While Taylor’s dismissal of free software as ‘freedom to tinker’ captures something real about its prima facie narrowness as a political programme, she misses the peculiar way in which this very narrowness gives rise to significant implications when we broaden the frame and examine a more social picture. While the individual user may not be interested in tinkering with, for example, the Linux kernel, as opposed to simply using it, the fact that it can be tinkered with opens up a space of social agency that is not at all trivial. Since everyone can access all the code all the time, it is impossible for any entity, capital or state, to establish any definitive control over users on the basis of the code itself. And since the outcomes of this process are pooled, one does not have to be personally interested in ‘tinkering’ to benefit directly from this freedom. With non-free software one must simply trust whoever, or whichever organization, created it. With free software, this ‘whoever’ is socially open-ended, with responsibility ultimately lying with the community of users itself.
"opens up a space of social agency that is not at all trivial" is nice (on open source)
Hackers use their knowledge and their wits to maintain their autonomy. Some take the money and run. (We must live with our compromises.) Some refuse to compromise. (We live as best we can.) All too often those of us who take one of these paths resent those who take the other. One lot resents the prosperity it lacks, the other resents the liberty it lacks to hack away at the world freely. What eludes the hacker class is a more abstract expression of our interests as a class, and of how this interest may meet those of others in the world.
thought: open source devs resenting proprietary devs for being well-paid; the latter (or most of them) unable to work on open source even in their spare time cus their companies prohibit it in some way
As open source developers gave away their software for free, many could see only the devaluation of something that was once a locus of enormous value. Thus Red Hat founder Bob Young told me, “My goal is to shrink the size of the operating system market.” (Red Hat, however, aimed to own a large part of that smaller market.) Defenders of the status quo, such as Microsoft VP Jim Allchin, claimed that “open source is an intellectual property destroyer,” and painted a bleak picture in which a great industry is destroyed, with nothing to take its place.
The commoditization of operating systems, databases, web servers and browsers, and related software was indeed threatening to Microsoft’s core business. But that destruction created the opportunity for the killer applications of the Internet era. It is worth remembering this history when contemplating the effect of on-demand services like Uber, self-driving cars, and artificial intelligence.
I found that Clayton Christensen, the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, had developed a framework that explained what I was observing. In a 2004 article in Harvard Business Review, he articulated “the law of conservation of attractive profits” as follows:
When attractive profits disappear at one stage in the value chain because a product becomes modular and commoditized, the opportunity to earn attractive profits with proprietary products will usually emerge at an adjacent stage.
I saw Christensen’s law of conservation of attractive profits at work in the paradigm shifts required by open source software. Just as IBM’s commoditization of the basic design of the personal computer led to opportunities for attractive profits “up the stack” in software, new fortunes were being made up the stack from the commodity open source software that underlies the Internet, in a new class of proprietary applications.
Google and Amazon provided a serious challenge to the traditional understanding of free and open source software. Here were applications built on top of Linux, but they were fiercely proprietary. What’s more, even when using and modifying software distributed under the most restrictive of free software licenses, the GPL (GNU Public License), these sites were not constrained by any of its provisions, all of which were framed in terms of the old paradigm. The GPL’s protections were triggered by the act of software distribution, yet web-based applications don’t distribute any software: It is simply performed on the Internet’s global stage, delivered as a service rather than as a packaged software application.
something to think about for my longer piece on open source & MS? (to be published when there's some news on that front)
As we moved from the Web 2.0 era into the “mobile-social” era and now into the “Internet of Things,” the same principle continues to hold true. Applications live on the Internet itself—in the space between the device and remote servers—not just on the device in the user’s hands. This idea was expressed by another of the principles I laid out in the paper, which I called “Software Above the Level of a Single Device,” using a phrase first introduced by Microsoft open source lead David Stutz in his open letter to the company when he left in 2003.
The implications of this principle continue to unfold. When I first wrote about the idea of software above the level of a single device, I wasn’t just thinking about web applications like Google but also hybrid applications like iTunes, which used three tiers of software—a cloud-based music store, a personal PC-based application, and a handheld device (at the time, the iPod). Today’s applications are even more complex. Consider Uber. The system (it’s hard to call it an “application” anymore) simultaneously spans code running in Uber’s data centers, on GPS satellites and real-time traffic feeds, and apps on the smartphones of hundreds of thousands of drivers and of millions of passengers, in a complex choreography of data and devices.
Linux is no longer the product of “part-time hacking.” Most of the programmers who work on the project earn a good living for doing so, just as do those who work on proprietary software. The companies that sponsor and contribute to Linux do not do so out of the generosity of their hearts, they do so for solid commercial reasons.
