Back to the Future Again: 2020 FLOSS 3.0

Yesterday I wrote about my experiences last week at the Open World Forum. As I noted, the two-day event closed with the presentation of the latest edition of the 2020 FLOSS Roadmap. Even though I'd not been to the Open World Forum before, I...


Yesterday I wrote about my experiences last week at the Open World Forum. As I noted, the two-day event closed with the presentation of the latest edition of the 2020 FLOSS Roadmap. Even though I'd not been to the Open World Forum before, I have written about the two previous versions of the Roadmap (still available.)

Indeed, I seem to have been pretty positive about them. Here's what I wrote about the first:

the "manifesto" is at once an excellent summary of where free software is now and may well go tomorrow, as well as a source of eminently sensible suggestions of ways to help it achieve the possibilities sketched out, and to avoid some of the pitfalls that are also noted.

For the second, I highlighted one particular idea:

Although the whole report is well-worth reading, especially as a review of the year in free software, for me the most important aspect is the following tiny new recommendation:

"Acknowledge the intrinsic value of FLOSS infrastructure for essential applications as a public knowledge asset (or ‘as knowledge commons'), and consider new means to ensure its sustainable development"

I think the sooner it becomes generally recognised that free software is a digital knowledge commons – one of many that are being created through open collaboration – the more people's attitudes to it will change, and the more impact it will have. It is no coincidence that one of the people awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Economics, was Elinor Ostrom, "for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons". I look forward to reading next year's 2020 roadmap, in the hope that it might explore more deeply this important concept.

Well, I am delighted to be able to report that the latest Roadmap does exactly that:

In previous years, contributors analysed the potential impact of FLOSS on the future in terms of technology, business and society. This year, three contributors – Philippe Aigrain, David Bollier and Michael Tiemann – decided to work in a more focused way to enrich the the findings of previous editions, concentrating on very specific aspects such as "Openness vs. Freedom in Cloud computing", "Floss as Commons" and "The FLOSS Roadmap for Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC)".

Here's what the relevant "Floss as Commons" section says:

One way to advance this understanding is to conceptualize FLOSS and other collaborative endeavors as commons. The language of the commons can help validate the distinctive social dynamics of online sharing and collaboration and generalize them as significant forces in economic and cultural production. This can help popularize the idea that FLOSS and digital collaboration more generally are critical forces in the global knowledge society.

Without such a language of the commons, market metrics and discourse tend to prevail. This is fine as far as it goes. But the conventional market narrative provides a misleading ontology and epistemology for describing FLOSS communities. Market discourse focuses on "rational" individuals seeking to maximize their material self-interest and "utility"; profit and capital accumulation are seen as the preeminent goals.

FLOSS and other commons, however, tend to be based on a more expansive set of personal and social goals; material self-interest is not the paramount or exclusive goal of interactions within a commons. Creative freedom and political autonomy, not to mention social camaraderie, reputation-building and the sheer pleasure of collaboration, tend to be the animating attributes of digital commons.

The whole section is well worth reading since it is an excellent summary of what I regard a crucially important development for free software and beyond, and I'm delighted that the 2020 FLOSS Roadmap agrees.

The other two sections are also good. The one on free software and the BRIC countries echoes some of what I wrote yesterday. It concludes:

In summary, the world needs new technologies, particularly information technologies, to address the many challenges we now face. The practices and artifacts of Free / Open Source Software and Open Standards provide not only the means to develop such necessary technologies, but a roadmap of future economic behavior that can enrich all participants, poor and rich, developed and developing, BRIC and non-BRIC alike. It is just in time.

The other section deals with freedom in the cloud. This not only reprises many of the themes raised by Eben Moglen (for example in this interview I conducted with him back in March), but specifically acknowledges that inspiration:

The discussion of cloud computing and Web services from the viewpoint of freedom, autonomy and capabilities of individuals can be traced back to the debate between Eben Moglen and Tim O'Reilly at OSCON'2007. Tim O'Reilly downplayed the importance of FLOSS licenses in the new context, suggesting that the openness of services, defined in terms of interoperability and possibility to export one's data was now more important. This infuriated Eben Moglen, who had conducted for 2 years the process leading to the new GNU GPLv3 license and its companion Affero GPLv3, specifically designed for freedom of software used in Web services.

I forgot to mention in my post yesterday that Moglen was the concluding keynote speaker of the Forum's first day. It amounted to a splendid excoriation of most of the preceding speakers for paying too little attention to freedom, and then using that issue as a jumping off point for promoting the idea of a truly free, distributed social network (discussed in depth in the interview linked to above).

Even though Moglen was warmly applauded at the end, you could tell that some people's breath had been taken away by the effrontery of this chap. I think it's another sign of the vigour of the Open World Forum that its organisers invited Moglen and let him challenge its expectations in this way. Let's hope they continue to do so in future events.

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