One thing that is challenging the free software movement is communication.
Communication skills are quite a “known skill” – persuading people is not really cutting edge – people have been persuading other people about $stuff since forever.
The question is, therefore, how we can be better at communicating free software, given we know how things, historically, have worked for others?
Example 1: The Open Data Movement.
The open data movement is not the same as the free software movement, but *is* much younger.The open data movement has had considerable success in various fields, and considering that in 2008, barely anyone had heard of it, has had a meteoric rise to popularity.
Why is that? What has it done that we can copy and emulate?
Example 2: Wikimedia Foundation.
Wikipedia is not, in essence, a free software project (it’s a free knowledge project) but it communicates better than the free software movement.
Find someway you’re happy with to watch their videos and tell me they don’t manage to communicate in powerful ways::
Children in Peru write their own history on Wikipedia
The free software movement has code that powers millions of servers, that runs in space, that has connected millions of people, that has underlined millions of businesses… but we don’t talk about it.
Perhaps we could start doing? How?
Example 3: Coding as standard for schools.
In the UK we’ve seen massive boosts in young people coding – there’s a massive push to get young people not just to be passive consumers but to be creators. This is the proverbial, “everyone plays games, but only a few people know how to make them” or “everyone uses apps on their phone, but how can you personally make one?”. With the rPi and all that that brings, we have free software, for the first time ever, being pushed into the hands of school children.
This is tremendous news – and a massive opportunity. How can we communicate better about this?
Find someway you’re happy to watch this:
It’s 2013. From that video, go back and look at how many people in that video, work for organisations that aren’t businesses primarily based around free software infrastructure. I count, two, arguably soon, one?
In 2013, to have a job, how can you afford for it not to be free software? how can we communicate that if you’re looking for work in today’s world, employers are crying out for experience with free software systems? I mean, really, seriously, ASP.net isn’t a threat, it’s a joke. How can we get that across to people?
Basically, I think better things could be done, and the people who do those things, are the ones that will choose which way the future goes.
The free software movement’s aims are noble and I’m happy to say I support them.
However, there are largely two ways of furthering the movement:
- Communication of the message
- Contributing to a software project
Largely, the ideological “free software advocates” are focused on the first point, with people who are doing the second point falling into a much larger and vaguer group of people who happen to find various things convenient.
The problem is that nothing remotely interesting has developed in the field of free software advocacy (point 1) in a long time – probably since the release of GPLv3. There have been no new approaches, no reaches out to the public, and no answers to the question of what happens next. Things just stagnated.
The Ubuntu project has done a good job of communication in the past, but it has never communicated the free software movement’s aims, and the free software movement has always stropped like a angsty child, or a peed off record company association. Make no mistake, Ubuntu has problems, but simply shouting “Ubuntu isn’t free” isn’t a clear and effective way to communicate the free software movement’s aims.
The problem, of course, is it is an activist movement of techies: outward communication is not a skill that comes naturally.
But outward communication *must* be the skill the movement is best at.
Communication and promotion of the free software movement has to be the primary skill of activists, and researching how to develop those skills must be the highest priority.
When I campaigned around Manchester for my political campaigns, we ran training workshops for activists, we helped everyone practice, we released videos and put them in places where people would see them, we picked up timely press issues and offered comment on them.
Not sure what you should do, or where to start? Read a book. There are loads on this sort of thing, and the advice within can make a really big difference.
In essence, I think the free software movement can do better. A lot better. And you, the person reading this, should be apart of the start.
Think this: how better can you communicate the free software movement’s message?
I love free software, I owe a lot to the free software communities and I care deeply about them. However, I am a realist and a pragmatist, so I’d like to ask a question that’s been bothering me.
Free Software has proven itself technologically, and proven itself in terms of creating an efficient working environment for developers, however, people never seem to mention the end game.
As far as I can see, free software has proven itself as “useful” from a developer’s point of view, “fun” from a power users, and “morally good” from a free software advocate’s point of view, but for general users, the benefits are less distinct – why would a user, pick free software, over non-free software?
