I don’t want my software to kill people

Open source licenses fall short of modern needs.

Ben Werdmuller

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Dave Winer poses:

If you think of yourself as an “open source developer” please ask yourself this question. Are you as committed to freedom for people who use your software as you are to freedom for developers? Not just freedom to modify the source code, but freedom to do anything they like with the stuff they create. If not, why, and where do you draw the line?

I’m not sure if I do consider myself an open source developer these days. I don’t have the time or bandwidth to write software for myself on a regular basis in the way that I used to. I have the software I help with in my work (which is, these days, more about team dynamics and process rather than writing code); that’s about all I have time for outside of my family. I am having a lot of trouble making any time at all for my own projects.

But I used to write a lot of open source code (Elgg, Known, more contributions elsewhere). And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this subject.

I think we have to consider that the principles of the free software movement, revolutionary though they genuinely were, were also set in the same mindset that latterly saw its founder Richard Stallman spectacularly fall from grace. They are principles that deal in software development and licensing in strict isolation, outside of the social context of their use. They are code-centered, not human-centered.

Dave’s question has two angles that I’d like to discuss: one briefly, and the other at more length (because it’s more controversial in open source circles).

The first is: how easy is open source software to use, anyway? Can users do anything they like with the stuff they create? Doesn’t a commitment to user freedom also necessitate a commitment to ease of use? I think yes, but open source projects rarely have capacity for design or user experience research, and even when people with those skillsets want to contribute, projects quite often don’t know what to do with them. The tools (from GitHub on down), the culture, the mindsets are all code-first. There is no good way to open source user research or the empathy work that is a core part of software development. A code-centric approach…

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Ben Werdmuller

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.