Tag Archives: Free software

Edits of Feminism in Wikipedia in time

Top 50 Editors in Feminism articles in Wikipedia and their editing patterns visualized in time (from 2002 up to 2009).

The image is from “The Feminist Critique: Mapping Controversy on Wikipedia” (pdf), a report prepared by Morgan Currie for the new media masters program at the University of Amsterdam. The document is 49 pages but don’t be afraid: it is very interesting and the last 20 pages or so are just a copy and paste of raw data and tables used for the report.
The image embedded above is just one of the many thought-provoking images and graphs.
All the scripts used for producing the report and the graphs are available as free software thanks to Papyromancer who wrote the software and released it on github. Great!

The consequences of opensourcing Facebook code

Some weeks ago Facebook released its source code as Free and Open Source Software.
I’m very curious about the consequences of this action. Initially I was to suppose this choice would have been a tsunami in the social networking sites world, but I haven’t found many mentions of this around. So I tried to look around and to answer the question “Which were the consequences of Facebook making its code opensource?”.
I don’t have a clear idea, but it seems very small consequences.
How many clones of facebook popped up? Are they used? I haven’t found any facebook clone worth mentioning.

How many people downloaded the code? How many code patches were provided to Facebook? I guess one of the biggest intended consequences was this one: Facebook getting bug fixes, and chunks of code or suggestions on how to improve performances. Also, it is now easier, I think, for Facebook hiring new developers because they can know them in advance from the commits and suggestions they write about Facebook code. But for example there have been any exploit from people reading the code and finding weaknesses? Probably not, it is much more meaningful, if you discover a glitch to send an email just to Facebook to explain it, there is a chance Facebook might want to hire you as security expert.
Overall, Facebook is better off or worst off after the decision to release the code as Free Software? I was not able to get too much information about this and I’m a bit surprised. Actually I haven’t yet downloaded the code in order to test it. I was about to do it but then for Webvalley we decided to use BuddyPress so “check Facebook code” is still in the todo list.

Some interesting links which might be worth checking in more detail: open source projects on facebook wiki, the portal for developers on Facebook code (interesting!), Project Cassandra: Facebook’s Open Source Alternative to Google BigTable, the fact Google recently released its Protocol Buffers as open source, Facebook did it much earlier with Thrift.

So, did I miss something? What do you think were the consequences of Facebook opensourcing its code?

Facebook Opensource, license and motivations to contribute

Facebook is open source! This is an incredibly good news.
The license they chose is interesting.

Facebook Open Platform (except for the FBML parser) is licensed under a Common Public Attribution License (CPAL), which follows the Mozilla Public License (MPL) with two additions:
1. That you include attribution to Facebook on any modifications.
2. That network deployment, or making modifications available over the network, counts as distribution, which makes the license appropriate for Web services.

I would have bet for an Affero GPL instead, what is the difference and why did they choose CPAL instead of AGPL?

About motivation, well, t-shirts ;)

If you’d like to contribute to Facebook Open Platform, please sign and return our Contribution Agreement. We’ll evaluate any submitted patches or features to decide whether they’d be strong inclusions into the overall Facebook Open Platform release. If we incorporate your changes, we’ll send you a t-shirt!

Claerbout’s Principle at Free Software Conference

This weekend Trento hosted the Italian Free Software Conference
. I could attend only friday because then I went to Milano for sci.bzaar.net (report in next post).
There was a very interesting presentation by Emanuele Somma about Bank of Italy and their internal use and infiltration of Free Software.
He cited the paper “Reproducible Econometric Research (A Critical Review of the State of the Art)” in which the authors, Roger Koenker, Achim Zeileis, cite Buckheit and Donoho (2005) citing what de Leeuw (2001) has called Claerbout’s Principle:

An article about computational science in a scientific publication is not the scholarship itself, it is merely advertising of the scholarship. The actual scholarship is the complete software development environment and the complete set of instructions which generated the figures.

Koenker and Zeileis go on reporting about scholars in economics have somehow turned into programmers:

The transition of econometrics from a handicraft industry (Wilson, 1973, Goldberger, 2004) to the modern sweatshop of globally interconnected computers has been a boon to productivity and innovation, but sometimes seems to be a curse. Who among us expected to be in the “software development” business? And yet many of us find ourselves precisely in this position, and those who are not, probably should be. As we will argue below, software development is no longer something that should be left to specialized commercial developers, but instead should be an integral part of the artisanal research process. Effective communication of research depends crucially on documentation and distribution of related software and data.

