Fabricating Freedom

Originally posted on theploneblog.org

Free Software Developers at Work and Play

I haven’t posted much here lately, but I have been writing. I recently
finished my first semester as a doctoral student in Columbia’s school of journalism and one of the papers I completed draws directly on my experiences in the Plone Community.  A few years ago I remember being struck at how different open source development was from what I (and presumably others) imagined it to be. I kept pitching human interest stories to journalists, ones that might emphasize the playfulness, the sprinting, and the organizational experimentation, but got very few nibbles. So, I finally wrote some of this up myself before it all fades from memory:

Fabricating Freedom: Free Software Developers at Work and Play

The paper was for a wonderful class this semester at the New School taught by Paolo Carpignano (The Political Economy of Media – here is the syllabus).
The class was all about the shifting relations between fabrication and
communication, or more colloquially, work and play. We opened with Marx
and Hannah Arendt and closed with Yochai Benkler and danah boyd. The piece I wrote is personal and anecdotal, but reflects on all that our community has taught me about free software, free culture, organizing, consensus building and the day to day politics of software development.


A panel of prophets?


Last Thursday I participated in a panel at an event entitled “The Future of Digital Media: Predictions for 2008.” The event was recorded and will soon be posted, but in the meantime here is a page about the event with more details and some pictures.

The even was hosted by Ember Media, held at The Armory and featured their CEO Clayton Banks keynoting some predictions for the coming year.

The predictions didn’t contain too many shockers (though I have blogged 1.5 years ago here about where I think the set-top box is headed – hint: straight into your pocket, and Clayton’s legislative prediction about a minimum, symmetrical bandwidth goal is something I find hard to imagine in a country where we can’t get network neutrality, municipal wi-fi, or even rural connectivity right). After the keynote, Clayton asked myself and my fellow panellists – Kay Madati, VP of Community Connect, and Alan Stern, Editor CenterNetworks – a series of smart questions.

It’s been a little while since I’ve hung out with this many entrepreneurs and it was refreshing. I definitely appreciated the opportunities to discuss privacy, the politics of bandwidth, and economics of sharing and test the theoretical chops I have been sharpening in grad school.

Reflecting on the evening, I was a bit frustrated at what seemed like a get-rich-quick entitlement that some of the questions implied. At one point I wanted to shout – 9 out of 10 restaurants in NYC fail – why do you think your digital media company deserves anything different? Micropayments?!? I remember hearing that elusive siren song back in ’99 at MaMaMedia… and smarter folks than I agree that free is a stable strategy… in fact, when copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied. Try concentrating on creating real value in the world, and trust me, the wealth will follow. But, I suppose not all of us have incorporated alchemical wisdom into our daily lives.

Thanks to everyone who was involved in organizing this event – it was a great success!

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