Not why “should” – I’m very capable of explaining of benefits that most developers see (they won’t be tied in, they can fix stuff, pay other people to fix stuff, etc) but I’m actually trying to understand it from a non-technical user’s point of view, what they would actually get out of free software that they’d prefer, and trigger the mass adoption of free software?
As far as I can see it, users is motivated by:
- What is best for them.
- What is easiest.
- What works.
(with various socio-economic decisions involving price, based on the situation.)
Do people envisage that in the future, users will see “free software” as the “ethical choice” – in the same manner people buy fair trade food stuffs, or why some people make lifestyle choices and go vegetarian or vegan?
If you were to imagine a sci-fi future where, free software was “standard” in the general populace, why would that be? Why would they have come to that point? Would they have all understood technology to the point required to understand source code, or would they choose free software for some kind of abstract reason?
I’d suggest that we’ll never see more than about 10% of users really ever choosing to use free software for ‘ethical reasons’ – fair trade branded items are far from being the most popular, and other “ethically” motivated product lives, in this country at least, have also not succeeded in dominating a market.
But “winning” is hardly defined as having 10% of everyone, and whilst ostentatiously, popularity is not the free software movements main goal, and hasn’t been for many years, RMS has recently been focusing more on this area.
I’d be very interested in your thoughts – do leave a comment if you have ideas.
If you can explain a rational and pragmatic scenario, in which free software becomes *preferable* to End Users, I promise, next time we meet, to buy you a beverage of your choice (under £4).
It’s not often I go to events were well known people are speaking. It’s even less frequently where the tech events I go to have well known broadcaster speaking.
However, Oggcamp – the world’s friendliest unconference – is a special sort of event and persuading Stephen Fry to give a video address, answering questions and his relationship with technology went down very well indeed!
Some memorable quotes:
Do I use Linux on any of my devices? Yes – I use Ubuntu these days – it seems the friendliest.
Sometimes I do worry that they [Apple] are a bit tyrannical and a bit silly.
Facebook is really just AOL but brushed up for the modern user generated content world.
It’s really quite watchable:
I recently noticed that I got quoted in The Information Age, at the beginning of the year due to the UK Cyber Security Challenge.:
“Tim Dobson, a 20-year-old university student, does not remember his IT A-level course fondly. “In one lesson, our teacher asked us how to find the YouTube website,” he recalled.
Dobson added that he had always been interested in pursuing an IT career, but it “would have helped if the course was not such a failure”. He dropped out of his course before completing it.”
It’s funny, I don’t remember being a university student, but sadly, that anecdote about YouTube is correct.
Back in 2007, I was in an Applied ICT (Double award) A level lesson. These were one of the most dull things I’ve encountered in my life.
The class was working and suddenly the tutor, who’s also working on a computer asks the room,
What’s the address of ‘youtube’?
Sadly, no one responded
*ahem*. Let me just google that for you
Shouldn’t you be teaching us that?
We were too stunned.
In the end, someone just muttered “youtube.com” across the room.
Several years on, I asked one of my classmates whether they remembered those lessons:
Unfortunately I do… I loved wasting 2 years of my life that I’ll never get back.
Which is pretty much how I feel about it.
There were positive reactions to such a negative experience – my involvement with the free software community, the formation of DFEY and the building of direct links with technology companies in the area would never have happened if I hadn’t had such a bad experience.
I can’t help but wonder, however, what would have happened if it hadn’t been the way it was – contrary to the article above, despite some attempts by the college to remove me, I completed the course.
To this day, I’m still very proud to have passed an A Level in Applied ICT, at Grade E.
It was a really awesome talk so I was very pleased that it was videoed.
I really really enjoyed the talk – look at some of my reactions on identi.ca.
This was a quote from my identi.ca the evening it took place. I still stand by it.
I really recommend watching it, and checking out OpenFrameworks