October 13, 2007

Decoding Liberation: The Promise of FOSS (and Web 2.0)

Category: Academic,F/OSS,Kaltura,Politics,Tech,Web 2.0 — Biella @ 2:53 am

Last week I helped Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter kick off their book release party in New York City. The book Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software is the first academic book length piece on free software proper that among other things examines the repercussions of such elements as language use (free software vs open source) and licensing (such as non-copyleft licensing). Here are my opening remarks, which don’t give justice to the book but give a small taste of what is in there.

Samir and Scott are computer scientists, philosophers, and political thinkers and bring these positions and perspectives to bear in their work. While I tend to avoid the discussion on the differences and divergences between free and open source software and licensing (just because I ask a set of questions that tend not to go into that territory), they spend a hefty about of time on this sort of engagement And what is so useful about their approach is that it is technically detailed and carefully analyzed, clarifying the stakes involved in choosing a certain set of licensing over others, or the political implications of language use. Along with this focus, there are many other threads they unpack and one of my favorites is on the aesthetics of code, which I discuss with some detail in my opening remarks with the help of one of my favorite literary writers, Susan Sontag.

The conversation that followed was lively, in part because there were a number of people in the audience who are also very familiar with FOSS (Somewhat unbelievably, there were 3 anthropologists there who study free software, myself, Jelena Karanovic, and Anita Chan). And I think one of the most interesting questions was launched by Anita who asked the authors what they meant more precisely by “the promise of FOSS” as well as liberation.

The conversation that followed was too rich to recount here, but something that I raised and I do think is important is the relationship between the buzz word of the last few years, Web 2.0 and FOSS. Web 2.0 is related to FOSS in so far as Web 2.0 refers to a suite of technologies that allow for the creation of user-generated content and collaboration. FOSS refers to a development methodology that is based on promiscuous sharing of code and collaboration.

The similarities, however, end there because much of the Web 2.0 infrastructure is proprietary. FOSS by definition is non-proprietary. But I think that soon we are going to see more Web 2.0-like companies open up their infrastructure entirely or at least important components.

One example of a new technology that is Web 2.0-like and is entirely free software is a activist networking tool crabgrass that is pretty impressive (I have used it to coordinate my move and am using it now to coordinate a collaborative grant). It is still under development but once released, it will be a great boon to any group that needs to collaborate and organize and coordinate:

Crabgrass also provides a public advocacy centric view of content so that people can learn more about issues and organizations through social relationships. Blog tools, voter guides, petitions, event organizing tools, and action alerts are being added to the functionality of the platform. Crabgrass integrates wikis, asset repositories, task lists, calendars, polls, and meeting schedulers into one tool which allows groups to manage their internal organizing.

The other technology that I am excited about and that I have already written about is Kaltura. As I mentioned, Kaltura is important because it lowers the bar for collaboration, providing tools to facilitate video editing. But what I find as interesting and as significant is that they are perhaps the first large-scale Web 2.0 company that is actively seeking to enter the territory of FOSS and in this respect, once they do so, they will lead the field, not simply for technical reasons, but because they choose to make and engage with open source technologies.

Bringing Web 2.0 within the orbit of FOSS and brining FOSS within the orbit of Web 2.0 can only work to bolster each other, and this is where I think, at least part of the promise of FOSS lies.


  1. [...] yesterday I learned about Kaltura, a social-networky video editing tool, kind-of-a crossbred between wiki, and youtube with [...]

    Pingback by The Wiki Party - closer to reality at Guaka! — October 15, 2007 @ 4:45 am

  2. The book might be awesome, but I find it remarkable that I can not find a free version (as in free software and in free beer). 95 US$ is a bit too much for a young academic in Italy, and I still have a lot of awesome books to read that are free (beer) and partly free (software).

    Comment by Kasper Souren — October 15, 2007 @ 5:17 am

  3. [...] Gabriella Coleman – http://healthhacker.org/satoroams/?p=836 var [...]

    Pingback by Kaltura’s Blog » Blog Archive » Decoding Liberation: The Promise of FOSS (and Web 2.0) — May 15, 2008 @ 2:29 am

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