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redecentralizeIf you have noticed over the past decade, the net has become far less diverse. Far less anarchistic. Far more concentrated, with a few sites like Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook and other big media ventures concentrating most of the traffic.

Even worse, they provide their own pages for what were once independent offerings. Facebook has a page for every place, author, brand, etc. Wikipedia offers a dumbed-down summary of any topic in the world, usually plagiarized from independent pages. What we’re seeing is a massive centralization of content.

However, this is pair and partner to a greater centralization which is occurring through the protocols we use, how we route our traffic and how commerce and government shape the topography of the net.

Recently, I found the good folks at Redecentralize.org. They are forming a hacker-driven movement to decentralize the net that has slowly become more centralized during our lifetimes.

I was lucky enough to speak to Francis Irving of Redecentralize for the following interview.

The net was originally decentralized. What caused it to centralize?

In my view, I think it was the success of the web.

Before that, things were quite decentralized – for example NNTP and Email were higher level federated application protocols.

The web then came along and turned out to be very usable, but of its nature as a client/server protocol, the successful companies built on top of it have centralized servers (e.g. Google, Facebook).

On the good side, the web is fantastic and decentralized publishing, and made the Internet accessible to all. On the bad side, it naturally leads to central architectures.

Could anything have stopped this centralization?

Potentially other protocols winning the race against HTTP. They didn’t though, probably for good reason.

Another way would have been a campaign similar to the Free Software campaign, but instead for open protocols. Make them fashionable, get the geeks pushing them. Early 1990s would have been the time.

We should have been making eCommerce protocols, rather than implementing everything over HTTP and HTML.

What is the relationship, if any, between centralization and consumerism?

I think that consumerism is related, but not entirely. Even the non-consumerist uses of the web are quite centralized — everything from Github to Wikipedia.

You’re working toward “re-decentralizing” the net. What does this mean?

It’s just a way of saying “decentralizing” which acknowledges that there are cycles happening here.

Things always go from central (e.g. Mainframe) to decentalized (e.g. Personal Computers) to centralized again (e.g. Web).

It happens at lots of layers in a complex way. If the current system is centralized though, it opens itself up to decentralized disruption.

If you achieve your goal, what will net use be like for the average person?

Four things:

  1. They would feel in control of their privacy. The cost of spying would have increased enough (but still be possible enough to stop terrorists), and data not be shared to a central server, that nobody would be worried about their personal conversations or business deals being stolen.
  2. They would find everything worked more resiliently. If on a train or in a mountain, applications would carry on functioning and sync whenever they got connectivity. Or, more importantly but more rarely, they could make phone calls during hurricanes, and still send emails to each other when a war cut of the Internet connection to the US.
  3. They would find everything would be cheaper. There’d be lots more higher level protocols – so companies like eBay and Amazon couldn’t gain essentially monopolies. So the cost of commerce would be that bit less. (This isn’t so much less than now, but less than when shareholders force the monopolies to squeeze the pips)
  4. They would find the network more inspiring. It would feel like it was for them, rather than for advertisers. It would have an energy — new ideas and applications and possibilities bubbling up — like we felt on the web 5 or 10 years ago.

How did your group come together, and how did your members hit on the idea of “re-decentralizing”?

From my point of view, I’ve been watching the Unhosted project for a while, and read the writings of Danny O’Brien on the edges of the network some years ago.

More recently, I’ve been researching resilience, as I don’t think as a society our tech copes well with natural disasters. In doing so, I came across a few more decentralized projects.

I also came across new protocols — Nicholas Tollervey introducing me to Kademlia. On top of BitCoin and GFShare. There are quite a few, all genuinely game changing and as yet mainly unused.

It seemed clear to me something interesting was going on — a load of geeks working away. It feels like the early days of the web, or the early days of the free software movement.

The word “redecentralize” just kept falling into my consciousness.

Ross and Ira I know from living in Liverpool, and from the Open Data movement respectively, were thinking about similar things and so we formed Redecentralize.org.

Your method is using software to re-shape the net, which seems like the gentlest possible method. To what degree is this hampered by the voluntary nature of software use? Or does that not apply, if a more competitive product emerges?

