28 February 2013

How to shoot yourself in the foot: a story on Free Software activism

I wrote a few words last week when Richard Stallman visited Romania and delivered a talk, then he was invited at the official launch of a local organization, Ceata Foundation (it is actually older, but until now it was an informal group which recently was registered officially), which is crafted very much upon RMS style: Free Software supporters but to the extreme, burning bridges with other local groups (for example harassing fedoraproject.ro contributors).

Time for a disclaimer: I worked for a couple of years with Ceata on various projects and even had some formal position inside, but left in the summer of 2011 entirely for personal reasons, it was NOT due to differences in our views on FOSS or leadership (which were plenty), I could easily handle that part. It was my private life. So yes, I have inside knowledge and could be suspected to hold a grudge, put I promise is not the case.

So, back to the point, Ceata managed a very powerful image move by bringing the most important guest for their core audience. And they scored a second image move: to get RMS to do an interview at a local TV channel, Nasul TV. It is a very small TV channel (I don't have them on cable, only few cable companies carry them) but is still a TV channel. Ceata put a set of requirements, which were accepted. The interview was broadcasted and is almost one hour long.

Do not have any bias, just watch the interview, after a very short introduction in Romanian, it is English with Romanian subtitles. I admit of watching only about 5 minutes, I know well the topic and I am just after attending in person one RMS talk, but for those who didn't, there is a lot of insight.

So far everything was positive, let's move to the "shoot in the foot" part: after the interview, Ceata is unhappy. They have a problem with the video format, they requested the WebM format to be used exclusively, but it was MP4 inside a Flash player. After talks, a link to the WebM version was added. Also there is an issue with Facebook page for the show being mentioned near the end of the interview, Ceata requested that part to be cut to no success. Then they have issues with the translation, things like the Romanian words used to translate "proprietary" or "non-free". And the big issue is with the license, the video recording was released as CC-BY-NC-ND, while the television does not understand the issue with NC (and imagine someone will sell their work for a profit), Ceata has a problem with the ND part: they can't replace the translation and can't censor the Facebook part (note: RMS himself uses CC-BY-ND).

So what a Free Software activism is expected to do? You can see it on their mailing list (in Romanian language): they are unhappy, threaten the TV channel, invite members to comment on the website, talk about a flashmob, boycott, even the "DDOS" word was heard (that mail is still up). Currently the flashmob is under planning, supposed to happen tomorrow morning (details in the linked thread). Focus was lost, it moved from the license to linguistics.

Next time with another such FOSS speaker will be around, expect him to be seen on TV. Or maybe not.


  1. Ouch. And the problem is that Ceata represents FOSS, which means that that TV Channel (And others in the area) will think several times before doing something like that again.:-/

    I don't get what's with the Facebook hate either, Facebook itself may be propietary (What isn't these days?) but Facebook does contribute to the community with hosting and mirrors for distros, as well as maintenance of several FOSS Packages.

    1. facebook is bad, i agree, but it better to use it to reach your goals. Actually RMS is also a facebook hater, from a 1.5 hours talk at least 10 minutes are anti-facebook, when he could have used that time better...

    2. "it is better to use it to reach your goals."

      What could anyone possibly use facebook for, other than wasting their own time and feeding big data?

    3. you can find business opportunities, sell your stuff, advance your agenda, keep contact with people and even get laid

  2. This puts a really bad impression on FLOSS. I think this is also similar to the Gnome situation. As for facebook – I don't like it. I don't use it. It's not because it's proprietary it's because I think it's nonsense (is it really necessary to have virtual-only friends?), waste of time (is it really necessary to tell everyone in the world that you're in a relationship?), insecure (is it really a good thing telling the whole world you're on Holliday in Tahiti for the next fourteen days?), ...

    1. Facebook is the place where many people are, including FOSS users, and for many is their main source of info. Ignoring it, will significantly reduce your ability to "sell" something.

      Suppose you organize a FOSS event, announcing it on Facebook will increase its exposure, the attendance, and allow your message to be delivered to more people. Suppose you are a community for a FOSS project, people will have problems using your project, will ask on Facebook and if you are not there to give good answers, they may receive only poor solutions.

      Myself, I am a photographer. All of my clients, all the models, all collaborators (designers, make-up artists), all fellow photographers are there. So I MUST be there too. And be active, with quality content and such.

      Also, and this may interest you too Martin, all my friends from the otaku/anime/cosplay community are there and using it to plan and promote events. Another reason to be there :)

    2. Yes, you are right. It has this use-case. When you are some sort of "company", in these days you have to have facebook, because people use it and won't know about you if you're not there. I don't like this, but I don't pretend I don't know it ;-)

      As for me as an individual, I can communicate with people I want using the old channels (ranging from IRL meetings and phone to e-mail, jabber and xchat) and what has facebook in addition isn't really useful/desired to me. I mostly ignore news that don't appear in RSS/Atom feeds or via (e-)mail ;-)

      But you know, despite being rather young, I find myself being rather conservative and I don't really use much of the online stuff, especially the new one. Yeah, I watch anime, read manga, blog once in a while, help with Fedora, read news, but when it comes to facebook, twitter, identi.ca, skype, g+, cloud, ... no. That's beyond me.

    3. there are also active Fedora communities on both fb ang g+, with g+ even being used to plan events, like QA days