So their contribution:

Our main contention is that recent software developments, notably in the open-source community, make it much easier to achieve and distribute reproducible

Italian Free Software Conference this weekend in Trento

Trento, 16-17-18 May 2008.
Check the program (in Italian) at confsl.org.
There will be an Invited talk by David Hakken of Indiana University “Free Software as Virtual Organization”, other very interesting talks and many local experiences by enterprises, school and public administration. And there will also be an OpenStreetMap mapping party in Trento.
I can only attend on Friday because on Saturday I’ll be in Milan for Sci.bzaar.net. See you there in one of the two occasions!

Acer refunds Windows in Italy so I asked for the removal of Windows

Traduzione in Italiano alla fine di questo post!
Acer announced they refund Windows if you don’t want it (link to a news in Italian)! This is great news! I was waiting for this moments since years! Also it is a very lucky coincidence since an association which I already helped making their website, Gruppo Trentino di Volontariato, bought an Acer laptop this very last Saturday and luckly enough we didn’t yet push the dooming button “accept the plague windows”. So I already offered with enormous pleasure to work out the refund process. In fact it is not too easy, nor too advantageous from an economic point of view: you have to send the laptop you bought to their central assistance office in Milan (cost of transport and insurance is on you), then they simply format the hard disk and send you back an empty (clean I should say!) laptop (cost of transport and insurance is again on you). And how much do they refund for Windows Vista?
Vista Home Basic 30 euros
Vista Home Pro 50 euros
Vista Home Business 70 euros
Vista Home Ultimate 90 euros
It is really a small amount of money, especially of you consider you have to pay for sending the laptop to the assistance center and back, but I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I want Acer and all the laptop producers know there a lot of people who don’t want Windows preinstalled on their machines. I often said “I would buy a laptop without Windows even if it would cost 200 Euros more” so here there is my chance. And I also hope that in this way all the laptop producers can start imitating Dell which already sells computers with Ubuntu GNU/Linux installed on them. And we can put an end to the cancer that stopped innovation in computer science in the past 10 years (at least!), yes I’m referring to Microsoft (some time ago Ballmer was using the term cancer referring to Linux).

Acer might have changed its policy after being ruled by a judge in France to cough up €811 in damages to Antoine Gutzwiller over a €599 laptop because of a dispute over pre-loaded software (windows, MS Works, PowerDVD, Norton Antivirus, …)

I don’t think we are asking too much: we simply ask freedom of choice in which operating system we want on our machines. As simple as freedom.

This is great news.
I’ll keep you posted about the progress, at the moment the laptop is in the Acer offices in Milan.



Acer ha annunciato che ora rimborsa Windows se non lo si desidera. Come fare ad ottenere rimborso? Devi spedire a Acer il portatile acquistato (entro 30 giorni), loro lo formattano e poi ti restituiscono gli euro (Vista Home Basic 30 euros, Vista Home Pro 50 euros, Vista Home Business 70 euros, Vista Home Ultimate 90 euros).
Ho fatto domanda di rimborso e spedito il laptop e scrivero’ su questo blog come e’ andata appena ho notizie.
Perche’ farlo? In modo da far sapere ai produttori di hardware che non vogliamo Windows preinstallato sulle nostre macchine. Vogliamo semplicemente la possibilita’ di scegliere, niente di piu’.

Linus Torvald is convinced version control should be based on trust networks

Thanks to Jesse, I started exploring Git, a version control system alternative to CVS and SVN. Git is based on a very different metaphor. While in CVS/SVN there is one repository which is maintained in a single location, in Git there are as many repositories as users and all of them are maintained in a decentralized fashion, on all the machines of all the users. From centralization to decentralization, it is an interesting twist and change in perspective.
And so what about the risk of balkanization of code? And the fact that there are 10.000 (different) versions of the Linux kernel? Well, according to Linus, the answer is trust. Linus explains the metaphores behind git and the trust issues in an extremely interesting Google Talk.

From the talk of Linux (via Victor):

The way merging is done is the way real security is done, by a network of trust. if you have ever done any security work and it didn’t involve the concept of network of trust it was not a security work; it was a masturbation.
…we don’t know hundred people. We have five, seven, ten close personal friends…

This way of managing a software ecology is wonderfully adhocratic. There are now thousands different versions of the Linux kernel. Currently most of the people rely on Linus’ version but it is possible, in a perfect adhocratic way, that different people will rely on versions of different people. Go decentralized, go trust-based. Cool.

Bandwidth as a currency and Free Software as a strategy. Tribler: from Europe to Harvard.