The mainstream doesn’t voluntarily use software. They are “forced” to use software that is both of a reasonable standard, and dominant enough that it can afford to be well maintained and that they hear about it.

I don’t think we can decentralize it voluntarily overnight. It’ll be a slow project — think more something like the original “Spread Firefox” campaign.

Or, more like the free software movement. It took a couple of decades for open source to be the dominant way of developing the stack underneath new software.

In the 1980s, computer companies were highly centralized with one firm making hardware, OS and software. It seems the cell phone revolution has gotten us closer to that model again, just as on the internet certain large companies own most of the big properties and influence others with non-profits. Is there a “pendulum swinging back” moment where this centralization process becomes inefficient?

Yes.

Right now, their inefficiencies are at the edges, most people won’t notice them.

And that’s kind of the point – that’s what makes it an interesting, open field right now.

Those with passion will gradually move from the web to new areas.

Partly that will be 3D printing and DIY bio. But I also think it will be the next generation of network technologies.

And the place that gets the passionate geeks will develop the most innovative things — most likely to disrupt as time passes.

What do you think is the relationship between services like Wikipedia and Facebook, which standardize web content, and centralization?

Not sure!

Wikipedia is sort of necessarily central, although it could have a sync-based article viewing and updating system. It would have to be as easy to use though.

Facebook suffers in terms of privacy from being decentralized. Also, it makes people feel very out of control socially. This can be fixed in a centralized way though too — look at Whats App, for example, which feels much more controlled.

To replace things like Facebook, you need standard protocols instead.
Look at email to see that that is possible.

Can you tell us a little bit about your plans for the near future, and how a small hacker group (say, in Houston) could contribute toward the goal of re-decentralizing the net?

All of the projects we’ve interviewed …
http://redecentralize.org/interviews/
… and many others …
https://github.com/rossjones/alternative-internet
need help!

Pick some, try them out, file bugs and give feedback, and if you like any of them contribute code!

Redcentralize.org would also like help — suggestions of interviews, volunteers to run the website or organize a more indepth podcast, or run a Redecentalize news service.

Email us hello@redecentralize.org if you’d like to help!

Education gets talked up a lot. People are freaked out because we have too many college graduates, with too many loans, and a college education doesn’t magically open doors as much as it once did. Even more, it seems like graduates lack actual job skills.

One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything. – NYT

In other words, people are good at school itself, and not the actual underlying skillset they need.

This isn’t surprising.

As a hacker who knew other hackers, I knew the most common outcome at schools both public and private was for the smartest kids to be at the back of the room, getting Cs and paying no attention.

The teacher would drone on with material designed for “the average student,” which meant everyone was bored except a few who were really having problems, and nothing seemed to save them.

Even more than boring, education was about the wrong approach entirely. It set up cute little thought-experiments, taught you some simple versions, and then hit you with more challenging ones on the final. Since this is easy to defeat, teachers relied heavily on trickery and detail-based grading, which rewards those who essentially bury themselves in the classwork and memorize.

Zero relation to (a) actual problem solving and (b) having the skill of thinking itself. In fact, worse than zero relation; negative relation. Thinkers find this kind of environmental stultifying and try to escape it.

When I got out of education, my impression was that we were driving our best people away so that we could select the most compliant: kids who would sit there night and after night and memorize the procedure, but who would be lost when encountering something unexpected.

This isn’t to say that all A-students are idiots. Many of them are good people who can think, who have adapted themselves to performing well in an academic environment. A lot of those lacked judgment skills, or the skill of thinking itself by another name, and many also lacked the ability to process context.

Now we have a movement to defend education on the basis that it is rigorous. This strikes me as the same old con: work harder, don’t work smarter. Be obedient. This is what gets you an industry full of people who are oblivious to the obvious, even if it means they get pwnt every other time they make a new service public.

It may in fact make people brain-dead by training them to do a small range of tasks well. I’m not the only one to notice this; our culture of overwork exists to show we tried, and that we “worked hard,” but not that we achieved results or used good judgment.

We’re sort of in danger because “results” can often mean product success, which in a world where Katy Perry and Justin Bieber are millionaires, doesn’t mean that much.

