2016-04-24 15:00 to 2016-04-24 16:00

Experience level


Session Track

Building Community

Food for thought: Is free software vegan and open source vegetarian?

"Open source" split from "free software" to be more pragmatic, to gain entry to the business world, partly by being more accepting of proprietary software. This led to descriptions of free software as "vegan" and open source as "vegetarian." Let's question this analogy, and in the process explore how the Tofurky is made, looking at underlying motivations, ethics, communication, and collaboration. We don't just want to write free software or open source code. We want others to understand *why* we do it. We want to get along with each other. We want other people to join us in envisioning a world where our kind of collaborative production is the norm. At the very least, we want them to think we're not crazy. The challenges for those committed to our cause can be similar to those choosing to be vegetarians or vegans -- having to explain why we won't eat what seems to others to be perfectly good software/food, why we can only frequent certain restaurants/websites, why we refuse to serve meat/proprietary software to others. We can be similarly accused of being judgmental, impractical, idealistic, or "in a phase." Because many more people are familiar with the concept of dietary restrictions motivated by concern for animal rights, environmental ethics, sustainability, and health, this can be fertile ground for analogies to explain our choices in software and technology. But does this analogy also hold up when talking about historical differences between the "open source" and "free software" camps? Is it a useful way to understand those perspectives? Drawing on literature from ethics, dietary practices, distributive justice, and the philosophy of technology, I'll disassemble the analogy into its ingredients and explore several variations. As we chew the fat, we'll learn more about the diverse motivations within our movement, leading to both better collaborative potential among current practitioners and improved recipes for communicating about what we do to brand new audiences. The takeaway for the audience will be a deeper understanding of the diversity of motivations that people have for writing and sharing free software and open source, a toolkit of analogies and metaphors with which to explain what we do to others less familiar in their workplaces and personal lives, and an improved grasp of how to communicate across different ethical perspectives.