equality

It’s accepted wisdom that all men are created equal. A lot of people derive from this the idea that all people should be treated equally and have the same rights. It’s the basis for democracy after all. As such, many communities strive to achieve equality and even set it as their explicit goal.

However, in recent times there were two cases that made me doubt in equality as a good goal for any community. The first was the discussion about Fedora’s target audience, in particular defining the target as someone who “is likely to collaborate [...] with Fedora” which excludes a whole lot of lazy or uninterested people. The other is Lefty’s surveys where nobody wondered that the surveys assume everyone’s opinion is equally important.

Then there are a lot of places where not having equality is normal and everybody would look at you funny if you were to advocate it. Meritocracy is a very positive world in the open source development communities for example. It’s a known fact that the maintainer decides which patches go in and which don’t. (audio of the talk) So what’s the right way here?

I had a discussion about this with my girlfriend and we found a lot of similar places in the real world where groups wanted to appeal to everyone and ended up being unrecognizable from everyone surrounding them: The Greens for example became just another party without any differences. Apple is in the process of losing it’s style – you’re not special anymore if you have an iPhone or an iPod – everybody has one. And Google does evil these days. All of them saw an increase in “market share” in the process though.

So it seems that in the end it all comes down to this: Is it worth giving up one’s values for more market share?

I personally think everybody who tries to be inclusive is betraying his foundations and original goals. I’m not goint to call it “sells their soul”, because it sounds cheesy, but that’s how it feels to me. So GNOME, please do not give up requesting Freedom. And Fedora, please continue to target the people involved in being bleeding edge. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

12 comments ↓

#1 twilightomni on 01.17.10 at 16:39

I think you may reach another conclusion. Do not give up thinking about this issue.

Your very assumption that being special is special, for example, could be challenged, and is not universally held.

Both “the status quo” and “the special” can themselves be part of a continuous process of redefining society that helps to elevate everyone. To strictly say “I want this [segment] to stay elitist forever” would, in this idea, be inappropriate.

#2 Luis on 01.17.10 at 17:02

Eep, the slides still exist… not sure why that directory is returning a 404. I’ll dig them up.

#3 ethana2 on 01.17.10 at 17:03

Is it worth giving up one’s values for more market share?

Yes, if it were possible. But if you still believe what you believe, you’ve given up nothing, and in growing your community, you broaden your exposure.

Embrace proprietary software.
Use it to extend your own.
Extinguish by culture.

We have the advantage here because most people are already used to getting everything digital for free. When they come to us, we won’t push them away for it. The economy is always going to favor the cheaper option, and you know what they say– you can’t beat free.
And it’s true.

So don’t worry about that happening, because it won’t.

Cater to whoever is going to give you the most market share the fastest. It’s not a matter of people using completely free software or slightly less free software. It’s matter of people using mostly free software or Windows/Mac, which are in sum nearly completely proprietary. Don’t make Free Software a religion, or it’s biggest barrier to success will be you.

#4 Luis on 01.17.10 at 17:36

http://tieguy.org/talks-files/GUADEC-2003-GNOME_organization_and_volunteering.sxi has the slides for the talk.

#5 otte on 01.17.10 at 17:52

Thanks Luis. I updated the post with the link.

#6 Jos on 01.17.10 at 21:41

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, [...]”
What rubbish! Everybody is different. There are no two people that are equal.

#7 Sumana Harihareswara on 01.18.10 at 01:29

The words “equality” and “inclusive” can be easy to misinterpret. Advocates often use them as a softer way of saying “don’t be sexist/racist/etc.” and “let’s give due consideration to people we’re inadvertently leaving out.” Perhaps you are misreading this suggestion as greed for market share, or conflating cowardice with the intention and practice of thoughtful inclusivity.

Yes, it is an important principle that all people deserve to be treated equally *by the law*, and as an ideal to reach toward, it’s laudable. However, it’s a straw-man argument to suggest that advocates for equality and inclusion propose that all seven billion people’s opinions should have equal relevance in every endeavor and choice.

Every organization has a specific mission, such as “change the government’s policies to improve the environment” or “maintain an excellent Linux distribution with cutting-edge innovations.” This is its “value proposition,” in US English. It embodies some of its core values. The Fedora project is indeed facing a tension between its value proposition and one facet of inclusivity — suitability for novice users. But there are many other aspects to inclusivity and an interest in equality, such as accessibility, nonsexist language, university outreach, and documentation. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

You may also be interested in http://geekfeminism.org/2009/11/29/questioning-the-merit-of-meritocracy/ for thoughts on meritocracy in FLOSS.

By the way: It’s unclear why the simple fact that more and more consumers own Apple products means their products are less stylish to you. Don’t the objects still merge form and function just as they would if fewer people own them? If you simply find any good product unstylish as soon as a certain proportion of the population starts to benefit from it, that strikes me as needlessly snobbish, and implies a misanthropy that will permanently be opposed to even the least controversial inclusivity initiatives.

#8 nicu on 01.18.10 at 07:19

I agree with what you say, still I see at Fedora a tendency or what I call “dumbing down” the distro, all the focus put on an as simple as possible Desktop Spin as default, in a desperate try to catch to Ubuntu’s popularity. Fortunately, there are other areas in the projects that balance this…

Also, this “we are not equal” concept, while true, it *may* become dangerous *if* it leads to arrogance and blinds some developers/maintainers to points of view disagreeing with their own (we, humans, are prone to that).

#9 nicu on 01.18.10 at 10:21

@Sumana: you got the wrong idea about “equality” and “inclusive”, is not about feminism, is about a category of users who proved to be a high burden of the developers and support: those who know very little about computers and are NOT open to learn. Very often, trying to increase the market share the applications are designed to make them happy, with the cost of making unhappy the advanced users, those who are (or agr going to become) contributors.

I saw this idea, and it resonated to me, about FLOSS/Linux advocacy: why should I lose my time and energy preaching Linux to people who do not care about it, freedom, technology or community? I could surely spend the effort in a more productive way.

#10 ethana2 on 01.18.10 at 10:37

Free Software can be sold. I paid good money for my Ubuntu Dell laptop, and some of it went to Canonical. If we can replace Windows as the OS that everyone uses, we will gain what’s left of its revenue stream.

#11 FLOSS inclusivity: pragmatic, voluntary, empowering, joyous | Geek Feminism Blog on 01.22.10 at 20:17

[...] Connor’s “Diversity at what cost?” and Benjamin Otte’s blog post on equality got me thinking about the backlash against diversity and outreach initiatives in open source. [...]

#12 otte on 01.22.10 at 21:33

Sumana: I commented on your blog about most of the things, but one thing left: I don’t think Apple would be perceived as “stylish” if it was as common-place as Windows, even if the computers and OS looked exactly the same. Jeans probably were stylish at some point, too. But it will not be the fashion of the year for a long time to come, just because everyone already has one.