Read Researchers Aim To Make Internet Bandwidth A Global Currency over at Lockergnome. I thought I wrote before about Tribler but I didn’t find anything on my archive so let me do it now.
Tribler is peer-to-peer software for video file sharing that has a basic understanding of human friendships, of user tastes in content, and of Internet connectivity between users. Tribler is also a research project At Delft University of Technology and De Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Most of the Tribler team is funded by the I-Share project, which is part of the Dutch Freeband Program. Freeband itself is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of The Netherlands.
Why it is interesting? It is an innovative way of using P2P sharing and online videos, it comes from Europe (and not US as usual), it is a University research project (and not a cool, hacky, just born, extraslim californian startup as usual) but really works and funded with public money from the state (and not from venture capitalists, sadly not that spread in Europe), it decided to adopt a Free Software strategy since the beginning (again not very usual).
I tried Tribler some months ago and it is a cool piece of software (you can keep a list of video friends and a lot of other social features but you can also see and rate YouTube videos, for example) and has the potential to be extended and improved in many ways.
Being Free Software, people in Harvard decided to extend it in order to test some other research hypothesis: mainly understanding how bandwith can be used as a global currency.
From the article on Lockergnome:

The researchers envision an e-commerce model that connects users to a single global market, without any controlling company, network, or bank. They see bandwidth as the first true Internet “currency” for such a market. For example, the more a user uploads now (i.e. earns) and the higher the quality of the contributions, the more s/he would be able to download later (i.e. spend) and the faster the download speed. More broadly, this paradigm empowers individuals or groups of users to run their own “marketplace” for any computer resource or service.

The researchers concede that the greatest challenge to any peer-to-peer backed e-commerce system is implementing proper regulation in a decentralized environment. To keep an eye on the virtual economy, Parkes and Pouwelse envision creating a “web of trust,” or a network between friends used to evaluate the trustworthiness of fellow users and aimed at preventing content theft, counterfeiting, and cyber attacks. To do so they will use a feature already included in the enhanced version of the Tribler software, the ability for users to “gossip” or report on the behavior of other peers. Their eventual goal is to find a way to create accurate personal assessments or trust metrics as a form of internal regulation.

The enhanced Tribler version is redistributed by Harvard, choosing to release it as Free Software was very clever from the Dutch Universities which can benefit from more people involved. Great choice!
If you use Ubuntu GNU/Linux (you should!), installing the standrad version of Tribler is an easy charm.
1. Start the package manager from the System / Administration menu
2. Open the Repositories menu from the Settings menu
3. Click on the Third-Party Software tab
4. Click on the Add+ button
5. Type deb http://ubuntu.tribler.org/ feisty main
6. Click the Add Source+ button
7. Close the Repositories menu
8. Click the Reload button to retrieve the package info from the Tribler repository
9. Click Search and search for “tribler”
10. Mark Tribler for installation by clicking
11. Ignore the warning about authentication, it is harmless
12. Install Tribler by clicking the “Apply” button at the top

Or if you are a command-liner, 3 quick steps:
sudo echo "\ndeb http://ubuntu.tribler.org/ feisty main" >> /etc/apt/sources.list
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install tribler

Campaign for the Liberalization of the sector of Software for Personal Computer

LiberaSW Banner
There is a worthy campaign in Italy for the Liberalization of the sector of Software for Personal Computer. You can sign the petition (in Italian).
The campaign LiberaSW (Il computer è mio e lo gestisco io) asks a national law containing (in a nutshell) the following points:
1) When a personal computer is sold, the price of the hardware must be stated explicitly as an independent value and it must not be incorporated with the price for the license of the (possibly present) software.
2) The buyer must be able to refuse to pay the price for the software license and pay just the price of the hardware.
3) The price of the software license must be realistic.

Is there such a law in your country? If not, maybe you could start a similar campaign for your country.

Never ever use the term “Intellectual Property”.

I re-distribute an entire article by Richard M. Stallman according to its licence, so this post is not released under the usual Creative Commons license.

Did You Say “Intellectual Property”? It’s a Seductive Mirage (also translated in Italian).
by Richard M. Stallman

It has become fashionable to toss copyright, patents, and trademarks – three separate and different entities involving three separate and different sets of laws — into one pot and call it “intellectual property”. The distorting and confusing term did not arise by accident. Companies that gain from the confusion promoted it. The clearest way out of the confusion is to reject the term entirely.

According to Professor Mark Lemley, now of the Stanford Law School, the widespread use of the term “intellectual property” is a fad that followed the 1967 founding of the World “Intellectual Property” Organization, and only became really common in recent years. (WIPO is formally a UN organization, but in fact represents the interests of the holders of copyrights, patents, and trademarks.)

The term carries a bias that is not hard to see: it suggests thinking about copyright, patents and trademarks by analogy with property rights for physical objects. (This analogy is at odds with the legal philosophies of copyright law, of patent law, and of trademark law, but only specialists know that.) These laws are in fact not much like physical property law, but use of this term leads legislators to change them to be more so. Since that is the change desired by the companies that exercise copyright, patent and trademark powers, the bias of “intellectual property” suits them.

