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Keep infrastructure free

A lot of essayists wanting to push the square peg of open source software into the round peg of quid-pro-quo market capitalism.

For example:

It seems to me that they are arguing that the megacorps should sober up and sponsor the people who put in a lot of time, effort, and care into these libraries.

That’s great, and that can and does happen sometimes, and that’s appreciated, but I’d rather see the change go in the other direction. UBI, free money, food, shelter. Artificial scarcity didn’t make sense during the good years and makes even less sense now that the world is on fire.

We should be moving away from a world run by Facebook, Apple, Google etc, not towards a world where they financially control the means of production. Please don’t misinterpret this as me trying to snatch the livelihood away from any one contributor to FOSS, be it a five star repo or a one line fix.

Is the problem that “a project some random person in Nebraska has been thanklessly maintaining since 2003” is open source, or is the problem that so much modern digital infrastructure (like the play and app stores, or iOS or Facebook or Google search) is not?

The Steve Jobs playbook starting with OS X, which is why they could leapfrog ahead of Microsoft and Windows, is to grab the best raisins from FOSS and stick them into a proprietary cake. This has been the route to riches in embedded (iPhone, Kindle, Echo) and in webapps (Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube). Make the proprietary service appealing, essential, uncopiable, and inescapable, all the while depending on (but encapsulating) commons labor. Your basic network effect externality economics 101.

Is this good? No. Would this be better if those raisins got a salary? Marginally.

Do they owe us a living? Of course they do. Government-funded, or NGO, that’s fine too. Democracy needs to extend to labor and capital. What we really want is for infrastructure to belong to everyone, not be controlled by megacorporations.

Introduce full UBI while we’re at it, so we can keep culture participatory, by not creating a huge chasm between contributor and consumer, between pro and am. Let’s all build this together.

In my lifetime we have seen a remarkable development of commons: code and data and knowledge. So many repos and wiki articles. I grew up during the fall of communism. We were taught the virtues of competition and property. Seeing commons-based projects like Debian and Wikipedia be thriving and productive was a mindmelting experience. Rival corporations deciding to cooperate in the same source tree, as is the case with Linux. The final coffin nails to the McCarthy-era myths that capitalism is some sorta be-all, end-all, most efficient and benign system.


Nadim posted some similar concerns with these posts:

So, when the blog post says that “now is the perfect time for Open Source maintainers to become legible to the big companies that depend on them—and that want to get more out of them—and send them five-to-six figure invoices.” it’s actually saying something far more boring and predictable: that it’s time for open source projects to become “legible” to companies by… becoming companies.