A Catalog of Open Source and Free Culture

I've been writing recently here about open source and free software, and what happens to the practices and ideologies of these projects when they "jump species" and start affecting the world outside of open source. This is, I suppose, part of a larger response/digestion of Christopher Kelty's *Two Bits* monograph.

Having said that, this post isn't a response per se but rather a catalog of all the various kinds of software and non-software projects that are connected in some way to open source and free software. I hope that such a catalog will be helpful in thinking more concretely about these issues. Without further ado:

Open Network Services

I'm using this as a banner for service-based software that derives inspiration from the free software movement, but is based on network services (web sites, web applications, and so forth). The AGPL is a free software approach to dealing with the code, but I don't think that well executed open network services is something that can--exactly--be conveyed with a liscence. Examples: identi.ca and gitorious.

Standard Network Protocols (e.g. IETF)

I wouldn't have been particularly inclined this on my own but from Kelty's (2008) book Two Bits I realized that it fits. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is responsible for defining and maintaining the standards that make the Internet go, so that Linux developers and Apple developers and Blackberry developers can all write software that can "talk" to each other via the network. It's not open source, exactly, but the most successful standards will be the ones that are most accessible and that a community feels at least partly responsible for (ie. has input from), which is in the end a lot like open source.

Creative Commons

Though Creative Commons (CC) is in some ways the most obvious umbrella of non-software free software projects, I am almost a bit hesitant to include it here. Though I don't have a very clear idea of the history, it seems like CC takes a "copyleft" (like GNU GPL) approach to "hack" a very different problem. Where free software "hacks" an understanding of the collaborative nature of software and the ability to tweak software into copyright law, CC "hacks" an understanding of digital distribution and post-scarcity digital reality into copyright law. Similar, particularly on first blanch, but underneath? Maybe not as much.


These conferences are intended to be very adhoc and tend to provide very open access to organizational information and participation. While these conferences aren't anarchist in the contemporary sense, they practice openness in a way that resonates at least a little with the free software/open source movement.

Not-For Profits/Community Organizations

I'm thinking of things like BucketWorks. While NFPs aren't a new things, I think increasingly they'll be connected with the logic of open source. There are a lot of "businesses" that I think will never be capable of generating a huge return, (coffee shops, yarn stores, book stores,) that I think will be more likely to operate in an "open source" manner, lead by communities, with "business" decisions being made by the community of users.

Wiki Projects

While I'm not sure if wiki projects, like wikipedia and wikitravel are truly the non-software equivelents to open source/free software; their collaborative nature is familiar. There's something about Wikis that inspire their editors and contributors to be "exhaustive" in a way that I don't think shares much with open source and it's centralization on Unix-like systems.

Free Culture

Really this is another huge category, to my mind it represents the "activist" types who "port" some of the ideas about software freedom to other domains, like music, or art, or writing. Tends to be explicitly ideological rather than keep the implicit/quasi-agnosticism that free software itself often has.

Crypto-anarchists/Security Researchers

Having top-to-bottom control over the software you run on your computer would seem to appeal to the paranoid and cryptographically informed set. There's obviously a lot of overlap with the typical software freedom hacker here, but I think the reason for using open source software (and other related tools) is distinct.


I include this because I think it's important to note an important distinction. While I think many "software freedom" people would argue that leftists/radicals/revolutionaries would use free software because it might embody the freedom that their fighting for, I think it's probably more realistic to expect that said revolutionaries would use open source tools because it is more available and powerful. Not that this argument is of consequence. I include "revolutionaries" in this list because it's different from other rationale.

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