Non-Free Tools in a Free Software Community

I was reading Bradley Kuhn’s post over at Planet Gnome about feeling a lot of social pressure from within open-source communities to use proprietary communication tools such as Facebook, Google +, and Skype. Normally I don’t agree much with Kuhn’s positions when it comes to open source software. I’m much more of a pragmatist and don’t see any inherent philosophical or ethic issues with proprietary software.

That said, I think Kuhn is making a pretty good point and I think it is one that the Ubuntu community ought to think about. We went through this before with Launchpad (I wrote a post back in 2007 about that) when it was not Free. These days I do see quite a bit of communication done via Google +, Skype, and less on the stalwarts of  open-source communication, IRC and mailing lists.

So my question I guess is, why? Why are these tools being used? Are they being used in place of IRC/mailing lists or in addition to?

13 thoughts on “Non-Free Tools in a Free Software Community

  1. I think those tools are being used as well as the other tools – For example I’ve seen Jono’s community team using hangouts and skype for conference calling and so on, but they are still very present on IRC, and the meetings are on IRC for all to see.

  2. One key argument for using free/libre software has always been the (sometimes arguable) superior quality of it. But here’s an interesting thing (already pointed out countless times before): quality is not something absolute. Quality means different things to a software developer (code quality, modularity, elegance of the code, peer-reviewed code, etc.) and different thing to “average” users. For users ease of use is king. And ease of use also includes the look and feel of the UI. Combine this with high availability (of Skype, for instance) on all platforms and you can see why everybody uses it over SIP/XMPP. Also, another very important aspect: these applications value is also determined by the fact that a users friends and family are also using it. A social/communication network is only good if a user can communicate with his/her friends/family. A social/communication network with 100,000 users has less immediate value than one with 10,000,000 users.

    I agree that usually the open-source community produces higher quality (as developers see it) infrastructure which is also open (open standards), but with non-existent or almost non-usable UIs (as seen by “average” users), while the proprietary world produces closed infrastructure with nice and usable and good-looking UIs.

    Do you see what’s wrong? Open-source usually solves only one side of the problem, while proprietary solutions solve both.

    There is a general consensus in the FOSS communities to change this but it’s not yet mature enough. Fingers crossed it continues to evolve.

  3. It’s because of relative popularity and capabilities.

    Skype and Google+ get audio/video chats right. If skype/google+ works, the chat is guaranteed to work.

    Facebook and Google+ are just popular. People use them to communicate in general.

    Also, email and IRC suck in several ways.

  4. I’ve said repeatedly that Canonical needs to hook the U1 login to an XMPP server, a StatusNet instance (both federated), and a SIP server (agagin, peered) and give Ubuntu users a way to communicate with each other. Make signing up for U1 an easy part of the first log-in process.

  5. The tools seem to be much better, IMHO. I find it impossible to follow a conversation on a typical mailing list for instance, probably because of the counter-intuitive way it is organized, and because it seems to be a rule that you intersperse your points in a copy of the post you are responding to.

    Just like emacs and its ilk, that may be awesome and productive for some people (especially the more experienced folks), but many more (younger?) people feel more at home in a modern setting.

    IRC is by and large cool, but it doesn’t take long before you start feeling like you are not smart enough to be part of the conversation.

  6. Well it is simple, really.
    The tools such as G+, facebook, Skype are where the people are. There are many many folks who do not like forums, do not like mailing lists, or may be put off by irc. Many only use what they like, and perhaps even will not use something different.

    I see using these communication outlets as additions to the irc and mailing list venues. I also happen to like how some of them work for me.

    On a different note, in order to get the word out and spread the goodness, you have to go to where the people are and talk about it there. Else you end up preaching to the converted.

    And really. SIP? Where is the video chat? I could go on, but you get the idea.

    I crave being able to interact with people where they feel comfortable, as well as where I feel the same way. I also really truly prefer to use the f/oss tools, but we just ain’t there yet.

      • Perhaps true, but ultimately irrelevant. There are no SIP clients out there that match the ease of use of Skype, despite how crappy it is on Linux. Interestingly enough, Skype’s biggest threat in my opinion is the mobile application “Whats App”. Considering its astronomical rise over the last one year, the earth will shake if they decide to add voice calling to their offering. I sincerely hope they are thinking about it.

  7. Probably because it’s convenient to use on many platforms for many people, they’re used to using it already, and at times it does best the FOSS alternatives in various quality measurements.

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