When Free Software Isn’t Better

Advocates of “open source” cite the the power of “distributed peer review” as a mechanism by which software under free licenses will become better — in quality, reliability, and flexibility — than proprietary alternatives. I will use a close examination of free software projects and several large free software hosting communities to show how many free software projects are not better than proprietary alternatives. In terms of “distributed peer review”, I’ll show that most free software projects aren’t particularly collaborative either. I will also argue that, from the perspective of free software advocates, this is not bad news!

Even when free software is not superior in ways that some past advocacy has focused on, free software offers a series of important philosophical and practical benefits over proprietary software. Moreover, by focusing on what free software sometimes doesn’t do well instead of only looking at our community’s wild successes, free software developers can build a better understanding of when communities coalesce around projects and when distributed peer review really does happen. This talk will suggest that rather than claiming that free software is better, we should instead set out to attempts to actually make it better.

by Benjamin Mako Hill on July 1st at 17:30 in Workshop I

Benjamin Mako Hill is an academic, activist, and consultant working on issues of technology, intellectual property, and society. He is currently a researcher and PhD Candidate in a joint program between the MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Media Lab and a Research Fellow at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media. His research focuses on social scientific analyses of social structure in free software and free culture communities. He has been an leader, developer, and contributor to the Free and Open Source Software community for more than a decade as part of the Debian and Ubuntu projects. He is the author of several best-selling technical books, and a member of the Free Software Foundation board of directors. He is an advisor to the Wikimedia Foundation and the One Laptop per Child project. Hill has a Masters degree from the MIT Media Lab.

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One Response to When Free Software Isn’t Better

  1. [...] a lot can be learned from “open source”. In terms of tools and practices, I think we are, but in terms of the stories we tell ourselves and others about why we do it, Benjamin Mako Hill gave som… to create better software because more people will be able to see, comment on, and improve the [...]

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