Subject: Re: Domain name "publicservicesoftware.com" free to good home
From: David Kaufman <david@gigawatt.com>
Date: Sun, 02 Feb 2003 20:45:03 -0500

Robin 'Roblimo' Miller <robin@roblimo.com> wrote...
Re: Domain name "publicservicesoftware.com" free to good home

> It'll expire in ~30 days. If you want it, let me know.
>
> - Robin

i'll definitely take it, Robin!  i liked your article on Newsforge about it
so much that i registered publicservicesoftware.net the day i read it!
[aside: for those who may have missed it, Robin's article "Let's stop
calling it free software" from March 2002 is here:
http://newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=02/03/04/030200 ]

like most of your writing, it really hit the nail squarely on the head.  to
quote, "'Open Source' sounds nice, but it describes a code licensing
technicality that zooms right over the heads of most computer users [...]

"Perhaps Public Service should not describe a certain type of software
license, but an intent to write and distribute software freely to those who
need it without worrying about their ability to pay.  Perhaps there should
be a Public Service Software Foundation that promotes this activity, not
only by individual programmers but by large corporations and wealthy
individuals who want to sponsor worthy computing advances the same way they
now sponsor hospital buildings, charity fund-raisers, TV documentaries, and
race cars."

i've long felt that the term "free software business" could easily be (and
often is) construed as an oxymoron by consumers, users, and what-have-you.
after all, most of the general public has, in the past, only been exposed to
shrink-wrapped software *products*, heavily marketed at them by corporate
America, and restrictively licensed by publishing companies seeking to make
software fit their profitable book publishing/sales model.

when they encounter "free software" they can't really be blamed for jumping
to the conclusion that free software is just like expensive software, except
free.  of cost.  then, upon encountering the "free software movement" and
hearing about "free software businesses", it's not hard to imagine Joe
Public getting further confused, after reasoning that "an organization
either *sells* software, and is therefore a *business*, or gives it away and
so is a nonprofit organization -- which are you?  neither?  oh, i see"  --
not.

they don't understand why we give away something for nothing; they expect
that there is probably a catch.  we've all been raised to distrust, learning
lessons like "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is", and "there
is no such thing as a free lunch" (but is there a libre a lunch?)  a Public
Service Software Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, could remove
some of that distrust.  The Free Software Foundation might have achieved the
desired effect, but instead their name evokes more questions than answers:
"a Foundation that provides Free Software?  cool! what's the catch?  oh,
it's not free (as in free).  it's free as in freedom.  very tricky.  it's
some kind of freedom software, probably makes the computers of dictators run
more like our democratic ones.  next."

as a result the "free software movement" has become yet another computer
thing that causes the eyes of the non-technical to glaze over in
dot-get-itedness.  while there may be *some* in the free software world who
LIKE it that way, those who actually *prefer* the members-only atmosphere
where only members of the Clue-Club can use their software, breathe a sigh
of relief when no newbies pollute the signal-to-noise ratio of their mailing
lists and who flame the non-programmer "public" users whenever they dare to
enter the arena, most open source developers would like to make a living by
being self-employed, my running a small business, or at least by working for
a business that allows us to license our work as free software.  and
businesses do need consumers.  members of the public.  you know: those pesky
customers.  by definition some of our customers (possibly even most,
depending on the type of software you write) are going to be neither
developers nor patent attorneys and so will not want to be bothered with
educating themselves as to why "free" software is not always free of cost.
i feel we need to market to the public a lot more unambiguously than we
typically do, and have in the past.  "public service software" is a term
that says a lot about what we do.

could Robin's Public Service Software Foundation be the organizational
structure that open source developers dream of?  after all, a not-for-profit
is not (necessarily) a money-loser, or even a charity.  it's just an
organization that's primary mission is *not* simply "to maximize shareholder
profit".  the mission is something else, something a bit more meaningful
perhaps, like providing high-quality software Of the Public, To the Public,
and For the Public :-)

accomplishing the mission still requires a revenue model, whether that model
is based on philanthropy, corporate sponsorship, membership dues, service
contract sales, or even ransom! (a licensing-model-name with a negative
connotation if i've ever heard one...)  and if the organization's revenue
exceeds the organization's expenses, it may very well *be* profitable, too.
that doesn't "break the rules" of a non-profit organization, does it?  the
difference is just that a not-for-profit organization doesn't just hand over
all profits blindly to it's shareholders, it would (must!) reinvest them in
the organization, in the service of it's mission.  it may raise salaries,
give bonuses, start new projects, give scholarships to promising young
programmers, or whatever else the leaders feel would best fulfill the
organization's mission.  it may even donate revenue (what might otherwise be
profit) to other organizations.

what mission statement should it have?  one common assumption about working
at a nonprofit is that your salary must necessarily be low.  while this is
apparently often true, is it necessarily tru?  is there some reason you
can't have a mission statement (legally, for a U.S. NPO) like: "To attract
the best developers in the world with highest salaries in the world, in
order to produce the best software in the world, which is then made freely
available to the Public, for the Public Good" ?

if my understanding of the rules of non-profit organizations is correct,
such a non-profit charter would leave the organization free to choose,
change and combine revenue generation methods pretty much at will, in order
to serve it's mission of raising capital to hire (or contract) the best
developers in the world.

what revenue models might the Public Service Software Foundation use?
paying developers for patches & other contributions and soliciting corporate
patrons to sponsor individual projects?  providing business support services
to a membership base of self-employed developers which must pay dues?  some
combination of thease?

Robin's article really struck home for me.  the mainstream public certainly
doesn't "get it" that open software is a gift.  to them, to The Public, to
everyone in fact, from developers who get a warm fuzzy feeling from writing
code that lots of people will use and enjoy and can share freely with
others.  developers deserve tax exempt status at least for providing the
Service of contributing Software to the Public, don't we?

-dave

btw: Robin, you have the dot com, and i have the dot-net, but what the heck
is going on with the domain name PublicServiceSoftware.org ?!?