Linux is no longer subversive. It has moved steadily away from being an outsider to taking its place as a comfortable part of the existing commercial world. In a way, if there was a revolution, Linux has won, but it’s an Animal Farm victory. In winning, Linux has become like those it displaced: more professional, more structured, more carefully governed. Linux has not undermined powerful institutions and companies (although it has made some operating systems obsolete); instead, those institutions have learned to live happily with Linux, and even profit from it.
oh man this is so eerily similar to my open source piece for logic!
for diss: cite how open source on its own is not subversive, easily co-opted by capital, co-exist
From a Marxist-Hegelian angle, Barbrook saw the high-tech gift economy as a process of overcoming capitalism from the inside. The high-tech gift economy is a pioneering moment that transcends both the purism of the New Left do-it-yourself culture and the neoliberalism of the free market ideologues: “money-commodity and gift relations are not just in conflict with each other, but also co-exist in symbiosis.” Participants in the gift economy are not reluctant to use market resources and government funding to pursue a potlatch economy of free exchange. However, the potlatch and the economy ultimately remain irreconcilable, and the market economy is always threatening to reprivatize the common enclaves of the gift economy. Commodification, the reimposition of a regime of property, is, in Barbrook’s opinion, the main strategy through which capitalism tries to reabsorb the anarcho-communism of the net into its folds.
This early attempt to offer a polemical platform from which to think about the digital economy overemphasizes the autonomy of the high-tech gift economy from capitalism. The processes of exchange that characterize the Internet are not simply the reemergence of communism within the cutting edge of the economy, a repressed other that resurfaces just at the moment when communism seems defeated. It is important to remember that the gift economy, as part of a larger digital economy, is itself an important force within the reproduction of the labor force in late capitalism as a whole. The provision of free labor, as we shall see later, is a fundamental moment in the creation of value in the economy at large—beyond the digital economy of the Internet. As will be made clear, the conditions that make free labor an important element of the digital economy are based in a difficult, experimental compromise between the historically rooted cultural and affective desire for creative production (of the kind more commonly associated with Gilroy’s emphasis on “individual selffashioning and communal liberation”) and the current capitalist emphasis on knowledge as the main source of added value.
wish i had read this before writing my open source piece lmao. it's a similar thesis but so much more eloquently put
[...] Opensource companies such as Cygnus convinced the market that you do not need to be proprietary about source codes to make a profit: the code might be free, but tech support, packaging, installation software, regular upgrades, office applications, and hardware are not.
this is just one way that profits move up the stack (in the actual open source ecosystem); larger corporations have found a much more lucrative vein in B2C (gateways, data)
The fetishization of content underwrites the fantasy that it is somehow detachable from the infrastructure that supports it. The thrust of Smythe's argument is to dismantle this fantasy, a task which remains a pressing one on the digital era in which, we are told, everyone (or at least a lot more people than before) can create their own content--but not, significantly the structures for organizing, sorting, and retrieving it. We can make our own Web page, but not our own Google; we can craft our own Tweets, but not our own Twitter (at least not without a fair amount of expertise and venture capital). By focusing on practices seemingly associated with the superstructural realm of cultural consumption, Smythe nonetheless reminds us of the importance of control and ownership over productive resources, including the means of information sharing, organization, and retrieval. Even in the digital era, matter still matters--especially the expensive kind, such as network infrastructure, data storage facilities and processing power.
connects with Jason's thing about why open source can build git but not github
But the driving assumption was that (a) contrary to both SBTC and its neighbors and Polanyi, technology was very much a function of institutions; (b) cutting edge innovation did not have to follow one narrow “most-efficiency creating” path, but that there was meaningful choice in how innovation progressed; and (c) contrary to the primary explanations of inequality as a function of institutions (deunionization; erosion of minimum wage, etc.), technology had a significant independent role in structuring social relations in the economy, such that winning battles over the dominant designs of the technology could be independently more powerful at structuring social relations than winning political battles or institutional changes that directly regulate those social relations. In its most ambitious version, it could mean that winning political battles over free software or open source hardware could make people better able to live independent lives than winning political battles over labor or employment law. The past decade has led me to be more skeptical of this stronger claim on behalf of technology [...]
"technology could be independently more powerful at structuring social relations than winning political battles or institutional changes that directly regulate those social relations" is a good thing to cite (possibly in reference to techno-utopians)
However, not everything online lent itself to the metaphor of a frontier. Particularly in the realm of music and video, artisans dealt with a field crowded with existing content, as well as thickets of intellectual property laws that attempted to regulate how that content was created and distributed. [...] The project of Lessig and others was not to create the conditions for erecting a new society upon a frontier, as a yeoman farmer might, but to politicize this class of artisans in order to challenge larger industrial concerns, such as record labels and film studios, who used copyright to protect their incumbent position. This very different terrain requires a different perspective from Jefferson’s.
recognising this terrain as the latest battleground, maybe?