How can the free software movement improve its communication?

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::

The Impact of Wikipedia

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:

Mark Zuckerberg on helping others learn to code

(How the above got 9 million views this year)

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, 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.

Can you inspire people to find their own inspiration?

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that there’s a power in story. People love telling stories and explaining what they learnt from their own experiences.

Lot’s of motivational speakers and bloggers draw heavily from their own experiences, and lots of successful people have stories of “this one time when something happened and I overcame the difficulties”.

The problem is that by drawing on one’s own experiences, you’re betting that the audience relates quite deeply to you.

Let me give an example.

There are deeply inspiring sysadmin stories – stories of where persistent sysadmins have solved a mystery problem to the point where most people would have just shrugged, given up or something. Wearing my sysadmin hat, I them really impressive, and inspire me to be a better problem solver.

To the average person, they’re not anecdotes that one could relate to. If you’re a sysadmin, or in an occupation that requires creative thinking to solve problems, they may ring much closer to home and remind you of your own experiences.

Here lies the crux:

  • Things that inspire you, are most likely to inspire people like you.
  • Not everyone is just like you, and you probably think people are more like you than they are. (The bubble effect)
  • What inspires people most, is their own experiences.

and the last point is the most important.

Climbing Ben MacDui: Would someone who didn't like hiking find this photo inspirational?
Climbing Ben MacDui: Would someone who didn't like hiking find this photo inspirational?

It’s worth remembering that what inspires people about your anecdotes, is not that you climbed a high mountain, but is that you, as an equal human being, who tried, did something that they also could do. The emphasis is not on the mountain, but on the trying, and the what they could do.

If you could instead of inspiring people by telling anecdotes, if you used clever story telling, to get them to think about a similar experience in their life, then tie in suggestions about how it could have been handled, then you’d have a very powerfully inspiring tool.

Lots of people have done inspiring things: have had near death experiences, lost a loved one, run a marathon, and yet many people look away from themselves for inspiration. What if you could persuade people to learn from their own stories and own experiences?