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

Gregory Orange home at oranges.id.au
Wed Mar 23 10:55:31 AWST 2022

I'm reminded of a conversation with a similarly thoughtful young
musician some years ago, whose industry has significant parallels here.
I understand that for the most part, huge money is not made from the
most excellent music, but rather the 'good enough' music (of which there
is plenty, and some of which is excellent) which has had the appropriate
business applied to it. To an individual musician this can feel like
blind luck. For the remaining vast majority, they work in such a way
that it does not make a living.

Back to the topic at hand: I think the system is propped up at every
level - in a similar way to the various forms of capitalism (and maybe
every other ism) that exist around the world - by those who do well
enough out of it not to risk what they've got.

For example, some of those evil companies pay people to work on FLOSS
code and systems, be involved in forums, producing podcasts, howtos and
other content. Those people either drink the Kool-Aid or hold it arms
length, but still take the pay cheque.

Looking at that, I'm drawn to think that it's all interconnected with
general inequality. While that exists, there will be those profiting off
others' efforts and perverse incentives will exist in day to day life,
business and politics to not change the system. Members of corporations
can say with hand on heart that their duty is to serve the shareholders,
politicians will do what they need to do to get elected, and people will
strive to simply live. In light of that perhaps fatalistic summary, a
powerful thing people can do is ignore it all and do useful[1] stuff
anyway, which is where we've got to.

How to actually get those systems changed though. Huge organised effort,
some organic thing, or maybe a combination of both. That musician I
mentioned had a suggestion that musicians be paid for when they are
working, rather than paid for the thing they have produced. Who collects
that money and shares it around is another problem - I suppose patreon
and the like have been an attempt at that in the years since that


[1] When I say useful, I mean Good with a capital G. Grow veges, code
for FLOSS projects, produce aforementioned content, knit for war
affected kids, etc.

On 23/3/22 08:29, Onno Benschop wrote:
> 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
> content.
> 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 issues.
> 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.
> o
> On Wed, 23 Mar 2022 at 06:31, Yuchen Pei <ycp at gnu.org
> <mailto: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
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Gregory Orange

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