Chapter 24: The Documents of Freedom

Richard Stallman wrote The GNU Manifesto in 1984. As I said in Chapter 12, "it marks the true beginning of the GNU Project." One part of the Manifesto, "Why I must write GNU," has been a "favorite" of mine for over twenty years. Let me quote it again.

I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement. For years I worked within the Artificial Intelligence Lab to resist such tendencies and other inhospitalities, but eventually they had gone too far. I could not remain in an institution where such things are done for me against my will.
So that I can continue to use computers without dishonor, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free. I have resigned from the AI lab to deny MIT any legal excuse to prevent me from giving GNU away.

The various GNU tools were a success: the FSF's versions of AWK, the C compiler, Emacs, yacc (-> Bison), etc., were used widely. With the advent of Linux, "free" software took off.

But 40 years earlier, Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) had published Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942; 2nd Ed., 1944; 3rd Ed., 1950) in which he coined the phrase "creative destruction." Schumpeter felt that capitalism would not survive, not because it would be overthrown by a Marxist proletariat, but because it would be destroyed by its successes. He believed that capitalism would give rise to a large intellectual class that subsisted by attacking the bourgeois system of private property and freedom which were necessary for the class's existence.

Schumpeter lauded the entrepreneur, who figures out how to use inventions, who introduces new means of production, and new forms of organization. It is innovation by the entrepreneur, he claimed, which leads to "creative destruction" as old inventories, ideas, technologies, skills become obsolete.

The growth of an IT-driven society has resulted in a world-wide intellectual class (Brazil, Chile, China, and India are good examples outside of Europe and North America). Globalization and outsourcing are obsoleting the fixed industrial plant and local labor employment practices of 1800-1960.

And FLOSS has become the force that drives the "gales" of creative destruction today.

Among those who realized that FLOSS was a disruptive technology were Eric Raymond and "Doc" Searls. While there are many other authors and books, I will use them as my victims.

In chapter 23 I wrote:

By the end of 1997, Eric Raymond had delivered "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" at least twice: at Linux Kongress in May and at the Perl Conference in November. It appeared on First Monday online in 1998, on paper in Matrix News in three installments (June, July and August 1998), and in book form in 1999.

In 1994, Linux Journal appeared. Produced by Bob Young and Phil Hughes, the first two issues were simple two-color print jobs, but it soon became a multicolor slick. After the second issue, Hughes was alone. Young went on to Red Hat.

But there was now a serious organ for Linux and for GNU tools. But let me return to Raymond.

As I have read it for nearly a decade, the point of Raymond's metaphor is that centralized design (the cathedral -- the unitary, proprietary, corporate method) is an ineffective, inflexible method when compared with the efficacy of the open source process (the bazaar of a multiplicity of vendors).

The bazaar is an open market where all are free to evaluate the merchandise (software) and decide to use or improve it. The cathedral refers to closed, proprietary structure (programming where the software is kept pure of outside influences, developed by a small team, usually with a hierarchical organization.)

Where proprietary software is concerned, a small team's production tends to be buggy and frequently does not correspond to the (potential) customer's expectations, wishes or needs. Open software is produced in (semi-)public, is exposed to examination and (frequently) destructive testing by thousands of pairs of eyes, encourages access, and thereby generally supplies precisely what is needed.

Freely redistributable software with accessible code means that a company or an individual with special needs or unique hardware can adjust, adapt or extend the software to suit those requirements. With proprietary code, a request can be made, but if you aren't a valued customer, your needs may remain unfilled.

"Doc" Searls spent years as a high tech marketer and has been Senior Editor of Linux Journal for a decade. Together with Chris Locke, Rick Levine, and David Weinberger, he composed and posted 95 theses on a web site ( in 1999. 1

The essays in The Cluetrain Manifesto are important: but they are repetitious, as are the theses. Nonetheless, they are worth reading, and the first two theses are of real value:

  1. Markets are conversations.

  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

Pause a moment to consider just how important these are. How many times have you answered the phone to find someone you don't know calling you by your first name? And it may not be what you are usually called. Sales/marketing folk appear to think that this opens up their campaign. I hang up on them.

In the market place, the agora, Raymond's bazaar, one engages in conversations -- walking to a specific stall or shop, greeting the vendor or clerk, discussing and selecting the merchandise, paying and receiving. Real conversations; real exchanges.

Among many things, The Cluetrain Manifesto suggests that the strategem that usually accompanies buying and selling should be replaced by a true attempt at satisfying the needs, wants and desires of those on both sides of the equation. Despite their long digressions, the authors occasionally succeed in making solid, clever points that reveal fundamental flaws in the structure of traditional businesses. Consider this comment about business hierarchies: "First they assume--along with Ayn Rand and poorly socialized adolescents--that the fundamental unit of life is the individual. This despite the evidence of our senses that individuals only emerge from groups."

Their Sixth Thesis counsels "The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media," then business is warned by the Seventh Thesis: "Hyperlinks destroy hierarchy." Hierarchies rank people and restrict information flow because information access is a function of rank. Hyperlinks democratize information flow, nullifying the main offensive weapon that hierarchies depend on to remain hierarchies. (This is, of course, what governments are beginning to discover: the Internet is an anarchy machine. Information is a destabilizing force.)

Most leaders in Old Economy hierarchies see the Internet as just a new product distribution channel (effectively, both and eBay are examples of this). They don't realize that the Internet is a new conversation channel that greatly amplifies the voices in the marketplace (blogs like Daily Kos and Groklaw are examples of this). Cluetrain's First Thesis states, "Markets are conversations."

Chapter 4 of The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Searls and Weinberger, is an excellent exposition of how today's businesses "have to figure out how to enter this global conversation rather than relying on the old marketing techniques of public relations, marketing communications, advertising, and other forms of propaganda. We don't want messages at all, we want to speak with your business in a human voice."

1The "95 theses" were a specific allusion to the 95 Theses which Martin Luther posted (!) on October 31, 1517, which condemned "greed and worldliness," among other things. Pope Leo X dismissed him as "a drunken German."