Subject: Re: Our Purpose (Re: DRAFT FAQ: Free vs. Open)
From: Rick Moen <>
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2008 11:44:44 -0800

Quoting Ernest Prabhakar (

> Fair enough.  I've expanded the Disclaimer's on:
> Does that address your concerns? 

Sure.  That should cover _that_ concern.

> I admit, it isn't an easy balance.  However, while I agree that the  
> FAQ shouldn't naively follow the perspective of the list, I very much  
> want it to reflect "community consensus", not just the perspective of  
> the OSI Board (except for the OSI FAQ, which is in the slightly  
> different category of self-description).
See, I greatly doubt that "community consensus" really exists 
in this context at all, even stipulating that collecting a selective
subset of notions from recent postings would capture it, if it did

And even if such a community consensus did exist, and could be captured
in that particular way, I also greatly doubt whether the results would
reliably merit public documentation.  What I mean, here, is:  One
primary (implied) aim of most FAQs is to inform readers.  Accordingly,
one wants to have it reflect the best-informed views, not merely those
most frequently expressed.[1]

This happens to be a public mailing list (in that regard being rather
like debian-legal).  In consequence, we have people who really
understand licensing, copyright law, trademark law, and so on -- and
also a continual rain of net.randoms and sundry ideologues merely
running the motors to their mouths without engaging the clutches to
their brains.  The question you asked most recently, "What is the
difference between 'free software' and 'open source'?", in particular,
is practically tailor-made to draw out proponents of utter drivel (which
is why I said you'd opened the proverbial can of worms) -- and, as
mildly deficient as 's draft
answer to that question has turned out to be, I'm astonished that
relative sanity prevailed, such that it didn't turn out worse.

There is a better alternative, but, sadly, it's not as easy as just
taking a scattershot cross-section of ideas and opinions from recent
mailing list postings:  Get to know the FAQ subject matters really well,
so that you can meaningfully function as an editor/writer.  Being an
editor means, after getting to know the ground well, exercising
editorial judgement: deliberately omitting bad information and
misbegotten views, no matter how frequently or loudly expressed by

As to "balance", if pursuing that notion leads you into finding a middle
ground between good information and bad, check your passport:  You might
be American.  ;->  [2]

I'd really hate for to
become (or, well, remain) the sort of FAQ I have to continually tell
people contains damaging misinformation and/or misleading views -- the
way Barak Perlmutter's DFSG FAQ does, and the way FSF's GPL FAQ does.

[1] There are some FAQs that, by design, specifically do _not_ have this
aim -- and accordingly are clear about that distinction.  I host one of
them, in fact: says

   1. The FAQ isn't intended as a benchmark of absolute truth. It's a
      collection of frequently asked questions and our best answers to
      them, right or wrong. It's there so people with questions can find
      out what our answers and ideas are, all organized in one convenient

   2. Of course the FAQ isn't 100% correct. Much of it is devoted to
      describing opposing viewpoints on key questions. 

(Note that, in _that_ FAQ, as a result, some questions list five or six 
mutually contradictory answers.  The above explanation makes clear to
readers that this outcome is not a bug, but rather a feature.)

This conceptual framing is best suited, of course, to sets of questions
that are inherently debatable (and "inherently debatable", here, does
not mean "Four out of five college freshmen posting to license-discuss
fundamentally misunderstand GPLv2 clause 3b, and tend to misquote it").

[2] Lest I get red, white, & blue flamemail, I'll mention that I'm
allowed to make fun of Americans, because I am one -- just as I'm allowed
to make fun of ethnic Scandinavians without receiving lutefisk-grams
(well, allowed to make fun of ethnic Norwegians, anyway).