Free Software economics (was Re: What should the FSFE provide)

Paul Boddie paul at
Fri Aug 31 13:35:21 UTC 2018

On Friday 31. August 2018 13.16.57 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Am Donnerstag 30 August 2018 21:56:58 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> > Thank you for indulging me in this discussion which has probably covered
> > more ground already than many previous discussions on some of these
> > topics. My apologies if this is a long message.
> no problem, you are welcome! Thanks for caring for Free Software.
> Given the heated tangled discussion on this list, please take my apologies
> for a brief answer. There is probably more time for longer exchanges at a
> later point of time.

Agreed. I'll fast-forward to a couple of points that I want to make, however. 
Other things deserve more of my time today, unfortunately.


> >
> (Sorry, stopped reading the link very soon, as it does not promise a
> thought out contribution to the debate.)

I did mention strong language. But I also sympathise with the sentiments 
because there are certain observations that are difficult to ignore.


> > Unfortunately, there is a culture of people doing work "for
> > exposure" which means that people are tempted into doing things for free
> > to get their name known.
> It is one of the motivations for people to work on Free Software, but we
> need more professionals and thus we need more money for Free Software
> which means more companies and customers of companies that want this.
> > The consequences are often (1) nothing actually getting done, (2) people
> > burning out as they try and fit their volunteer work in around everything
> > else in their lives,
> To any volunteer, my advise as a volunterr is:
> Always prepare for the long run. Don't overstretch.

Unfortunately, the "for exposure" culture encourages people to overstretch. In 
one case in the Python community, someone who had been "all over" every topic 
of concern eventually burned out:

I've seen other people being misrepresented, ejected and blamed for their good 
work. In a professional context such things would be described as 
exploitative, and in many cases there would be consequences, maybe even in the 
despicable "light regulatory touch" jurisdictions.

But since this kind of "noble volunteerism" meshes with a popular flavours of 
capitalism, such people and the lessons they have for us are readily 
forgotten, their misfortune seen as "regrettable" but somehow an acceptable 
cost to bring about other people's success. I mention this particularly 
because it may help some people to understand why people become so aggrieved 
and feel mistreated.

(Incidentally, "for exposure" is the term used in the photography sector, 
perhaps as a form of dark humour. If you want to needlessly upset people, 
suggesting to professional photographers that they do their work "for 
exposure" is almost guaranteed to do the trick. But I admire their 
stubbornness, whereas professionals in our sector are only too happy to 
indulge practices like unpaid internships.)

> > (3) the perception that Free Software is a product of
> > hobbyists who can be paid with pennies.
> This perception is fuelled by people who do not want to see the number of
> professional offerings or who do not want to pay for software or service at
> all.

There most certainly are professional offerings, yes. But then again, there 
are people like Werner whose PGP libraries are being used by billion dollar 
corporations as the foundation of their businesses' operational viability, and 
yet it apparently took security scares in other cryptographic libraries and 
Edward Snowden's remarks to crack open wallets and get things funded at a more 
tolerable level.

> > So while I accept that policy activities are vital to allow Free Software
> > to be deployed, it also must be  recognised that without a sustainable
> > development culture there will be no Free Software to deploy.
> FSFE does foster development culture and we may even do more. Still it is
> more important that if a person starts a Free Software business he or she
> is allowed to do so and get a fair chance to win over business.

I am not arguing about taking opportunities away from business, though. In 
fact, I am arguing against the zero-sum game played by various businesses, the 
result of which is a shoal of little fish whose only defence is not to be big 
enough to be noticed by the big (proprietary) fish that everybody else has to 
deal with.

From conversations I have had over the years, I sometimes wonder whether 
certain companies regard their Free Software competitors as worse enemies than 
the proprietary vendors and solutions they should all be doing their best to 
defeat. So that game of divide and rule continues, of course.


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