Thursday, November 17, 2005

OSM - Not "Open Source"

t's hard to miss everyone talking about "Open Source Media". LaShawn Barber is near-live blogging the event. Then Jeff over at The Shape of Days posted an objection to OSM, Buzzword foul with extra penalties for vapidness. I was going to keep quiet about PJ Media, but then the name change cought my eye. I too am glad OSM exists, but their new name is wrong.

In May 2005, I decided to follow the invitation of some of my fellow bloggers who knew more than I (not to mention had a lot more traffic), and sign up for this neat offer to be first in a new group of bloggers. It seemed that these bloggers were going to set up a group to farm out ads, and collect blog content for wider distribution. A little extra money for the ADSL line is always good, and wider distibution would be nice too. Then I got this not-so-neat non-disclosure form in the mail. In return for the possibility of a minor income, PJMedia wanted permission to sue me in another state (I think New York, but don't hold me to it) for uncapped damages if I even accidentally leaked some information that causedthem any harm.

I don't think so. My NDA with my first post-college employer wasn't that bad. I told the nice person from PJ Media that I couldn't sign their NDA, and that if that was enough to keep me out, then that was fine. I would do a "Scout's Honor" that I wouldn't say anything, and was willing to sign all the rest of their papers. She talked to her superiors, and said that that was OK. I was surprised, but glad to be able to stay in the project.

Several months passed quietly. I'm passing up at least $0.50 worth of and Google Ads revenue waiting for PJ Media to get off their duff and do something. I finally get a ping from them, but by that time I was barely even putting out content. PJ Media was so low on my radar that I decided it wasn't worth it. I just ignored the PJ Media email and let my exclusive lock-in offer with them expire.

Now PJ Media is "Open Source Media", and I am glad I didn't sign up. I have been a computer geek since the late 80s. I'm one of those kids who grew up dinking with sprites on the Commodore 64, and marveling about how you could tell this little box what to do and it'd do it. Then I went to college and discovered this wonderful system called UNIX. Whether you called it NeXTStep, SunOS 4, BSD, or even this fledging little toy called Linux, it was Good. I sat on the sidelines with my peers watching AT&T suing BSD Inc. and the University of California Berkeley to close the source on BSD, and Linux take off because of the lawsuit. I've used NetBSD ever since my Mac IIsi could run it, even having to have a terminal because the console code was broken.

I never cared a lot for the difference between "free software" or "open source". Stallman is too much of a nutjob for me to latch onto "free software", but both of these terms represent 30+ years of people like Stallman, the BSD crew, Donald Knuth, and many others believing that basic computer programming infrastructure needs to be reusable by all. The code is "free" (however you like to mean "gratis") because people have given to us so that we didn't have to redo it, and it would be a shame for us to make others redo what we've had to do.

Now, a group of bloggers have decided to freeload on that tradition by calling themselves Open Source Media. They may be using Open Source software (but hardly all - many of the blogging packages aren't Open Source), but that makes us no more Open Source than brushing with Crest makes me Proctor and Gamble.

Other people want to make money off their content, either through ads or by selling some articles. That's fine, I like making money. I'm hoping my current manuscript idea will make some, which is why I've been working on it and not this blog. I'm sure that Charles, Roger, and the rest of the OSM crew desire to make a little bit off their writing too, and that's just fine.

OSM is (appearantly) about making some people who wouldn't otherwise have access to money and a market have that access. That is all good, in of itself. Those of you who have stuck around are seeing my work free of charge, thanks in no small part to Open Source software. However, I am a greedy idea sharer- you may read it, but you can't do what you want with it. You can't reprint my story for a profit. I can't take Power Line or LaShawn Barber's content and do anything I want with it. That's not the blogger way.

The Blogger world is not Open Source. We don't take text and do anything we want with it. Bloggers are more like academics. We cross-link, we attribute, we even heckle, but we never beg, borrow, or "steal". Our work ISN'T free speech like Richard Stallman says, it's just free beer.

I am glad that OSM exists. It's just not Open Source. And I won't be a part of it as long as it tries to say it is.

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