some thoughts on what we are and what we aren’t

In interviews, in private discussion, and in some media articles about autonomo.us, people have suggested that we’re redundant to other groups like DiSo or DataPortability, who are discussing standards and writing code. To quote webmonkey:

Rather than spending their time on grandiose statements, the DiSo Project and others like are already distributing code that just works. … [T]he web moves much faster than desktop software and it remains to be seen if the principles of desktop software can guide the development of an open web.


We’re actually in agreement with Wired here, though Wired hasn’t realized it yet :) autonomo.us is very explicitly about the idea that “the principles of free/open desktop software” can’t guide the development of an open web. If it could, FSF and OSI would already have been on their respective warpaths about this years ago. Instead, those principles- especially where they focus on user freedom- will probably be relevant, but also almost certainly insufficient and sometimes nonsensical. If the old principles only partially work, there must be some other principles that can guide the development of an open web. I think we see our primary goal as understanding what these new principles are, so that we can work with other groups to forward them.
With this focus on principles, rather than code, we think we complement- rather than compete with- projects like DiSo, DataPortability, and Open Web Foundation. We’re not ivory tower types; every one of us has an extensive development background, so we all have the deepest respect for the people writing code (and specs), and no desire to get in their way. While those guys and gals charge ahead doing the hard and important work- probably stumbling in some places and hopefully succeeding brilliantly in others- we’ll be watching their successes and failures, and thinking and writing about the philosophy, the principles, and the big picture. Our hope is that this will help inform and frame the discussion, so that we can all focus on advancing software autonomy instead of reinventing philosophical wheels.
To put it another way- we don’t expect to write code (though individual members or their affiliated groups have written code and will continue to.) We do expect that when concerned code writers are wrestling with what their code or specs should do, we’ll be able to help answer their questions about principles and goals.
Luis is a law student at Columbia Law School; a director of the GNOME Foundation; a member of OSI’s legal advisory board; and many other hats. This post is not a formal statement of GNOME, OSI, or any other organization of which I’m a part- even autonomo.us- just a reflection of my understanding of the state of our little project here.

4 thoughts on “some thoughts on what we are and what we aren’t

  1. evan

    I’m really glad you pointed this out. I was going to write a similar blog post on the subject! I think that data portability and federation between social networks is an important part of the problem we’re trying to solve: to wit, ensuring that users of network services retain their autonomy. We should encourage big, proprietary Web service providers to “open” their services and let people operate easily in a distributed social Web.
    But stopping there is only getting the job half done. Implementing Web services as Free software lets anyone become a service provider — for a user base of 10 million customers or 100 friends or just one individual. And that’s important to building a robust Web of autonomous, empowered people.
    I guess that we need to do a better job of pointing people to the Franklin Street Statement and making sure they understand all the parts of the equation.

  2. elias

    Competing? You are kidding me – welcome! We need more passionate, intelligent, motivated people to continue on this charge! We all have different skills, experiences, relationships – but as long as we are syncronised in our thinking, we will exact the most amount of change. I for one am glad autonomo.us has picked up.
    As for who am I? A DataPortability co-founder as well as one of the individuals currently serving on its executive. I look forward to collaborating with your, not competing. And I certainly don’t see you as a threat. I’m not in this to make profit; I’m here to see imrprovement in our world, in line with the vision we all share.

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