Demanding, contributing, and free software community

I’ve always said that a community may have a leader, but it’ll never have a single owner. A community will always belong to its members. Now, how a person joins a community is a different story. For example, when we talk about the medical community, we’re not talking about every single person who ever received medical treatments; we’re talking about people who contributed to the medical stuff.

No matter you’re a doctor, nurse, hospital manager, a pharmacy employee/employer, or anyone who serves the medical system, you’re part of the medical community. Many people are getting affected by this community but we all know that not anyone who’s affected is part of this community.

Same thing goes for free software community. No matter what part of the community or which software/thing you contributed to, you’re part of the community. Now, our community may get affected by some people more than others. For example, Mr. Stallman has a serious power over a lot of people. Or GNU project can affect a lot of decisions made by other projects.

My personal opinion, however, is a little different. I accept every user of any free software as a member of the community. Now, with this said, let’s talk about how I think about making decisions in a community.

What is obvious is that we can’t perform a referendum every time we want to make a decision. Also, there’s a line between a personal/company’s work and a public domain project. For example, FSF is non-profit dedicated to all people but the decisions are made by a leadership/board.

The Free Software Foundation is of course doesn’t represent the whole community. It’s only one of the foundations and good sources and we know that. Now, if FSF makes a bad decision, we will criticize this decision and demand changes because we know it affects us but we won’t ask them to completely shutdown the foundation as we know 1) it’s impossible and 2) it’s needed for a lot of reasons.

We know that the FSF represents some of our belief and doesn’t agree with some others. For example, FSF believes GNU GPL version 3+ is the best free software license we can currently have but some may think differently. Some don’t like the concept of copyleft and oppose it. Now, only because some don’t like the copyleft concept, and FSF believes in it, doesn’t mean that they (who don’t like copyleft) oppose FSF and free software.

It’s the beauty of free software community that we all are united about free software and still have our differences and independence. For sure, some projects/people/companies may have more impact on the community. For example, Mr. Stallman’s power on community is because of his contributions but does that mean he can vote twice as others? Of course not.

Another thing is contribution. Some people criticize the free software community but they have never contributed to it except for accidentally reporting a bug by pressing a button in their GNU+Linux desktop. As much as I believe everyone should be able to comment and express its opinions, I believe it’s unfair and even ridicules to hear from some proprietary-advocating people talking about the community.

I’m not saying one doesn’t have the right to talk about the community if that person haven’t contributed, I’m saying one should first try contributing before demanding as a community member. A user demanding something is much different with a member demanding something.

I believe “request” is different with “demand”. A user may be able to request something but it can’t demand it. We can demand what we think basically is our right. A member of a community has a right over this community because of its contributions.

We need to distinguish between personal demands, community issues, and our rights. We should understand that others have rights in the community as much as us. None of us is a representative of community and we are all members only. Some may be leaders but nobody will ever be an owner.

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Ali Reza Hayati

Entrepreneur, hacker, cypherpunk.