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Our current FOSS dystopia

In the middle of the 00s I used to feel like our FOSS battles were pretty much over. The “downhill battle” era. The “year of the Linux desktop”. Fewer and fewer .doc and .swf files littering our drives.

Anything they would write, we in the FOSS world could clone better; and we also had our own ideas and our own apps which were pure fire magic. Compilers, wikis, milters, httpd, rsync, blender, gigs of .oggs—we had it all.

Then three calamities struck

Silo sites

They leveraged the network externality to make unclonable apps like MySpace and Facebook and YouTube and Line. If you wanna talk to your friends and your friends are on there, you’re likely to also sign up.


It’s one thing to build a repairable & open desktop computer but it suddenly became hard to keep up when they pushed computing to pocket size or something you can use from bed.


Sites like Spotify and Netflix and many others relegitimized copyright in the eyes of the public in the span of just a few years. We can continue to rail but we’ve gone from a world where mp3 and filesharing was something “everybody” did to something that’s no longer part of the mainstream.

The irony

…is that they used our tech to do all three of these things. Oh well. AGPL for the win, next time.

Also a lot of the ills that are plaguing us are social ills (we’re not yet particularly well adapted as a species to the idea of social networks), or environmental disasters (we can maybe solve the network externality but the fossil fuel externality is a harder nut to crack).

I’m not sure our lives would be that much better if the stick that is beating the people came in a tar.gz with a makefile.