Education has become a gold rush toward perceive job skills that tends to create huge armies of people competing for the same few opportunities. This doesn’t make sense, since people’s abilities vary and so do their inclinations. What inspires them, in other words.

If we are having a crisis of innovation, the origins of it may be in this robotic tendency. We need more cogs, not more thinkers. And: keep the leaders down. If they think differently, they’ll make us all look stupid. Like those meddling kids hacking our computers.

In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you’re given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, ‘This is how things are.’ They give you certainty. The humanities, at least the way I teach them, give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism. The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be. – /.

Even worse is that in both education and work, we’re pushing people toward burnout. This makes them more robotic, less likely to notice anomalies, less likely to discover new things, and more likely to not care when they notice suspicious activity. They just slump over and keep going, working toward their retirement plan and their weekend, and nothing more.

This approach turns education from a journey of discovery into an obedience obstacle course, and alienates people and makes them embittered and more likely to retaliate later in life. Even more, it makes them objects of profit and enslaves them with the high cost of this miserable experience. If you want a formula for mass conversion to sociopathic levels of selfishness and me-firsting, that’ll do it.

The lack of inspiration in a workplace removes the sense of meaning in life and makes people embittered sleepwalking zombies at their jobs.

There’s no way to divorce education from the workforce, but I’d like to propose an alternate view of education. This is a hacker’s theory of education.

First, education is a place to learn skills, not things. You are going to learn a specialization, whether it’s language arts, history, science, athletics, martial arts, whatever. Learn the basics and absorb the theory not through dry papers about details, or vague New Agey statements about purpose, but through knowing a hierarchy of ideas that together make up the discipline. Much like in martial arts, there is no single big point; there are many points, tied together by a hierarchy of both vertical and horizontal relations.

Next, learn by doing. Sitting in a class for a lecture makes no sense. If you want to learn about literature, write literature; 99.999% of it will go into the dumpster, but you’ll learn how it all works. Same with philosophy: argue! About real things! In science class, we should make things. We should test and explore and play. At least some of this time — can we get Google’s 20%? — should be entirely unguided. Just fun.

Also, we should learn to become human beings first. Working ten and twelve hour days (or more) is not healthy, not in education or in the jobs after it. Teaching kids by having them memorize details and then ranking them on how many they got right is a lazy teacher’s way of “teaching.” It encourages tunnel vision and selects the obedient and the brain-dead. Focus on implementation and the ability to assess relevance, instead of just throwing every detail at the screen.

Finally, make jobs part of education if that’s our goal. Teach skills, but then at some point, get kids into internships, apprenticeships, friendships, ride-alongs, etc. so that they learn by doing and learn in context. Show them the good sides and the bad sides. Let them escape if it doesn’t work. A person who’s screwing up at a job is someone in the wrong job.

Hackers are accused of being anarchistic and anti-authority but really what we oppose is the kind of blockhead rules that a society makes for its own convenience. We can push machines beyond their rated limits, and we can do more by not thinking about rules and detail-memorization, but by thinking about application and context.

That’s the future. The education we have now is the past. A hacker approach to education would prepare us for the challenges to come, instead of keeping us enmired in fighting out the needs of the past.

The original idea behind the internet was that it would be a place for everyone to interact. Sort of like society, but in a virtual world where distance was no barrier.

However, that’s not what happened. More evidence suggests that online audiences reflect exactly zero of what’s going on in the world, and instead reflects the interests of a special audience that has gathered on the internet much as daytime TV segregated its viewers from society at large.

A movie that was all the rage on Twitter turns out to be very much not a hit with the population at large. What does this tell us? That like media elites themselves, Twitter and other social media are an online “elite” that doesn’t represent the population.

We might even go so far as to point out that these “social” services tend to attract hipsters, which are nerds who specialize in socializing, and that this group then gains disproportionate influence if media pays attention to them.

This isn’t the first warning sign. The biggest, by far, was the comScore survey showing that 8% of internet users are responsible for 85% of the clicks on ads.

What this means is that the internet is a niche audience. It’s not a survey, where a small but representative group shows us what the whole group is thinking. It’s a specialized group, selected by their desire to socialize through machines, whose opinions are more popularity-driven than those of the majority and not applicable to that majority.

