July 8, 2010

Debian in the World: Buidling an Institution vs Managing a Crowd

Category: Academic,Debian,Ethics,F/OSS,My Work — Biella @ 8:10 am

So there are times that I think “of course anyone remotely interested in Free Software, virtual projects, and similar endeavors” knows about Debian and its “strange” rituals. I am pretty mistaken, actually. Recently I have attended various events where it has been made clear to me that there are hordes of folks interested in the politics of openness, access, and free software who have heard about Debian but don’t really know what it takes, socially and politically, to manage such a project. Luckily I had the chance to spread some of the ‘esoteric knowledge’ during a talk at MIT for the Knight News Challenge winners and I have received many emails, excited and some surprised about the governance structures of Debian.

If interested, here is a video of my talk, which is quite short, so I don’t go into as much detail as I would like. There is a great audio quote from a Debian developer, taken from this class visit for which there is a podcast and which I recommend as well. If you can’t play flash, you can download the a video of the talk here (look at the right hand side of the page for download link).

update: Interesting blog post on Why the open source way trumps the crowdsourcing way that explores some of the issues I raise in the panel talk. I don’t think it always trumps open source but it is certainly a niche form of production that is useful in some cases but all too often confused with expert peer production in quite unproductive and empirically wrong ways.

October 12, 2009

Digital Anthropology, the Anthropology of the Digital

Category: Academic,Anthropology,Digital Media,Hackers,My Work — Biella @ 4:17 am

I have not been a frequent fixture on my own blog as I am writing what is called an “Annual Review of Anthropology” on digital media and ethnography. Truth be told it is killing me as there is a 6000 word limit and 100-150 works one must mention and entertain (usually by throwing in some categorical statement that makes sense for 10+ works). One thing is clear: the literature on digital media by anthropologists is switching from trickle to steady and very interesting stream. Even if I Epically Fail, I have already learned a lot, which is what I keep telling myself as I struggle through the writing stage of the article.

But if you want a taste of some recent work, there are some blog entries you can check out: Daniel Miller who was one of the first anthropologists to venture in this area (and kick-started the first program in digital anthro) at UCL has written a nice review of various books recently published. And for the same blog, I wrote an overview
of my work on hacking, liberalism, and pleasure. So if you want a short introduction to the books being published by anthropologists on digital media, I highly recommend checking Daniel Miller’s post.

August 11, 2009

Dear Lazy Web: RTFM-in-Action

Category: Academic,Advice,Debian,Geek,My Work — Biella @ 5:01 am


So I am currently working on a section of my book that examines the duality/tension between sharing and self-reliance among hackers. I have some great examples from IRC of sharing but none of RTFMing, which indeed, is more rare. Do you have in your quote file some funny example of RTFM (or a kindred ‘eff you’) or know of a mailing list discussion where this happened? I would love to include in the book. For those that are not geeky readers, RTFM = Read The Fucking Manual and is a stylized rebuff that some people find very offensive and others less so because it is a canned response. Whatever the case…here is a snippet from the book:

On the one hand, hackers speak of the importance of learning from others and construe knowledge production as a collective enterprise—this rhetoric is often matched in practice by truly generous and copious acts of constant sharing. In any given minute of the day, I can head over to one of the developers IRC channels and there will be some developers asking a question, getting an answer, and giving thanks. On the other hand, hackers at times express an extreme commitment to individual self-reliance, which can be at times displayed in a quite abrasive and elitist tone. Hacker discourse creates fine discriminations among the projects of individual programmers and valorizes independent control over technical environments and production

I have some great examples of sharing-in-action on IRC because frankly, that is what happens much of the time. I also have a great analytical discussion of RTFM among DD’s but what I don’t have is an RTFM in action.

I can 1) spend the next 48 hours straight starting at #debian and other channels to see whether one comes up and just might have to do so.

But if you have some IRC log/quote file that captures this fine moment or know of a mailing list discussion where this happened, can you please pass along?

ps. Here is my favorite description of RTFM:

[RTFM] is a big chromatic dragon with bloodshot beady eyes and fangs the size of oars. RTFM is me screaming at you as fireballs come out of my mouth to get off your precious no-good tush, march down to the local bookstore or MAN page repository, and get the eff off my back because I’m trying very hard to get some freakin’ work done. Jeez.