No, You Won’t See Me on Facebook, Google Plus, nor Skype – Bradley M. Kuhn ( Brad ) ( bkuhn )

No, You Won’t See Me on Facebook, Google Plus, nor Skype – Bradley M. Kuhn

Brad’s post raises some important points and these are not the same raised by, say, Steve Coll when he wrote on why he was leaving “Facebookistan.” His argument focuses on privacy and the user’s (un)willing engagement or emplacement in the market:

“Zuckerberg’s business model requires the trust and loyalty of his users so that he can make money from their participation, yet he must simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize profits, including by selling users’ personal information.”

And Coll is right. Since FB’s plunge in stock valuation, the emphasis has been on finding a more efficient way to sell things to those who access FB using their mobile devices. The emphasis, in short, is not on making FB a better social environment but a better commercial mall. (In America, one can snarkily ask, What’s the difference? The mall is the social space par excellence and long ago replaced the bowling alley, the soda fountain, the whatever of years, generations, past. Shopping, in America, gives if not purpose to the life needing it then at least reason for its movement.)

But Brad’s point touches more on the obligation of free software. It’s an important post, and his point not considered enough, even by those whose life is all about Foss and the communities sustaining it:

When I point out that I use only Free Software, some respond that Skype, Facebook, and Google Plus are convenient and do things that can’t be done easily with Free Software currently. I don’t argue that point. It’s easy to resist Microsoft Windows, or Internet Explorer, or any other proprietary software that is substandard and works poorly. But proprietary software developers aren’t necessarily stupid, nor untalented. In fact, proprietary software developers are highly paid to write easy-to-use, beautiful and enticing software (cross-reference Apple, BTW). The challenge the software freedom community faces is not merely to provide alternatives to the worst proprietary software, but to also replace the most enticing proprietary software available. Yet, if FaiF Software developers settle into being users of that enticing proprietary software, the key inspiration for development disappears.

 

The best motivator to write great new software is to solve a problem that’s not yet solved. To inspire ourselves as FaiF Software developers, we can’t complacently settle into use of proprietary software applications as part of our daily workflow. That’s why you won’t find me on Google Plus, Google Plus Hangout, Facebook, Skype or any other proprietary software network service. You can phone with me with SIP, you can read my blog and identi.ca feed, and chat with me on IRC and XMPP, and those are the only places that I’ll be until there’s Free Software replacements for those other services. I sometimes kid myself into believing that I’m leading by example, but sadly few in the software freedom community seem to be following.

I would agree with Brad but I also am more lazy or pragmatic and use proprietary software galore, usually because others do, because it’s quite often good, because I persuade myself that there are gray areas where the use of proprietary software is not “bad” or “good” but simply reasonable. Thus, I drive a car based on proprietary technology, ride a bike that is totally proprietary in its making and even design, and use no end of technology whose patents, not to mention copyrights and trademarks, would  likely bury me, if printed out. Software is but one element. 

But just as there is movement to re-acquire the tools and objects by which we live, and to place proprietary  objects in their more historical perspective (“art,” but also “artisanals”), so too we can do the same with software, and conceive of the tools by which we make our modern life something “we” can build as well as use and exchange as well as buy and improve (or not) as well.