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lecture: Cut by the free and open edge

FLOSS, NGOs, Activists, Journalists, and the Pareto Principle

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FLOSS seems to be a natural choice for NGOs and not formalized entities (groups of activists, etc) -- evading vendor lock-in, harder to place a back-door, community support, and no licensing costs. And yet many NGOs continue to use closed-source software, even in areas where FLOSS tools are available and considered stable. Reasons are many; one of them can be tracked to papercuts -- small, annoying quirks and imperfections making FLOSS awkward, hard, or impossible to use in a given setting.

#Society #Community

SHA2017 participants are no strangers to the virtues of Free/Libre/Open Source Software, as are they familiar with many problems that plague FLOSS and emerge from the open, often unstructured development model. Most of us can work-around most of the quirks of free software we use. The same quirks grow to become unsurmountable obstacles for the less technically inclined.

This creates a peculiar gap between the tech-savvy users advocating FLOSS use based on its virtues and the regular software users who just want to get their jobs done. The tech-savvy, being able to work-around the issues, do not have a strong incentive in fixing them properly; the regular users, frustrated by the issues and not able to fix them nor work-around them, turn back to closed-source software.

This gap is clearly visible, for example, in the software used on the back-end/server vs. software in use on user devices (desktops/laptops) -- while the former is often dominated by FLOSS, closed-source usually prevails in the latter.

Truth be told, fixing bugs (especially annoying but small ones) is "not sexy", and often considered by Real Hackers™ to be beneath them. This seems to be a broader issue within the FLOSS community in general.

Having managed software and hardware in different activist, journalistic, and NGO settings, the speakers would like to offer their perspective on the importance of these underappreciated small bugs, and how much both the FLOSS community on one hand, and NGOs, activists, and journalists on the other, are missing out because of them.