The bias is enough reason to reject the term, and people have often asked me to propose some other name for the overall category — or have proposed their own alternatives (often humorous). Suggestions include IMPs, for Imposed Monopoly Privileges, and GOLEMs, for Government-Originated Legally Enforced Monopolies. Some speak of “exclusive rights regimes”, but referring to restrictions as “rights” is doublethink too.

Some of these alternative names would be an improvement, but it is a mistake to replace “intellectual property” with any other term. A different name will not address the term’s deeper problem: overgeneralization. There is no such unified thing as “intellectual property”–it is a mirage. The only reason people think it makes sense as a coherent category is that widespread use of the term gives that impression.

The term “intellectual property” is at best a catch-all to lump together disparate laws. Non-lawyers who hear one term applied to these various laws tend to assume they are based on a common principle, and function similarly.

Nothing could be further from the case. These laws originated separately, evolved differently, cover different activities, have different rules, and raise different public policy issues.

Copyright law was designed to promote authorship and art, and covers the details of expression of a work. Patent law was intended to promote the publication of useful ideas, at the price of giving the one who publishes an idea a temporary monopoly over it–a price that may be worth paying in some fields and not in others.

Trademark law, by contrast, was not intended to promote any particular way of acting, but simply to enable buyers to know what they are buying. Legislators under the influence of “intellectual property”, however, have turned it into a scheme that provides incentives for advertising.

Since these laws developed independently, they are different in every detail, as well as in their basic purposes and methods. Thus, if you learn some fact about copyright law, you’d be wise to assume that patent law is different. You’ll rarely go wrong!

People often say “intellectual property” when they really mean some larger or smaller category. For instance, rich countries often impose unjust laws on poor countries to squeeze money out of them. Some of these laws are “intellectual property” laws, and others are not; nonetheless, critics of the practice often grab for that label because it has become familiar to them. By using it, they misrepresent the nature of the issue. It would be better to use an accurate term, such as “legislative colonization”, that gets to the heart of the matter.

Laymen are not alone in being confused by this term. Even law professors who teach these laws are lured by, and distracted by, the seductiveness of the term “intellectual property”, and make general statements that conflict with facts they know. For example, one professor wrote in 2006:

“Unlike their descendants who now work the floor at WIPO, the framers of the US constitution had a principled, pro-competitive attitude to intellectual property. They knew rights might be necessary, but…they tied congress’s hands, restricting its power in multiple ways”.

That statement refers to the article 1 section 8, clause 8 in the US Constitution, which authorizes copyright law and patent law. That clause, though, has nothing to do with trademark law. The term “intellectual property” led that professor into a false generalization.

The term “intellectual property” also leads to simplistic thinking. It leads people to focus on the meager commonality in form that these disparate laws have–that they create artificial privileges for certain parties–and to disregard the details which form their substance: the specific restrictions each law places on the public, and the consequences that result. This simplistic focus on the form encourages an “economistic” approach to all these issues.

Economics operates here, as it often does, as a vehicle for unexamined assumptions. These include assumptions about values, such as that amount of production matters, while freedom and way of life do not, and factual assumptions which are mostly false, such as that copyrights on music supports musicians, or that patents on drugs support life-saving research.

Another problem is that, at the broad scale of “intellectual property”, the specific issues raised by the various laws become nearly invisible. These issues arise from the specifics of each law–precisely what the term “intellectual property” encourages people to ignore. For instance, one issue relating to copyright law is whether music sharing should be allowed. Patent law has nothing to do with this. Patent law raises issues such as whether poor countries should be allowed to produce life-saving drugs and sell them cheaply to save lives. Copyright law has nothing to do with such matters.

Neither of these issues is solely economic in nature, but they are not similar, and anyone looking at them in the shallow economic perspectives of overgeneralization cannot grasp the differences. If you put both laws in the general “intellectual property” pot, you will find that obstructs your ability to think clearly about each one.

As a result, any opinions about “the issue of intellectual property” and any generalizations about this supposed category are almost surely foolish. If you think all those laws are one issue, you will tend to choose your opinions from a selection of sweeping overgeneralizations, none of which is any good.

If you want to think clearly about the issues raised by patents, or copyrights, or trademarks, the first step is to forget the idea of lumping them together, and treat them as separate topics. The second step is to reject the narrow perspectives and simplistic picture the term “intellectual property” suggests. Consider each of these issues separately, in its fullness, and you have a chance of considering them well.

And when it comes to reforming WIPO, among other things let’s call for changing its name.

Copyright © 2004, 2006 Richard M. Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.