Banner "I love Free Software!"
#ilovefs is a campaign by Free Software Foundation Europe. It is meant to be a day to thank the people who contribute to free software projects. I’ve been thinking about all the software I use and it’s so hard to pick projects, let alone individuals! I decided to dedicate my blog post to everyone who works on free software out of political motivation and considers it part of a larger political fight we’re in.

The tech world is driven by what gigantic companies develop: The products they offer us often don’t cost a lot of money but have a big social impact. The software is developed by paid staff. Performance, design, integration – they are winning on all these territories because, in short, they reinvest the money they make from data, the currency they mainly get paid in. Not only do they transform every act of communication into a potential advertising revenue, but they have a strong impact on free alternatives: These companies raise the bar for what software is. For how perfect, performant, highly available it has to be, for how stylish it has to look, for how well it has to work on whatever device people come up with.

I did a little experiment last summer, trying to win over more people to use free, distributed social networks. Apart from the so-called network effect („I stay where all the others are“), I often heard: „Too slow, too ugly, too complicated, not user-friendly or intuitive, no mobile client for device x, unusable mobile web interface.“ I understand why individuals make their choice when they explain it to me. I partly agree with their judgements. But I’ll never fit one thing into my head: That many people don’t consider it an enormous political problem to give humanity’s communication into the hands of about a handful of companies. Or maybe worse: That they do consider it a problem but don’t act in any way. Using the perfect services of a few huge companies is convenient, but it makes surveillance so easy!

And this is why I would like to thank you today: You who work on free software because you want freedom. You who continue to do so no matter how high the bar has been raised or how unfair it is to be compared to giants.

  • Thanks for sharing free email server, client and synchronisation software! What you do is so important. Without you, we might face a future where we can’t build our own communications infrastructure anymore. I’m actually afraid this could happen! The more companies and NGOs switch to Google Mail the less support there will be. What choice will we have in 10 years? (If email still exists by then…)
  • Thanks to you who develop secure chat server software, clients, end-to-end encryption! Thanks to all those who have been bringing them to mobile devices and keep improving them. It is hard enough to trust a smartphone. For me, you definitely make it a better device.
  • Thanks to everyone who puts time and energy into software for other decentralized infrastructure! Federating social networking platforms are the way to go. Thanks for working on free mesh networking software. The world doesn’t need more ISPs that control the networks and data. It could use more communities that build their own mesh networks and grant anonymous, uncensored access. Communities that spread knowledge about networks and enable people to use their knowledge.
  • Thanks for working on tools to support collaboration and especially simultaneous editing and project management. Fight the giant! I think that people want to share knowledge and ideas, but in a transparent way they can control themselves. Not by feeding all their good ideas to a company that will make use of them without ever giving them credit. Just because the tool was free as in free beer.
  • Thanks for explaining how tools work, for organizing crypto parties, for writing down your own understandable howtos and experiences, for working on usability issues! You are working on that important critical mass thing!
  • Thanks for making your standpoints clear! What is okay in your / our communities and what isn’t? What can be done under the project’s label? What behaviour is accepted and where are the limits? Thanks for explaining what you stand for and you don’t want to stand for. Thanks for explaining the differences between your tools and the giants‘ ones!

Last but not least: Thanks for considering this a political issue. Thanks to all those who do not contribute to free software projects but who work on this by political intervention, campaigning, activism! We can’t win this by just developing free software. But we can’t win it without free software either.