thoughts from afar on OSCON

I’m obviously interested in what is going on at OSCON this year, since the overlap between web 2.0 and free/open software seems to be a major theme. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go, so I’m left lurking from afar.

John Eckman has some of the best notes I’ve found, at least on Eben’s talks- read his notes on Eben’s major speech and his notes on Eben’s chat/flamewar with Tim O’Reilly. It appears that in his introduction O’Reilly covered some of the same ground that I covered on Sunday, but it isn’t clear (at least from any notes I’ve been able to find) that Tim has answers to the questions he has posed.

Eben apparently said something to the effect of:

“talking about real freedoms … requires a discussion about public policy and long-term consequences of all this technology we’ve all put into the world”

I couldn’t agree more. We are standing at the brink of a huge change in how people store the data that makes up the emotional content of their lives. We must start coming to grips with the policy implications of that, just as government once struggled to come to grips with the impact of people storing the economic content of their lives in banks, and I’m excited to think that free and open services could be part of that. (We also need to think about other policy issues- patents, etc.- that can’t really be dealt with in isolation, but those aren’t my focus right now, even if they are Eben’s :)

That said, from John’s notes on Eben’s talk today:

The fundamental right with which Stallman has always begun is anyone’s right to run any program anywhere at any time for any reason – this has to include the right for people to run a program at any time *for anyone* – that is, provision of software as a service for other people. …

If the discussion about service provision is a rights conflict issue, it is critically important to frame that discussion in clear terms based on the rights perceived to be in conflict.

No rights based argument sufficient has been articulated which should compel the release of code which some people choose to run for third parties benefit. That doesn’t mean such an argument doesn’t exist…

I had already begun to try to formulate my argument in terms of rights, so I’m part way along this road already, but once you have such a broad interpretation of the rights of the user who execs the software, it becomes very difficult to convincingly articulate the rights of the user who puts data into the software, the value of the commons, and the rights of developers. I’m sure Eben is right that it will be worth the effort to try, but I’m not confident that I can succeed within that initial set of assumptions. Keep your eyes on this space, I suppose :)