Subject: Re: Competition by internal expertise for F/OSS vendors
From: "Ben Tilly" <btilly@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2008 21:16:27 -0700

Tom, you've been online for long enough.  When will you learn to write
plain text emails?  I hope I added all of the right attributions in
the right places, but it was a PITA to do so.

On Wed, Sep 3, 2008 at 3:47 PM, Thomas Lord <lord@emf.net> wrote:
> simo wrote:
> >
> > Ben Tilly and Chris Di Bona already summarized well that there are other
> > rewards than just money in this field.
>
> They summarized people's self-reported attitudes -- which are
> irrelevant to the question of exploitation.

As I pointed out, we did a lot more and it was extremely relevant to
the question of exploitation.  In particular the actual responses of
actual people don't fit your theories.

> > How is it irrelevant to question the people you accuse of being
> > exploited and asking for their opinion?
>
> It is irrelevant to question them in that manner.
>
> The attitudinal surveys *are* relevant in other ways.  For example,
> formal and informal surveys focus on "career development" as
> a motivation for volunteering labor to commercial efforts.

I not only dealt with it as a motivation, I also gave evidence that it *works*.

> That tells us something about how the exploitation works:
>
> The exploiters allow and encourage volunteers, rewarding
> *just enough* and *just the right ones* to maintain the
> *hope* among others that their career is being advanced.
> We learn a little bit about the structure and function of the
> propaganda behind the exploitation from those attitude reports.

This is based on your theory that the ultimate job that volunteers are
angling for is being paid by the small number of influential vendors.
I've already pointed to evidence that they are not.  You are also
ignoring evidence that volunteers actually *do* experience career
advancement.

Here is a mantra for you.  The fact that you disagree with me about
where my self-interest lies does NOT mean that I am wrong.

[...]
> > Not all volunteers want a job in free software, actually I'd say most of
> > them do not look for a job in the field. Either they already have a
> > satisfactory job, or they just do it for fun.
>
> Yes, this tells us more about how the scheme works.
>
> It was a neat trick, the invention of the concept of "open source",
> that managed to lift the idea of volunteerism from the free software
> movement and steer it away from caring about having a free software
> job.

I know a lot of people who contributed to free software before the
phrase "open source" was coined.  Most of them never particularly
wanted to have a free software job.

[...]
> > > Meanwhile, you and 10,000 other guys are putting all of
> > > your "donating" efforts into that narrow range of
> > > projects, completely ignoring the question of which projects
> > > are the most tactically important to eliminating proprietary
> > > software -- all while putting money in the pockets of
> > > shareholders of a few vendors.

Why would I pay attention to trying to eliminate proprietary software?
 That isn't an issue that I care about!

> > So far when I decided to partecipate in a project or start one, I did it
> > because it appealed me or I found it interesting in some way.
>
> Of course.   There's nothing wrong with individuals doing pro bono public
> hacking.   I could just do without the manufactured celebrities and I think
> that if a self-respecting corp. wants to work with the community of such
> individuals they should do it like a business would and speak with their
> wallets.   Otherwise, we all have to keep counting our fingers whenever
> we shake hands with these firms.

To take my previous example, who are the manufactured celebrities in
the Perl world, and what corporations are driving that?  If you look
you may be surprised at the answers.

> > In my experience the projects that are driven or started by vendors is
> > an incredibly small amount with respect to the total sum of projects.
>
> There's a lot of junk on freshmeat, sure.   Those firms drive the main
> action.

Another content free assertion.  Which is false in my experience.  The
main action in the Perl community is on CPAN.  No firm drives that
action.  Off of the top of my head, let me name some key modules from
there of great importance to the Perl community:

CPAN, CGI, DB_File, DBI, Storable, Template, Catalyst, Class::DBIx,
Rose::DB, Moose, Test::More, and XML::Parser.

That's a short list that could easily be expanded.  Now which of these
modules have companies behind them?  Off of the top of my head, the
guy who wrote Template (which is usually called Template Toolkit) has
a small personal consulting company he started which uses it.  I don't
think any of the others has any corporate sponsorship at all.  Note
that these aren't just junk on freshmeat.  These are some of the most
widely used modules on CPAN.

From where I sit it sure doesn't look like a small number of firms is
driving the main action!

[...]
> > But working for a vendor I can tell you that the amount of software that
> > would be nice to have for enterprises needs is not even close to what
> > the volunteers community usually is interested with.
>
> I have no beef with such things.   I'll put in a plug for a team I like:
> Oracle happens to host the developers of [Berkeley/Oracle] DB XML.
> I think Oracle picks up pretty darn close to 100% of the tab for that
> project, albeit they do put up a wailing wall where you can send an
> email to report a bug.   They run a mailing list where users can help
> one another but more commonly, the Oracle-hired team volunteers
> to help users with questions.   There is no obvious "entre" for public
> volunteers to sign up and "gain status" as a contributor although if
> someone made a serious effort for reasons of their own I don't think they'd
> be refused at the gate.    I really like the whole operation of that
> project.

It is easy to put the tab up for a group when that group is
profitable.  Why did you think that Oracle purchased Sleepycat?

Incidentally I haven't looked at it since Oracle made the purchase,
but when it was Sleepycat they would indeed turn down contributions
unless you were willing to actually assign copyright to them.  It was
very much an asymmetric relationship, and that was driven by the fact
that Sleepycat made a lot of its money by selling people the right to
use their software in proprietary projects.

> In contrast, another piece of code I use is Fedora and I start poking
> around there for this or that piece of information and I'm quickly
> confronted with a solicitation to volunteer to write HOWTO
> documents for them.     This is like being a plumber invited to a
> party where the host greets you saying "Hey, welcome to the party!
> Say, while you're here, do you mind taking a look at the drippy
> faucet upstairs?   I wouldn't normally ask but we're thinking of
> actually hiring a plumber next week and I'd like to see some samples
> of your work.  Awfully convenient that we happened to have a
> dripping sink, eh?"

"Never ascribe to malice" etc.  My initial guess is that that
solicitation really comes not from Fedora, but rather from the
upstream projects that they bundle.  In which case they have a choice.
 Strip the "help wanted" request from upstream, pissing off the people
whose work they are using, or include it, pissing off you.

Hmm.  If I were in their position, I would choose to piss you off as well.

Regards,
Ben