What should the FSFE provide (was: supporting our fellowship representative)

Bernhard E. Reiter bernhard at fsfe.org
Thu Aug 30 07:45:15 UTC 2018

Hi Paul,

some of your topics are very interesting, thanks for the feedback!

Am Mittwoch 29 August 2018 18:17:46 schrieb Paul Boddie:

== FSFE offerings of personal blogs

> 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. 

> 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.

Your argument is interesting as it brings up a strategic perspective
of high quality contents, which I will have to think about more.

Questions I am asking myself:
I was not involved in the deeper arguments of running a blog or not. From a 
distance it looks like running a serious service for a number of people is 
expensive and we cannot do it with volunteers alone. FSFE's costs of running 
a service would be higher than buying this from numerous service providers. 
Is this extra money well spend?

If you are right and there is a lot better coherency and advantages to FSFE, 
we could try to contract a service provider. However how do we get better
contents on the platform? In the end we cannot really influence the contents 
of blogs, so they could have anything, even something that is bad for Free 
Software. Of course we could keep illegal contents out of the blogs, but if 
we had to come up with a "guidelines what would be appropriate" on our blogs
to fellows, this would add another layer of maintenance and 
contents "inspection".


> There are good arguments for the FSFE not providing much in the way of
> common services, at least if it imposes an unreasonable burden.

And when is a burden unreasonable?
If we would have 200% the costs of an available commercial service vendor?
Each offering will have to be weighted on its own, given the value
and what else we could have done with the funds and resources.

> 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 exist.

There are plenty of services to preserve what has been on the web
(e.g. archive.org). It would be a major undertaking to build something up that 

> 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.

That is a good question. Especially with new people coming in that have been 
socialised with other communication media (group messengers, social media, 
micro blogs).

> 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.

It is ontopic here to discuss any topic related to Free Software
(as long as it happens in a respectful manner, which goes without saying).
I believe there is a different problem of who is your target audience.

> 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! 

You can start a discussion here, but I take it would not really thrive.

Personal background:
As you may know I have been coordinating a group that constructed a Free 
Software groupware for about 10 years, and I probably would not spend much 
time discussing this here, because I would need to write and amount of text 
filling a book before I got some of my arguments presented in a way that I 
believe that others have a chance to understand them. My personal time does 
not allow for this, and nobody will pay me for it either. So you won't get my 
detailled opinion here and not elsewhere. It would not be fun for me to 
repeat the basic arguments without getting into the deeper ones that demand a 
lot more context, so I probably won't do it. (Please do ask anyway, I'll 
always trying to help if I can.)

My theory is that Free Software has been so successful (because almost 
everyone is using it and most consumer devices freshly activated run a a Free 
Software operating system) that being Free Software has becoming such a broad 
topic that a few exchanges on some digital media just won't work.
We have also seen a decline on general Free Software fairs and conference,
they all get more specialised.

> 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.

Given our limited resources, we cannot just start an implementation project
for some software product. We have noticed this early in FSFE. Our elder 
sister did and successfully reached the initial goals of their GNU "project" 
a few years ago. However this were different times. We found out with FSFE 
that it is much too easy for the opponents of Free Software to work against 
us on a policy level, for which technical hacking cannot provide resistance.
In order to allow many other people to hack on Free Software, we must sure 
that politics, laws and procurement policies allow them to do this. The 
people and organisations that profit from less empowered users have become a 
much harder political opponent over the last years. 
So far I do not think that FSFE's resources are well spend if we would 
directly do development of missing Free Software components.

== license compliance

> 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.

While it is fine to support our elder sister in the US of course,
license compliance is a main topic and activity of FSFE.
The question is what is the goal of the compliance, we want organisations to 
come to compliance and stay there, because this is the best for everyone.

For this we offer a large (I think still the largest) community of legal and 
technical people to give advise, specific and general and we also follow a 
number of cases. Just as the FSF (US) we prefer an internal approach first, 
because we assume that a non-compliance may have been an oversight and it is 
better to get people to listen and to understand before you go public or 

For some of the activities see:

> 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.

Or see the links to the reports from

> It is only human to seek reassurance that something is indeed happening,
> and such reassurance has to be concrete, not vague or aspirational.

Over time we have increased our publically available reporting as much as we 
could, just look at the monthly

and our documentation of long running current and concluded activities:


> > for example the new https://publiccode.eu/ initiative.

> In contrast to previous campaigns which seemed to solicit supporter
> contributions, this one appears  much more closed and opaque.

In the past we had more open (up to do what you want in that area) and more 
close campaigns. So it depends on the topic, which I think is fair enough.
For some topics we can make a greater impact by making a participation easy,
because many people like our work, but can only spare 5 minutes for a 
particular topic. This way we have won 151 organisations and 18000 individual 
supporters up to now.

> 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.

The best time to have more influence is to participate in the creating of 
campaigns, in many cases we are given an early indicator about what is going 
one, sometimes beta versions or more. As we do not warn some of our political 
opponents too early, we do some of it on our internal mailing lists. So if 
you want to participates in campaigns like this, go to a local meeting, get 
on one of the local mailinglists and then start your actions with your 
coordinator. Reading this mailinglist and responding to announcements also 
helps to be involved in a campaign early on.

> 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.

I agree with the dangers and this is why I'll try my best to be respectful.
This includes removing people that are disrespectful to others, we may have 
been to lax about this lately and may have seen some decline of participation 
because of this. To cite a recommendable work about how to run technical Free 
Software initatives from Karl Vogel:

Nip Rudeness in the Bud

Best Regards,

FSFE -- Founding Member     Support our work for Free Software: 
blogs.fsfe.org/bernhard     https://fsfe.org/donate | contribute
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