MJR's slef-reflections


charities Entries

Better Free Software Organisations?

Wed, 16 Apr 2008 10:11:38 +0100

Another zero-day announcement of a Software in the Public Interest online meeting has been posted. The announcement mentions "one motion has been raised" but the agenda doesn't include any motions, so I'm not sure what. Also, the agenda lists "Debian logo licence" as up for discussion but I thought last month's meeting resolved that. I watch SPI fairly closely and I'm confused. How about the rest of you?

SPI isn't alone in this: many software organisations seem to suffer from similar problems. For example, I ranted in passing about Free Software Manchester yesterday, who just posted the notes from their own zero-day meeting and I've suggested possible ways of reforming debian's currently-stalled New Maintainer process more than once.

Are free software users particularly bad at the basics of running an interest society (like welcoming and expiring members, calling meetings, publishing routine communications, and so on), have I been spoiled by cooperatives with their friendly Member Services departments or secretariats, or what? Is this why so many free software orgs seem to include self-perpetuating leadership groups? Is this a serious problem if, as reported, Software Development is a Team Sport [etbe]? Are there fully-working free software mass participation groups out there?

I feel a lot of these problems are caused by attempting to order our inherently entropy-filled world completely and insisting everything follows petty rules, such as refusing to answer a question because the "wrong" member asked it. The world will not become less random just because hackers try to impose arbitrary rules. Sometimes it's good to put down minimum standards (because calling zero-day meetings is a mostly-avoidable way of excluding some members) but it will always be a poor alternative to trying to do the best you can for others.

How do we get past this? My pro-cooperation-and-better-business platform for SPI board went pretty badly and I've had some anti-cooperative flames back from someone starting another free software group this month, so I don't think I can fix these existing organisations any time soon. About 1 in 6 people in the UK are members of a cooperative, so even if that is reflected among hackers (and I think it's lower), all of them would not be enough to reform much.

One of the most common memes in free software is "show us the code" and the few other free software cooperatives I've seen have mostly failed, with a few surviving but hitting a size limit. As a result, I'm currently negotiating the start of a new free software cooperative. So far, I'm really happy with how that's going. Many cooperators learn at the feet of large consumer cooperatives like the Cooperative Group who run training courses for new members about putting cooperative values and principles into practice, which we smaller groups couldn't run ourselves. As a result, most cooperators already know how to work well together. Should large software societies like SPI try commissioning similar courses?


Tags: charities, cooperatives, debian, spi.

SPI Meeting May 2008 - Doldrums?

Wed, 21 May 2008 08:54:38 +0100

At the time of writing, I've not seen an announcement (again), but there's an agenda for an Software in the Public Interest IRC meeting at 19:00 GMT tonight (Wednesday 21st).

It doesn't include any reports, motions or items for discussion. This is particularly surprising because Michael Schultheiss declared in the last meeting that there would "definitely" be a complete treasurer report before this meeting (see 20:07:48 in the meeting log http://lists.spi-inc.org/pipermail/spi-general/2008-April/002571.html I sent to spi-general after last month's meeting).

But why are there no motions or items? Are we that short of work to do?

I may not be at this meeting (library event in Bristol instead) but I'll post a log to spi-general later if I have one.

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Tags: charities, debian, spi.

Silver Surfer's Day 2008

Fri, 23 May 2008 08:54:38 +0100

Today is Silver Surfer's Day 2008, intended to give a taste of the internet to some of the nearly 10 million over-50s who aren't yet online. There's an SSD event finder on the site of organisers Digital Unite. (Thanks to SW ICT Champion for the tip.)

I also spotted Rural broadband households overtake urban for the first time from Ofcom, but I wonder whether the Ofcom definition of broadband is as broken as the Ofcom definition of digital television.

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Tags: charities, web.

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