Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

Unmotivated by Doom

Earlier I watched some of the talks from the Freenode Live conference - especially the ones with Leslie Hawthorn, Bradley Kuhn and Simon Phipps. Much of the message here seemed to be quite doomy, and it appeared to me that the general idea was that Free Software had peaked some years ago and had now been coopted by big companies or was in decline. Also that Free Software communications systems are failing to keep up with proprietary chat apps.

You do realize that WhatsApp is really just a closed version of XMPP, right?

These people do have good points and know what they're talking about. The engineering, political and legal problems do all exist and are concerning. But I'd caution against a message of despair because that doesn't motivate anyone to do better. Also things may not be as hopeless as they appear and doomy stuff can be quite demoralizing. There is more Free Software being written than in the past and at least some of it is high quality. Free Software communication systems are actually succeeding in a significant way in the fediverse, despite detractors in the mainstream technology news claiming otherwise. It might be true that IRC and Freenode is in decline (although I'm not sure about that) but other communications systems like Matrix and Mastodon are appearing and seem to be doing well.

With Simon Phipps comment about "what does freedom in the cloud look like?" he might be unaware of the current status of projects like FreedomBox and Freedombone. When choosing apps to be included in Freedombone I'm not encountering any situation of decline and quite the opposite there are a growing number of decent apps which can be inexpensively self-hosted and are usually AGPL licensed - respecting user freedom while also being kryptonite to companies like Google.

Anyone who has met me IRL knows that I'm not some happy-clappy person, but I think Free Software needs a more positive message than the talks I saw earlier. We need to celebrate the victories in addition to lamenting the bad legislation. The big tech companies have a lot of money and lobbying power, but when you compare their apps to what it's possible to self-host the value which they deliver is quite marginal and it might not take much to shift things in a different direction.