John Sullivan, Executive Director of the Free Software Foundation, has asked the membership a question…
By what measures do you judge the success of the FSF’s public advocacy campaigns, and how do you think they have been doing?
Below is my reply. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Dear Mr. Sullivan,
First of all, congratulations in your new role.
You asked for comments and criticism on FSF campaigns, so here is it.
How do I measure a campaign’s success? Does it result in market share change? Is there positive brand recognition? Does the general public come away thinking good thoughts about Free Software or are they lost in scary geeky confusion?
With the rest of this letter, I will discuss several FSF campaigns and mantras. Where the FSF does well and areas that could do a little better.
I would like to see The FSF to be a beacon for all of Free culture. Specifically, work more with obvious allies like MediaWiki, Archive.org, Xiph.org, and Creative Commons. I loved the film “Patent Absurdity” and your collaboration with the Software Freedom Law Center. Any time you see allies, I want to see FSF to think Win-Win as I saw in that film.
I want to see FSF to not hold such harsh criticism to those who use semantics that you do not agree with. You can gently continue to remind people who say “Open Source” or “Linux” without the GNU. Refusing to go to events or help projects by people who do not use your language is a missed opportunity to gently make your point. The current posture is elitist and “my way or the highway.”
The “GNU/Linux vs Linux” argument is the very reason that I was convinced from 1999-2009 that the FSF wouldn’t even want me to be a member. Eventually I became a member anyhow since my freedom is much too important.
It is cool that the FSF continues to use “GNU/Linux.” Depending on the audience, or the level of specificity I need, I will say “GNU/Linux” too. But, when talking to the general public I say, “I use Linux.” I get two typical answers to that “Oh, my friend uses Ubuntu!” or “Gee, I’m not a computer wiz like you.” I’m sorry but “GNU/Linux” is not brand-recognizable in the world domination scale.
In this day in age, it is difficult enough for products based on the kernel such as Android or WebOS for me to shout from the mountaintops “Linux is winning” let alone, “GNU/Linux is winning.” Some desktop distributions such as Fedora have dropped the word “Linux” purposely from their product name. Would the FSF rather that no one would say “Linux?!?”
Furthermore, would you rather people who say “Open Source” not become FSF members? We spend so much time using of neutral terms such as “non-proprietary” or acronyms such as FLOSS so that we don’t offend the Free Software Foundation’s hard line. When someone does say “Open Source” instead, a pedantic argument ensues, making both sides of the argument look childish to someone who has not yet committed to freedom. By the 20 times effective frequency theory, the “Free Software” brand nor the “Open Source” brand will sound appealing, even after they’ve heard it 20 times after all this negativity.
I actually jealous of those whose native language isn’t English because they are less likely to hear the “Open Source” bashing. We all get enough FUD from proprietary software, and our great foe Microsoft. Free Software has won in emerging economies such as Brazil and powerhouses such as France, Russia, and China. It is time we focus on what is important.
I would rather the FSF focus on unity. I loved the “working together” campaign. Build on where we all agree. Politely say, “excuse me ‘Free Software'” when someone says “Open Source” and move on. Check out Open Respect. There is a respectful way to assert your point of view so please for heavens sakes, drop the anger. I know we can all be friends. Really.
Finally, a conversation about The Free Software Foundation’s campaigns would not be complete without mentioning “The Party of GNO.” Yes, I agree that Windows 7 is “sinful” and that iPhones are “defective by design.” I understand these things because I am I freedom loving person. Someone who does not yet understand freedom yet sees the FSF as a group of judgemental purist freaks who make Free Software sound non-fun.
I would rather campaigns that promote the advancement and use of Free Software. Software Freedom Day is awesome. Funding GNASH as a high-priority project is great. I want people to want to use Free Software because it is the most beautiful, the most useful, the most fun software out there. No one should have to compromise their freedom for that one application or driver. Sadly we are not there yet, but we are oh so close.
Please focus on bridging gaps where there are not great Free Software options and the celebrating success of outstanding Free Software projects. That is the the Free Software Foundation I want to support.
Thank you for taking the time to have this discussion with your members. I’m really looking forward to your thoughts after your Mid-May contemplation.
Beth Lynn Eicher
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