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Melbourne's Software Freedom Day

Showing off my manual & laptop bling at Software Freedom Day.
Photo © kattekrab, licensed CC-BY-SA

Saturday was Software Freedom Day, a wonderful day to celebrate and share the ideas and fruits of free software. I trundled along to the Melbourne event and gave a short talk called How Free Software makes Wikipedia possible (slides: Slideshare, Wikimedia Commons). There was some videoing being done, so maybe that will surface at some point.

It went well I think, despite being pretty off-the-cuff; people seemed quite engaged. I talked about how Wikipedia is not only built on free software (MediaWiki) and free formats (Ogg), but also takes inspiration from the free software movement in trying to lead the free knowledge movement. I quoted a bit from something Jimmy Wales wrote four years ago which is really amazing, actually. Four years ago Wikipedia had nothing like the traction it has now so kudos to Jimmy for making a principled stance when it was much less easy to do so.

I also put a few photos up on Flickr. The Hub is a great little venue.

I also listened to a podcast interview with Pia Waugh, who is president of Software Freedom International, the folks who send everyone CDs and balloons and generally make Software Freedom Day a bonafide worldwide event rather than a poorly organised ad-hoc shambles. I was a bit amazed to hear that Software Freedom Day is only four years old; each year it has basically doubled in growth. I think even if at this point the outreach factor is not as great as it could be, SFD is still a very worthy day for free software supporters to meet up and recognise each other’s efforts. There is the threat that such a thing could turn into a self-congratulatory wank, but that is not likely with FLOSS supporters — not until GNU/Linux is the default desktop, at least. :)

My journey to being fully free-software-embracing is still going, but I had a significant leap on the way earlier in the year when I switched to a Linux-only computing environment. Xubuntu 8.04 at home with no Windows partition, and CentOS at work. Xubuntu has a few quirks but on the whole it is simple and straightforward. I kind of shamed myself into it; I was doing all this free culture grandstanding, it was a bit hypocritical to be using Windows myself (as I said recently, eating ones own dogfood ‘n all that).

I’m also very pleased to use identi.ca (the Free Twitter alternative started by WikiTravel’s founder, Evan Prodromou. How Evan actually keeps up with all his projects just boggles my mind), which I moved to from Google’s neglected Jaiku. After ma.gnolia reveals its open source, I will switch from del.icio.us. Sure, the networks are not as great, but not joining them is not going to help that, is it? :) I also feel keenly the need for Free alternatives to Facebook, Flickr and Skype.

And for that matter, I’m totally reliant on Gmail, which is surely asking for trouble. Oh, but Google’s threaded conversations are so seductive…! I can’t wait to see what Free alternative awaits.

22 September, 2008 • ,

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Get Your FreeCon

Jon Philips:

Free Culture Conference (”Get your FreeCon”) would be a meeting of specific projects to hash out interrelationships and collective trajectories for the coming year. … The goal of the event would be to produce actual statements showing resolutions with implementation to back them up, and to announce the next 5-10 free culture priorities for the year.

Interested? Say so.

Check out also the Free Software/Free Culture Collaboration presentation given by Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons VP) to LinuxWorld expo.

06 August, 2008 • , ,

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Free software on a free content project

You would think that if anyone could appreciate limited value to security through obscurity, it would be Wikipedia editors. —After all, Wikipedia is destroying the similar notion of “authority through obscurity” or “reliability through obscurity”. There’s a very clear parallel between the open source software development model and the Wikipedia editorial process. And yet… it is not the case.

The latest drama on en.wp is about intentionally adding hundreds of useless edits to the [[Main Page]] to make it undeletable. Deleting the main page is a hallmark of an administrator gone rouge, you see. I think it’s kind of cool that you can earn the cred to be able to delete the front page of a top ten website. Apparently for some people this is too much temptation.

In part these useless edits were added by an already-contentious bot, which performs a variety of routine tasks. The issue came up about what was the “contingency plan” given that this bot account was blocked.

I don’t know that we have a contingency plan for such things. The bot system is like the wild west. Everyone runs their own code and there is very little [sic?] redundancy. — Carl

The bot owner responded:

As for the source for my bots, I am willing to share it with people that I can trust. I wrote RfC bot and gladly handed that code out to a user that I know is responcible [sic]. I have also written code for other users and they have abused it, since then I only give it to people I can trust. — βcommand

Simetrical, one of the developers, responded:

Of course, all this would be an excellent argument for requiring that all bots on Wikipedia be entirely open-source, and that this be periodically verified by someone attempting to run the bot on a test wiki and making sure it actually works as advertised. Why Wikipedia has not yet agreed on this I’m not sure, except to the extent that it seems never to be able to agree on anything. (Yes, yes, anti-vandal bots’ source code will be open, I’m sure that will be a great aid to the huge number of vandals who are also programmers and malicious enough to spend hours analyzing twisty heuristic-based source code. The idea of security through openness is that they’ll be outnumbered by the group that’s identical but willing to help out by sharing any exploits they find.) Without open-source bots, it seems to me Wikipedia is asking to have major bot contributors get annoyed with the project and leave, or just disappear for any reason, seriously inconveniencing everyone. Actually, this has happened in the past, if I’m not wrong. How is it that The Free Encyclopedia is relying so heavily on non-free software? If not for the bots and scripts that are permitted to be closed, you could come close to saying that the only proprietary software used in creating and serving the encyclopedia is routing software. — Simetrical

Cobi pointed out that ClueBot, a vandalism-detecting bot, has been open source since its inception.

There is somewhat similar code anarchy on the toolserver, with limited collaboration leading to multiple tools performing the same function, because with early versions the developer loses interest, some database configuration changes and the tool becomes permanently broken because it has no maintainer.

Recently a stable toolserver was introduced, which requires a project have at least two maintainers before it can be hosted there, in an attempt to alleviate some the described problems. It has not had very enthusiastic uptake yet.

In a similar vein I found it odd to be asked to contemplate a Windows toolserver just this week. Apparently the toolserver is considered exempt from the strict free software requirements of the Foundation proper because it is hosted by the German chapter. Or something. I do not find it very convincing.

And just this week Florence, the Chair of the WMF Board, has drafted a list of Foundation values :

Freedom
An essential part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission is encouraging the development of free-content educational resources that may be created, used, and reused by the entire human community. We believe that this mission requires thriving open formats and open standards on the web to allow the creation of content not subject to restrictions on creation, use, and reuse.
At the creation level, we want to provide the editing community with freely-licenced tools for participation and collaboration. Our community should also have the freedom to fork thanks to freely available dumps. The community will in turn create a body of knowledge which can be distributed freely throughout the world, viewable or playable by free software tools.

We, the community, clearly have some catching up to do. People in glass houses not throwing stones and all that! Closed source should not be acceptable for bots or toolserver tools.

06 February, 2008 • , , ,

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