This could be excellent news for hackers. When people stop viewing “the internet audience” as relevant, focus returns to people doing interesting things online: creating actual communities, crafting code, breaking into AT&T, and generally inventing things as opposed to tweeting about them.

Entropy is a fact of life. As soon as rules and standards are established, their meaning begins to erode and is replaced by new things. As these new things increase possibilities, a tendency toward the safety of a mean takes over. Soon normalization occurs, and with that, heat death.

Such is the case of the internet. Once a frontier — the most sacred of all American myths — it has evolved into a cyberspace that supports safety, commerce and personal boundaries, which means that now it is a polite but standardized place. Normalization follows, and then heat death.

Some are noticing how in the name of safety and security we have traded a space of any kind of possibility for the type of standardized environment offered by both commercial entities and managed governments:

Go to a Facebook profile, and ponder what we have now. Instead of having adventures into the great unknowns of the web, we instead now spend most of our time on social networks: boring, suburban gated communities, where everybody’s “profile” looks exactly the same, and presents exactly the same content, in the same arrangement. Rarely do we create things on these networks; Instead, we consume, and report on our consumption. The uniformity and blandness rival something out of a Soviet bloc residential apartments corridor. And now adding to that analogy, we’ve found out that our government is actually spying on us while we’re doing it, in ways the Stasi could only dream of. The web we have today is a sad, pathetic, consumption-oriented digital iron curtain, and we need to change that. – Kyle Drake, “Making the web fun again,” The Neocities Blog, June 28th, 2013

The force that in theory sets us free, competition, has a dark side which occurs when it becomes a slugging match between titans. In particular, competition between the web’s largest entities has led to a reduction in variety and dominance by a handful of big sites. Their policies determine the future of the internet, but even more alarmingly, the competition between them drives the web toward a state of uniformity:

Google Reader is just the latest casualty of the war that Facebook started, seemingly accidentally: the battle to own everything.5 While Google did technically “own” Reader and could make some use of the huge amount of news and attention data flowing through it, it conflicted with their far more important Google+ strategy: they need everyone reading and sharing everything through Google+ so they can compete with Facebook for ad-targeting data, ad dollars, growth, and relevance.

RSS represents the antithesis of this new world: it’s completely open, decentralized, and owned by nobody, just like the web itself. It allows anyone, large or small, to build something new and disrupt anyone else they’d like because nobody has to fly six salespeople out first to work out a partnership with anyone else’s salespeople. – Marco Arment, “Lockdown,” July 3, 2013

As Arment illustrates, RSS and the older hacker-friendly protocols of the net are the truly open way. However, openness comes with a price, which is ambiguity. You never really know who’s on the other end of the connection, or what any given web page is going to do, which is why originally the web was designed to be a non-interactive space for publication, not interactive commerce and socialization.

The question for the future is how do we take this managed space and make it into an anarchic web again? One solution is to be like Neocities.org and offer sites in free-form HTML; another might be to subvert Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus by using them exclusively to post links to open sites, and thus to force them into the role that RSS once served: an index of standardized content on a unstandardized, lovingly anarchic network of sites.

A year or so ago, Google was promoting schema.org, one attempt to make the semantic web real.

Now they’re not. It’s not even integrated into Chrome. Why the change?

Well, for one thing…

The Semantic Web will make search engines unimportant. Search engines exist for one purpose only, which is to guess at which web pages have the content you want. With semantic markup, there’s no longer guessing.

If the site isn’t spam, the contents are as they are indicated. Then the only question is whether it’s popular enough to make Google’s top ten, which will be accomplished through advertising in traditional media. So much for the internet as an “alternative.”

Google is going to lose a ton of money if the semantic web ever works. Any fool can make a search engine based on semantic categories and location. That’s not rocket science and probably is a matter of cobbling together open source software packages at this point.

When that happens, Google has nothing to offer. That’s why they’re reversing course here. The semantic web, like the original web, is not commerce-friendly. And the commerce doesn’t want to give up easily.

I was sorry to read that Google is dismantling their RSS reader. It really was the best on the market. But, given how Google has been behaving lately, this is another aggressive move to force us the user-sheep to migrate to Google Plus and Google Now.

