Boost this if you want to be part of an explicitly anticapitalist technology liberation movement.

I am drawn more and more towards simply "communal software". It is simple and to the point without needing to bring in a lot of loaded political baggage. Sure capitalists might fund some of it, but I think it would be significantly more difficult for capitalists to co-opt "communal software" than the nebulous "open source" which has had its meaning intentionally diluted and stretched to absurdity.


Here is a first draft to articulate what a communal software movement could be. Let's continue the discussion on Codeberg:

I'd appreciate contributions to make it look nicer. I've been focused on writing the text so currently it's just a plain wall of text.

"Towards A Communal Software Movement" is now online! What do *you* think about it?

Big thanks to everyone who has participated in the discussion in this thread. I don't intend for this to be an immutable document. Let's keep improving it, add more links, make it look nicer.

I had an interesting conversation about how "communal software" would be best translated into Spanish. I learned that "communal" in Spanish has connotations of helping, somewhat like "charity" or "welfare" in English. My friends suggested "software cooperativo" instead.

That got me thinking about using "cooperative software" in English too. I think I like it better than "communal software". "Cooperative software" feels more inviting to participate. If you don't consider yourself part of a community, "communal software" may not seem as inviting, as you may think it is for other people. What do you think?

Dictators for life are a problem. "Open core" is a problem. Proprietary relicensing is a problem. Corporations determining the agenda for software development is a problem. Supporting ICE is a problem. The rhetorics of "open source" and "free software" both fail to articulate how these are problems.

I'll work on significant revision to the "Towards A Communal Software Movement" essay and renaming it to "Towards A Communal Technology Movement". I might not have time today, but hopefully in the next couple of days.

FWIW, I asked my friends what they thought "software libre" meant in Spanish. To my surprise, they talked about getting the software for no cost without getting in trouble. So I think that "libre" isn't even a great term in Spanish. IMO emphasizing individual liberties misses the point just as emphasizing practical advantages or zero cost miss the point. The point is people working *together* to meet their own needs.

Who is attracted to discourse about individual liberties? Libertarians, unsurprisingly.

I finally got around to watching all of Revolution OS last night. That made it very clear that pushing the term "open source" really was about emphasizing compatibility with capitalism. Bruce Perens repeatedly talks about venture capitalists' reactions.

Stallman couldn't effectively challenge what was happening with "open source" because he didn't directly critique capitalism. He just dug his heels in, got more dogmatic about insisting on *his* term and insisting that everything keep going his way instead of reflecting on how his tactics were failing and adapting to meet new challenges.

Stallman was supportive of the early free software businesses like Cygnus. He didn't like what the "open source" people were doing by begging venture capitalists for investment and forming publicly traded corporations with VA and RedHat. But because he didn't critique capitalism, he couldn't articulate what the problem was in a way that many people found appealing. He just dug his heels in.

Stallman's response was "tell people that it's really GNU so they learn about why we started GNU". That ship had already sailed years before. People called it "Linux" already and trying to call it "GNU/Linux" at that point came across more as a selfish attempt to take credit than a principled stance for a political agenda. It's also an obviously ineffective communication strategy. If you need an hour long lecture to explain what you're talking about, few people are going to care.

What if Stallman's response was to start calling it "cooperative software" or "communal software"? Maybe more people would have cared to pay attention to what he was saying. But instead he tried to put his ego all over it and generally people didn't care.

The recent drama is unsurprising from this perspective. Stallman's response to the challenges of capitalists coming to free software were increasingly futile attempts to retain control. As time went on, I think his assertions of power became increasingly reactionary and absurd. And so it culminated last week in the explosive announcement that he was back in control of the FSF and he didn't care what anyone else thought about it.

@alcinnz I intentionally left authors' names out of it. I don't want this to be a petition.

@alcinnz It's a starting point for discussions, not an end unto itself.

@be my only concern with such approach is with license proliferation, if we can avoid that, good. :)

@anarcat That's why I explicitly say we shouldn't do that in the document

@be For a quickstart, here's some basic stylesheets:

I'll need to choose which I want Haphaestus to fallback on...

@alcinnz Would you like to open a pull request on Codeberg to add one?

@be I wonder what it means for single developer projects, regarding all the non-code contributions like bug reports, feature requests, .... And is GPL a proper license for communal software?

@weirdconstructor A single developer working alone obviously isn't a community, but it can become one if the license permits that.

@weirdconstructor My computer doesn't run on little side projects written by one person. It runs primarily on large, complex software developed by communities. That's not to diminish the importance of small projects because obviously every software starts somewhere.

@weirdconstructor An interesting current example is PipeWire. It is mostly coded by one person. But he worked with lots of people who would be impacted by the project to plan its design. Now lots of people are helping with testing and reporting bugs. I'd say that's community software.

@weirdconstructor I want to reiterate that I don't think we should focus on binary judgements of whether software meets specific requirements to decide whether to call it communal software. Instead, ask if it is consistent with the principles.

@weirdconstructor That will allow the term to remain flexible to address the challenges that will come in the future that we're not even thinking about now.

@be I like both, but I agree that cooperative software sounds more inviting. I think someone a couple days ago offered, in one of these threads, "technology" instead of "software".

I like that because it is encompassing of the entire system that allows for the experience of a person interacting with a digital reality.

What about "cooperative technology"?

@tychi @be this has the advantage of turning into the nice short phrase of coop tech

@be I think it's now quite well known that open core and proprietary relicensing are problems. Also contributor license agreements. But for maybe a decade or longer it was believed that those things were a mutual win for people writing public software.

