Subject: Re: source access vs dynamism
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1999/08/26
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Erik Naggum
| I want source access to be granted by the author/owner to those deemed
| worthy as part of building a community of people who agree to co-invest
| and share knowledge.

* Paul Wallich
| This sounds good, but it has a serious implementation problem: if you
| actually gave serious thought to who should have access to the source,
| you would spend far more time on the distribution/decision problem than
| on building working software.

  both economics and engineering are about using the available resources
  wisely and without undue waste.  both have long standing in our society
  as serious problem-solvers and even serious problem-inhibitors, meaning:
  by being aware of economics and core principles of engineering, we don't
  get into a large category of problems.  I don't see why it makes sense to
  dispense with economics and core principles of engineering just because I
  propose to give source access to people based on merit.  it has, however,
  always seemed a rather brilliant way to kill any form of proposal to say
  that it would _necessarily_ be reduced to a complete and utter waste of
  all available resources.  (pardon my cynicism, but Norway is holding its
  quadrennial local elections 1999-09-13 and the mass media user is now a
  hapless victim to an unprecedented level of braindamage that emanates
  from politicians and reporters.  it is physically painful to me.  I guess
  I'll vote for whoever can show a non-flat EEG at the end of the day.)

  people who have source code to offer today find ways to work with others.
  those who want to work with those who have source code, also find ways.
  one very simple way to measure interest and dedication is to ask them to
  sign various forms of agreements.  e.g., GNU Emacs contributors of any
  consequence have to sign over the copyright to their works to the FSF.  I
  didn't have a problem with that at the time and I don't regret signing
  it.  I have signed so many agreements and contracts over the years which
  in the minds of people who don't appreciate what any contract necessarily
  has to provide for if you enter into a limitation of your present freedom
  would mean in otherwise inaccessible and invaluable opportunities that a
  source license or a non-disclosure agreement as a prerequisite to taking
  part in something is not the hurdle it is for people who hate lawyers and
  legal complications when they just want to have fun.  but frankly, I'm
  strongly opposed to the view that others have to behave in certain ways
  because that's the only ways I think I can have fun, and this is probably
  because I believe the most fun comes about after very serious investments.

  the serious thought I want to give to who shall take part in a project
  should be doable once, in setting up the license and the contract that
  individual contributors have to sign.  in order to sign a contract, you
  have to establish a pretty clear image of what you will invest and what
  you expect in return, and that process is usually sufficient to sort out
  people who don't take it seriously enough.  on this topic, I might add
  that I have never quite figured out why employees don't interview their
  employers at least as rigorously as they interview them, but I have
  always been an independent consultant because I don't want to work for
  people who don't realize that they have to give me a very solid reason to
  work for them for at least 8 hours a day in a location of their choice,
  nor do I understand why people individually accept so horrible working
  conditions that they have to form labor unions so they don't have to
  accept them, anymore, but I digress.

  if giving source code to random people is such a panacea, the people who
  want the source code should have very convincing arguments why they
  should be given it, arguments that should make good business sense here
  and now.  the reason I don't believe in the panacea is that people aren't
  making solid cases for releasing source code that business people will
  listen to, and it is not _only_ because human beings are prone to act in
  contradiction with their personal or long-term interests.  put bluntly,
  if I have some source, what's in it for me if I give it to everybody?
  those who want other people's source code have failed to consider the
  transverse situation.  one person's want is not automatically the
  motivation of another; something has to come between that can motivate
  those who have something to give, and it is important to understand what
  would fill the need and stop the want, otherwise it is meaningless to
  give them anything at all.  if the value of open source was as great as
  its proposers want it to be, the only thing that keeps vendors from
  giving it out to everybody is a failure to understand their own (still
  the vendors') needs.  my advice is: stop talking about the value of
  source code to those who will get it for free, and concentrate on the
  value of giving away source code for free.

| Some people you think will be good will be disastrour, and some people
| you think will be bad will turn out brilliant.

  I keep wondering when this is _not_ the case, so why bring it up?  you
  appear to want to make it sound as if there is an inherent flaw in some
  _particular_ way to deal with people, but it's obviously an inherent
  problem in dealing with people qua people any way you decide to do it.

| So most people or organizations make a default decision: either don't
| release the code unless someone can onvince the hell out of you, or else
| release the code to all comers.  The first has been shown to suck in many
| cases, not least because people who may want the code won't want to
| bother with making a huge investment in convincing someone if the outcome
| is uncertain.

  as I said above: if source code access is such a boon to mankind, how
  come those who want the source are so incredibly bad at convincing those
  who hold the source today?  you appear to admit that there is very little
  obvious value and very significant obvious costs in giving people source
  access, yet don't appear to let this affect your desire for giving it all
  comers.  I actually wonder why you see this only from the _recipients'_
  point of view, when it is quite obvious that the _originator_ is the one
  who needs convincing.

  personally, I don't think the value of sharing source code and the
  programmers' mindsets with other people is uncertain at all: it is of
  _tremendous_ value to be able to discuss these things intelligently.  but
  that's precisely why it's an incredible waste to give it to everybody.

  let me add too much personal history to illustrate my point: I wrote to
  manufacturers of soft drinks, chocolates, toys, etc, when I was a kid,
  with whacky and useful suggestions alike, and they had the good sense to
  reward the most the suggestions they actually used.  to this day, I am
  concerned with what every supplier of mine does, from buying stock in the
  airline I use and making sure they get the most money out of my tickets
  while I get the lowest possible prices (squeezing out the middlemen), to
  asking for the site manager of a supermarket and suggesting they stock
  Water Joe because I want to buy it cheaper from them than from the few
  soft-drink stands that sell over-priced bottles.  I consider every single
  manufacturer and vendor to be a _supplier_ to my well-being, and I cannot
  understand why people don't do something on the personal level when they
  think their suppliers could do a better job, but instead wait to stage
  boycotts or make big stinks or demand that politicians take action when
  they could have obtained a lot more by just talking to the guys who do
  the work.  it doesn't take more than a fraction of a second to express
  concern, but it usually wastes a lot of energy not to.  the flip side of
  this is I have a serious problem with people who waste other people's
  time just because they don't see how much of their own time they waste --
  people who just plain don't _care_ bug me, big time.

  I have come to consider the clamor for source access for people who don't
  care (that's what this is about, since the people who care wouldn't have
  any significant problems in the first place) to be a gargantuan waste of
  everybody's time and effort, and a very strong reinforcer for those who
  want others to care _for_ them and who get bitter and demanding when they
  don't get what they think they have a right to.  my problem with getting
  this aspect of Free Software is that Richard Stallman is a guy who really
  cares about what he's doing, and he's caring about something valuable,
  but it won't work constructively as long as it benefits people who don't
  care more than it benefits people who _do_ care.

  save the children: just say NO to sex with pro-lifers