However, I think this is a shame. When the internet started out, it was diverse, vibrant and non-standard. It was anarchic and full of open spaces and danger. That was awesome. There was adventure. Each site was individual and unique and not constrained by a single standard, like “Make the AOL users like you! Be nice! Flatter them! Lie to them!”

Then along came Google.

Now, everything’s standard. Wikipedia is the first search result for any known term. Every site uses Google, Facebook or Twitter for its login. The content all sounds the same, and it’s all sanitized. Why? Unsanitized content is not popular, so it drops out of Google’s popularity-based rankings.

It used to be I could visit a dozen different sites and see a dozen different things. Now, there’s a post on Facebook, Google or Twitter with a dozen people saying the same thing.

RSS, by the way, was a fist in the face of this creeping normalization. RSS let you keep track of what others were doing, by using a single interface, which then linked to the diversity of the web. It was a true index, not a “civilizing” influence that boiled all the joy out of the internet.

The Linux community is abuzz with lamentations about why it has failed to penetrate the desktop market.

A historical shift has occurred. The prices of computers have fallen, which means that the price of the operating system is no longer an impediment. As a result, many Linux devs have moved over to using OS X machines and most of the consumer world has moved to Windows 7, which fixes the problems of prior versions of Windows and may be the most popular version ever.

As a result, the battle is over. Linux remains with the geeks, and the desktop goes to Microsoft and Apple.

This delineates the eternal divide between geek and regular user: the geek wants to use the computer, the regular user wants to use the computer to do something. They want the operating system to “just work.”

Miguel de Icaza illustrates this with a simple example:

The hard disk that hosted my /home directory on my Linux machine failed so I had to replace it with a new one. Since this machine lives under my desk, I had to unplug all the cables, get it out, swap the hard drives and plug everything back again.

Pretty standard stuff. Plug AC, plug keyboard, plug mouse but when I got to the speakers cable, I just skipped it.

Why bother setting up the audio?

It will likely break again and will force me to go on a hunting expedition to find out more than I ever wanted to know about the new audio system and the drivers technology we are using. – “What Killed the Linux Desktop,” by Miguel de Icaza

Imagine that you’ve got a project due on Monday, and you’re installing Linux on a Friday, and something goes wrong with the audio drivers. Do you have 48 hours to screw around with a defensive community, bad documentation and a constantly-changing target?

The geek will rise to the challenge, get excited by the new audio subsystem that has better time-sequenced performance than the Windows option, and spend the next 48 hours researching and fiddling and having a good time. The project won’t get done.

On the other hand, whipping out the Windows 7 DVD, entering a few registration numbers and hitting GO takes about 30 minutes, and the audio works out of the box on any of several thousand configurations. Then the project can get done by Monday, the job saved, the family happy.

The Linux community is oblivious to anyone but the geeks. As de Icaza puts it later in his post:

When faced with “this does not work”, the community response was usually “you are doing it wrong”.

Linux failed on the desktop because it offered the antithesis of “it just works,” despite the efforts of Ubuntu and live-boot CDs.

Following up on that post, Christian Schaller weighed in with a list of reasons that Linux hadn’t gotten anywhere. Here are the most relevant:

  • Companies tend to depend on a myriad of applications to run their business, and just a couple of them not running under Linux would be enough to derail a transition to Linux desktops
  • We were competing not only with other operating systems, but with a Office productivity application monopoly
  • We are trying to compete by supporting an unlimited range of hardware options
  • We divided our efforts into multiple competing APIs (GNOME vs KDE)
  • There was never a clear method of distributing software on Linux outside the distro specific package system.
  • Many of our underlaying systems were a bit immature
  • We never reached a critical mass where porting to desktop Linux tended to make sense
  • An impression was created that Linux users would not pay for any software

“The challenges of desktop Linux,” by Christian Schaller

He tells you the how, but not the why.

Here’s the why: Linux was a volunteer effort isolated in geek culture.

Linux lacked direction because it was based on what developers wanted to do, not what users needed.

When a boring or hard task came up, like documentation or making the system internally consistent, or even fixing uninspiring parts of the OS, the developers evaporated.

When the user asked for help, even when the problem was an error in the software itself, the Linux development community turned around and blamed the user.

