supporting our fellowship representative

Paul Boddie paul at
Wed Aug 29 16:17:46 UTC 2018

On Wednesday 29. August 2018 09.17.56 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Am Dienstag 28 August 2018 16:28:44 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> > I do recognise the
> > effort made by both staff and volunteers within the FSFE, but I do also
> > recognise the frustration some people have that their involvement with
> > the organisation is largely confined to paying their membership dues.
> as a small organisation, we have increasingly build up more ways to get
> involved with the FSFE, to meet us, to get support material, to request or
> send speakers, get some pieces of personal infrastructure like the blog you
> have been using.
> You certainly know, but for other readers, see

It is interesting to bring up the blog service because there were moves to 
abolish it, presumably so that only the planet aggregation service would need 
to be maintained instead. In fact, I only use the provided blog service out of 
convenience (since maintaining my own blog wouldn't be a problem, although it 
would be something else to look after), and I even thought initially that 
FSFE-hosted blogs would be automatically aggregated, which turned out not to 
be the case.

I can understand the motivations for not wanting to maintain a WordPress 
instance, but I recall perceiving that this was another area where the 
commitment to the Fellowship was being gradually reduced. We went from blogs 
being a central part of the Fellowship presence to being a hidden part of the 
site where aggregation then became needed for them to be seen at all.

But what the planet and blog services provide is a venue where people can 
hopefully exchange views, learn from each other, and collaborate generally. 
Such well-advertised, coherent, high-quality venues are seemingly not as 
common as one might think, which is why de-emphasising the role of the blogs 
was a bit mysterious from a strategic perspective.


> > Some of these struggles are matters of practicality. For instance, which
> > tools are available to supporters to amplify their own personal efforts
> > to use, develop and advocate Free Software?
> And how many tools shall FSFE provide?
> (We are not a good hoster for instance, because there are many Free
> Software based hosting offering we are unable to beat. And of course we
> want people to be able to select from many Free Software based and Free
> Software friendly service offerings, so it would be unwise to create a
> competing offering. where there already are some good ones that could
> improve.)

There are good arguments for the FSFE not providing much in the way of common 
services, at least if it imposes an unreasonable burden. So, to take that 
GitHub discussion into account, if people wanted to host countless Linux 
kernel repository clones, that would appear to be a distraction from more 
important things, in my view: people could do that elsewhere.

At the same time, services that coordinate activities and perhaps archive some 
of the technical artefacts would be within the remit of the organisation. In 
the latter regard, the aim would be to guard against things disappearing from 
the Web, thinking of all those repository hosting services that no longer 

> > (We have, at the moment, an ongoing thread about not using GitHub in the
> > face of arguably overstated claims about that platform's "network
> > effects", but what kind of network effects does the FSFE offer?)
> A main offering is personal networking, education, places to exchange and
> including access to knowledge from some of Europe's most experienced Free
> Software folks.

OK, but continuing from what I wrote above about high-quality venues for 
collaboration, how effective are the ones that the FSFE provides? For 
instance, this mailing list is pretty general and to the bafflement of some 
readers tends to veer off into FSFE organisational politics rather often.

Now, I still feel that this list could be more active in ways that are more 
relevant to people. Meanwhile, more specific topics could find a home within 
the FSFE's operations. One example from personal experience is that of Free 
Software groupware.

Good luck to anyone trying to find a venue for discussions about general 
technologies, interoperability, and other matters pertinent to a topic as 
mundane as groupware! People would evidently rather have discussions focused 
on their specific products or have participants sign up for pay-to-play 
organisations instead. In the end, the only venue I've found for that topic 
happens to be a Debian mailing list originally dedicated to the packaging of 
an Apple-related product that was released as Free Software.

In this regard, I perceive a lack of continuity between the FSFE's advocacy 
and practical measures to make the advocacy believable. It is all very well 
saying that public organisations, for example, should be using Free Software, 
but a commitment needs to be made to support the development of the software 
they need, even if it is to act as the body that puts all the right people in 
the same room. Otherwise, the advocacy is little better than cheerleading, 
which is how some of it comes across.

> > Other problems arise from the organisation's positioning. While some
> > people may like the idea of the FSFE as a kind of "FSF light", others
> > including myself expect the organisation to take a principled and
> > effective stand on matters of software freedom and associated concerns.
> > To do otherwise is to misrepresent an entire family of related
> > organisations.
> FSFE's positioning has been strongly principled from the beginning, has and
> will maintain that. The difference to our elder sister from the US is that
> we are using a political style that is more fitting continental Europe
> because of the cultural differences. The results we've reached with this
> "European style" have been far-reaching, even world-wide with getting a
> voice for Free Software heard in international organisations for example
> like the WIPO (

I have some concerns about things like upholding licence compliance. It seems 
rather strange to me that those of us who care about copyleft licences not 
being violated by corporations with apparent impunity seem to need to support 
organisations based in the US to look after these things in Europe.

And this is where transparency means rather a lot. Beyond any reasonable legal 
caution, the FSFE should be able to indicate the extent of its work in such 
matters. Currently, I perceive very little transparency, which means that I 
have to conclude that very little is going on behind closed doors.

Now that might seem unfair, but just as the average crowdfunding campaign 
participant starts to get anxious about any lack of communication on the 
status of their "pledge", those of us who have supported the FSFE financially 
(and even those who have merely given their endorsement) cannot simply regard 
the supposed, but invisible, activity of others as any different from 
inactivity. It is only human to seek reassurance that something is indeed 
happening, and such reassurance has to be concrete, not vague or aspirational.


> > And while people might not want the obvious to be said out loud,
> > the result will be that people end up voting with their money instead.
> It is correct: Some people may support other organisations instead of FSFE
> or even in addition of FSFE, if they seek something else to what we are
> offering. Note that in the last years the supporters of FSFE have been
> growing, so in total we may even win more people by offering more of what
> we did in the past, for example the new initiative.

Particularly this latter campaign is interesting in the context of the 
Fellowship now apparently being regarded as a failed attempt to increase 
engagement amongst supporters, members and others. In contrast to previous 
campaigns which seemed to solicit supporter contributions, this one appears 
much more closed and opaque.

Although I can understand the need to prevent haphazard communication and 
uncoordinated advocacy that undermines the campaign's objectives, this and 
similar initiatives risk failing to take advantage of the insights of the 
broader community, potentially failing to meet the expectations of those who 
might have expected something better or more convincing. And with that, we see 
another source of potential frustration and disappointment.

Naturally, one reaction to criticism is to tell people to take their 
"business" elsewhere, assuming that such people are uncommon and that there 
will be plenty of newcomers to step into the gap, anyway. But apart from being 
generally disrespectful towards those who would support the organisation 
(although depressingly familiar from the broader realm of "open source"), the 
ultimate consequence of doing this is to put the organisation in decline as 
people start to perceive it in some of the more contentious and provocative 
terms already seen in this discussion.


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