reviews where my updates and reviews
> helps
> > everyone else, but I don't see a dime.
> I see.
> Have you thought of leaving these platforms?
> Both google and facebook are proprietary surveillance machines, and
> there are free (as in freedom) alternatives to twitter and github, like
> mastodon, sourcehut, codeberg.
> There won't be direct income either, but at least you don't get
> exploited by companies making money over your work through proprietary
> software and surveillance capitalism.
> Best,
> Yuchen
> --
> PGP Key: 47F9 D050 1E11 8879 9040  4941 2126 7E93 EF86 DFD0
>           <https://ypei.org/assets/ypei-pubkey.txt>

Onno Benschop

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