Most online communities are this way. The developers see themselves as Christ-like figures who are slaying the dragon of inoperable software, and everyone else is “little people” whose concerns don’t count. Except that they then expect the little people to adopt their software and praise them for making it.

Similar concerns were brought up with the FreeBSD community, another volunteer group, a year or so ago:

> I make decisions about hardware and software for those who work with me.
>
> Talking with my second in command this morning, we reached a quandary.
> Ron is completely pro-Linux and pro-Windows, and against FreeBSD.
>
> What is odd about this is that he’s the biggest UNIX fanatic I know,
> not only all types of UNIX (dating back quite some time) but also all
> Unix-like OSen.
>
> I told him I was considering FreeBSD because of greater stability and security.
>
> He asked me a question that stopped me dead:
>
> “What is a quality operating system?”
>
> In his view, and now mine, a quality operating system is reliable,
> streamlined and clearly organized.
>
> Over the past few years, FreeBSD has drifted off-course in this
> department, in his view.
>
> Let me share the points he made that I consider valid (I have deleted
> two as trivial, and added one of my own):
>
> (1) Lack of direction.
>
> FreeBSD is still not sure whether it is a desktop OS, or a server OS.
> It is easy for the developers to say “well, it’s whatever you want,”
> but this makes the configuration process more involved. This works
> against people who have to use these operating systems to get anything
> done.
>
> In his view, a crucial metric here is the ability to estimate time
> required for any task. It may be a wide window, but it should not be
> as wide as “anywhere from 30 minutes to 96 hours.” In his experience,
> FreeBSD varies widely on this front because in the name of keeping
> options open, standardization of interface and process has been
> deprecated.
>
> (2) Geek culture.
>
> Geek culture is the oldest clique on the internet. Their goal is to
> make friends with no one who is not like them. As a result, they
> specialize in the arcane, disorganized and ambiguous. This forces
> people to go through the same hoops they went through. This makes them
> happy, and drives away people who need to use operating systems to
> achieve real-world results. They reduce a community to hobbyists only.
>
> (3) Horrible documentation.
>
> This is my specialty and has been since the early 1980s. The FreeBSD
> documentation is wordy, disorganized, inconsistent and highly
> selective in what it mentions. It is not the product of professionals
> but it also not the product of volunteers with a focus on
> communication. It seems pro-forma, as in, “it’s in the documentation,
> so don’t bother me.” The web site compounds this error by pointing us
> in multiple directions instead of to a singular resource. It is bad
> enough that man pages are separate from your main documentation tree,
> but now you have doubled or trebled the workload required of you
> without any benefit to the end user.
>
> (4) Elitism.
>
> To a developer, looking at some inconsistent or buggy interface and
> thinking, “If they can’t do this, they don’t belong using FreeBSD
> anyway” is too easy of a thought. Yet it looks to me like this happens
> quite a bit, and “this is for the elite” has become the default
> orientation. This is problematic in that there are people out there
> who are every bit as smart as you, or smarter, but are not specialized
> in computers. They want to use computers to achieve results; you may
> want to play around with your computer as an activity, but that is not
> so for everyone.
>
> (5) Hostile community.
>
> For the last several weeks, I have been observing the FreeBSD
> community. Two things stand out: many legitimate questions go ignored,
> and for others, response is hostile resulting in either incorrect
> answers, haughty snubs, and in many cases, a refusal to admit when the
> problem is FreeBSD and not the user. In particular, the community is
> oblivious to interfaces and chunks of code that have illogical or
> inconsistent interfaces, are buggy, or whose function does not
> correspond to what is documented (even in the manpages).
>
> (6) Selective fixes.
>
> I am guilty of this too, sometimes, but when you hope to build an
> operating system, it is a poor idea. Programmers work on what they
> want to work on. This leaves much of the unexciting stuff in a literal
> non-working state, and the entire community oblivious to it or
> uncaring. As Ron detailed, huge parts of FreeBSD are like buried land
> mines just waiting to detonate. They are details that can invoke that
> 30 minute to 96 hour time period instantly, usually right before you
> need to get something done.
>
> (7) Disorganized website.
>
> The part of the FreeBSD project that should set the tone for the
> community, the FreeBSD website, reflects every one of these
> criticisms. It is inconsistent and often disorganized; there is no
> clear path; resources are duplicated and squirreled away instead of
> organized and made into a process for others to follow. It is arcane,
> nuanced and cryptic for the purpose of keeping the community elitist,
> hobbyist and hostile to outsiders.
>
> In addition, huge portions of it break on a regular basis and seem to
> go unnoticed. The attitude of “that’s for beginners, so we don’t need
> it” persists even there. With the graphic design of the website I have
> no problem, but the arrangement of resources on it reflects a lack of
> presence of mind, or paying attention to the user experience.
>
> All of this adds up to a quality operating system in theory that does
> not translate into quality in reality.
>
> You alienate users and place the burden upon them to sort through your
> mess, then sneer at them.
>
> You alienate business, professional and artistic users with your
> insistence on hobbyism. These people have full lives; 48 hour sessions
> of trying to configure audio drivers, network cards or drive arrays
> are not in their interest.
>
> Even when you get big parts of the operating system correct, it’s the
> thousand little details that have been forgotten, ignored or snootily
> written off that add up to many hours of frustration for the end user.
> This is not necessary frustration, and they get nothing out of it. It
> seems to exist because of the emotional and social attitudes of the
> FreeBSD team.
>
> Sadly, Ron is right. FreeBSD is not right for us, or any others who
> care about using an operating system as a means to an end. FreeBSD is
> a hobby and you have to use it because you like using it for the
> purpose of using it, and anything else will be incidental.
>
> That is the condition of FreeBSD now. If these criticisms were taken
> seriously, I believe the situation could change, and I hope it does.
- “A quality operating system,” by Evan Busch