@be +1 for the cooperative software name btw.

communal to me (from a German language background) sounds more like a local area project, like for a specific town or so

@Jbb That's what my Columbian friends said about "software communal" in Spanish too.

@be I was literally reading through this thread and about to respond suggesting "Cooperative Software" when I got to this. Then you can tap into all the values of the co-op movement that already exist, and it sounds like that's what you have in mind. Something along the lines of the 1995 Statement on Cooperative Identity, except for software:

@sam Thanks, I'll look deeper into that! Maybe I'll add a link to that statement when I revise the essay.

@be I like "communal software". "Cooperative" sounds like it's insisting on a certain form of organizing the work.

Sure, "kommunalprogramvara" in Swedish would mean "municipal software", but this is English. Let's translate it to the proper terms in other languages.

open source > What can you do with the code
free software > Why do you want the code and why was it written
communal software > Who is affected and who benefits

I used "community-driven software" just the day before I discovered your term, maybe that's why I'm attached to your term because it says the same thing but shorter and better.

If you really want to scare away the fascists, ancaps and corporations maybe you could go with "collective software". 😁
Correction: The term I used was "community-driven free software" because I was using the free software term but wanted to emphasize what it meant to me and why the distinction was relevant for that particular piece of software.

@clacke @be that’s my issue with “communal” too. 🤜🤛 “cooperative” works in 5/5 languages i know, “communal” get’s convoluted or diffused/confusing in 2 out of 5. But i’m fine with both.


"Cooperative" is certainly a good term, as in fact is "community". I might point out, though, that limiting the scope to "software" presents a difficulty of its own. After all, even just within the scope of information technology (which is far from being the only technology which shapes our lives), if the hardware is locked down, it doesn't matter what software freedoms you may have. If the hardware is unrepairable, you have to keep going back for whatever "they" want you to have now.

@publius Yes, that's why I changed the title of the essay to "Towards A Cooperative Technology Movement" and the URL to cooperativetechnology.codeberg


Once more I fall into the trap of replying before reaching the bottom!

@be Don't really think calling it Communal or Cooperative would have been any different than referring to it as Free Software. A simple rebranding wouldn't have fixed the underlying issues.

@bpepple Of course simply rebranding it wouldn't solve all the issues. But maybe it would have attracted more people to take principled stances and fight for them than chase quick fortune in the dot com bubble.

@be i think it's got to do with rms's very concept of what freedom is and why freedom is good is fundamentally united with the ego that he'd never allow something like this to be done with his idea of free software

@carcinopithecus Right, Stallman was and is focused on freedom *for himself*. He does talk about community, but it is not the emphasis of his discourse and he doesn't effectively communicate what that means. I read Stallman's essays years before I learned to code much. The point about community was largely lost on me until I actually participated in one beyond the occasional bug report.

@carcinopithecus I think most people don't consider that they could possibly have influence over what their technology does because they don't know how to code and they're used to a world where a company just makes something and says take it or leave it. If they do try to get a company to change something about tech, the response is usually a condescending "lol not our problem", "lol that's just how it is", or "because fuck you, that's why".

@carcinopithecus Having a say over what your technology does should not require knowing how to code. And also, I believe an introductory coding course should be a requirement in high schools so that people believe they actually could change the code themselves.

@carcinopithecus Oh and actually getting a real, in depth answer from people who know what they're talking about because they made the thing? Forget about it. They hire a barrier of support personnel who only know the bare minimum of how to deal with the most routine problems.

@be @carcinopithecus Your characterization makes Stallman sound like a strict individualist, but his approach isn't especially individualistic. From the GNU manifesto:

"I consider that the Golden Rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way."

The main problem with this kind of approach is that in the last couple of decades many things moved to advertiser funded SaaS, free-as-in-gratis to the end user. The BigCorps stopped being the "software sellers" described by the GNU manifesto and instead became "people farmers", as Aral Balkan calls it. Unfortunately in the battles of the late 2000s we never found a good tactic for pushing back on SaaS. AGPL is the best that we have thus far, but it's obviously a lot less than perfect. In the free software movement we need to evolve our tactics, and clinging to the sacred texts isn't going to be sufficient.

@bob @carcinopithecus I'm not saying Stallman is a strict individualist, but his rhetoric does not emphasize community and does not effectively communicate the communal aspects to people who have never participated in such a community. This made it easy for capitalists to coopt "open source".

@bob @carcinopithecus Stallman talks about being able to hire someone to change the code for you, which again, is stuck in a bygone era of computing. Of course, plenty of custom software is still written for businesses, but most people don't have the means to hire someone to change an application on their personal computer.

@bob @carcinopithecus What Stallman does not talk about is working together cooperatively with the developers of the software to reach a consensus about how the software should be changed. This is a much more meaningful message for average users than saying you could hypothetically hire someone to change an application on your personal computer if you're super rich.

@be @bob @carcinopithecus He doesn't recommend any specific consensus rules, but he does talk about "exercising collective control over the software" where the collective includes people who are not coders.

It's why I like the term Software Solidarité, also because the solidaric aspect between users of software is right there in the original GNU manifesto.

@bob @carcinopithecus He does, but he is so out of touch that he doesn't realize this is pretty much meaningless to most people because they don't understand what collective control over the software could mean. He doesn't understand what it's like to be a normal person in today's world who doesn't know anything about programming.

@bob @carcinopithecus He doesn't understand this because he doesn't try. Instead he shames people for using proprietary software.

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