You might ask, how defensive are online communities?

Here’s the first five responses from the community:

On Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 2:19 AM, Odhiambo Washington wrote:
>
> That whole paragraph is some irrelevant assertion.

(2)

On Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 2:45 AM, Open Slate Project wrote:
>
> Perhaps you would be happier at an Apple Store.

(3)

On Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 7:30 AM, Hasse Hansson wrote:
> Happy Trolling :-)

(4)

On Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 1:09 PM, Michael Sierchio wrote:
>
> Are you lazy, or stupid? man freebsd-update

(5)

On Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 1:31 PM, mikel king wrote:
>
> I do not think it is worth wasting important list bandwidth on your flame fodder.

It’s not surprising that Windows and OS X won out over this kind of attitude. Try explaining to your boss, customers or family how you didn’t get the job done because you spent all weekend fixing the audio drivers or the update software only to find out that it was a problem in the free software.

As far as the future of Linux, as several articles pointed out, Linux has found its niche and is unlikely to break from it:

Even if you don’t have a single open source application installed on your laptop, if you use the web you’re probably being served by several open source technologies, including web servers like Apache and Nginx and programming languages and frameworks like PHP and Ruby on Rails all running on an open source operating system. – “How Apple Killed the Linux Desktop and Why That Doesn’t Matter,” by Klint Finley

Linux has, like the geek that it is, filed itself in the server room away from the customers, where it can giggle and snort and not be seen. Here the requirements are fewer and are purely technical, so the geek culture can agree on them, not to mention the many paid contributors from third party vendors who contribute.

BSD faces similar problems with similar causes. They depend on a wave of geeks who don’t mind spending hours fixing trivial problems, because that’s what they enjoy doing.

The future however is going to belong to those who make things just work, so that people can get on to doing what they need to do. The era of the geek is over. The death of Linux on the desktop is also the death of geek culture.

Windows 7 and OS X show us that the future belongs to those who do not fixate on the machine and its operating system itself, but its possible uses. Out of the basement and into the light.

Remember when the promise of open source software was that it was an alternative to the coercive corporate software that always tried to game the user to fit into its plan?

Me too. But it seems those days have ended. The above is Mozilla adopting a page from Microsoft and Apple and trying to confuse and trick the user into upgrading to the “new” 8.0-series browser, when the user seems to prefer the 3.5-series browser.

Why so manipulative? Open source is realizing that what makes corporates corporate is not that they are evil, but that market demands plus an intransigent user base create certain needs. You either become Machiavelli, or he smiles unkindly down upon you in your last moments.

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