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Alex "Skud" Bayley.
derStandard.at: In your talk at this years GUADEC you mentioned that Open Source at some point just won. But did its philosophy really win, or is it just successful because it is a more efficient way to produce code?
Alex Bayley: I think it is a combination of both. Part of it is that it had the best products, for instance Apache has been far and away the best web server for most purposes, so that's just what you used - there was no question about this. But I think at some point people also started to realize that some of the ideas behind open source had a meaningful use in business environments. For instance with security: If you look at the way Linux handled security 10 years ago in comparison to something like Windows NT it was really clear that Open Source not just happened to be better but there was something fundamental that made it better.
derStandard.at: With something like Android, would you say that it still is an open project in the classic sense?
Alex Bayley: I'm a bit opinionated about Google's stuff. Google has problems with openness. And I try to be careful what I say here, because I know there is a lot of really good people working on open source stuff at Google who really care about what they are doing. But Google fundamentally is trying to make money for its shareholders and it's a really big company.
One of the odd things about Google: If someone from the Open Source community gets hired by Google they basically disappear - and this happened to me too. The interesting thing about it is: From the point of view of the person they are still doing open source work, but there are so many people inside Google to talk about it, that they get everything they need inside Google. You know the science-fiction concept of having your brain uploaded to a computer and then you live in a simulation of the real world? Going to work for Google is a bit like this.
They have things like their own newsgroups, they have IRC channels for different programming languages or different technologies. So if you want to talk about python programming you join the python IRC channel on an internal Google server. And there will be a heap of people you can talk about Python there, so it feels like you are still being active in a community. But really it's all just happening inside Google.
Having said that: I'm not very familiar with Android, but from what I've heard I think it's arguable how open it really is.
derStandard.at: You also mentioned that open projects are something inherently political as they all challenge the status quo. Do older movements - like open source - tend to forget this?
Alex Bayley: I think that is true, and that's also one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about it here at the conference. Seeing people in our movement who are also radically open about other things can be really inspiring. I have some friends who are just taking their philosophy, taking their politics into everything from the software they develop to the communities they form. I think more of us should be like them.
derStandard.at: Could you give an example of an open project you found particularily surprising or inspiring to see?
Alex Bayley: Online fan communities are the ones that I think have enormous potential and enormous power at the moment. If you look at the way fan participation is growing, we're not passive consumers anymore - and we're becoming less and less passive. Some of that activity is structured by corporations, you have things like shows where they give you text message numbers to vote on things. But I love seeing the grassroots participation that isn't dictated by the television companies, where people are making their own fan activities. There is people who organize conventions, there is people who make videos, people making computer games, writing fan fiction, making art, making toys. Whatever it is - they are all engaging with popular culture in all these ways.
Which is quite often frowned upon the media corporations. The media corporations don't want you to make your own Star Wars T-Shirt. And yet if we are doing that, we are expressing our love for Star Wars or Dr. Who or whatever it is we are into. But also I think a lot of this fan activity is engaging critically and actually talking back to the media, saying "Here is my view, you've done it wrong" or "I wish that would have happened".
So we're seeing more and more of this. With the internet this "rise of the geek" has happened. And all that ties in a lot with the idea of an open and free culture, of sharing and using the internet to facilitate these communities. Fandom has been around since years, I knew a lot of people who were "Dr. Who-Fans in 80ies and did stuff on Usenet, but the scope of it is so much bigger now. And the cultural importance is als so much bigger now. And that's been fascinating to me, to become aware of that world, to become involved.
derStandard.at: If we look at the open projects you mentioned, most of those seem to be run by people in a privileged position. Would you agree to that observation? And do you know of projects which don't fit into this pattern?
Alex Bayley: I always think about this in terms of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs", a concept from psychology. It's a triangle and at the bottom there are the things you need to live. Air, water, warmth. And then it gets to the things you need slightly less like food or sleep, which you can go a couple of days without. And further up the things get less and less necessary, but you have to satisfy the things at the bottom to be able to satisfy the stuff further up. And as it gets to the top, the peak of the triangle is something called "Self-actualization", and I think a lot of the open communities we are moving in are dealing at that top of the triangle. We are mostly not dealing with stuff at the bottom. So the more privileged you are the more likely you are to be involved.
If you look at some of the movements that are doing things like making an open hardware design for a water purifier - those open communities deal a lot more with people in a position of less privilege. Also privilege is relative. I give you the example of a black girls workshop that's going on. So we are talking about black women who on two axes of privilege are in a less privileged position than we white people or men in most societies. So there are groups working on things that aren't all about the "white men" but that's definitely something we have to keep working on.
derStandard.at: Do you have some advice on how to broaden the reach of such open projects, be more inclusive?
Alex Bayley: In order to answer that question what we really need is for members of our communities to become aware of social justice issues. And a lot of people are resistant to that because they are too busy coding, they don't want to get into politics. Also there is sort-of a natural defensiveness when you say to someone "Hey, you are in a position of privilege, can you step back a bit and let some other people have some opportunities" that is very hard to break through. And I think the way to break through it is a very long one and it means understanding social justice principles.
A couple of years ago there was a big debate about "race" and racism in science-fiction and it told me a lot about social justice and racism. And one of the most important things I heard there over and over again was to listen to people and actually believe what they say. And that sounds obvious, but often it's really not. Like when I say "We have a problem with harassment in the Open Source community" and a guy will say to me "Well - I've never seen it happen" and I'm like "Listen to me I have lived the experience, I was there", so my opinion matters. He can't just blow past me and say that I shouldn't be listened too. And if we all could just do that - that would make an enormous change.
I'm talking here about all the different "isms" like racism or sexism, but this also account to bug reports. That sort of immediate "Works for me" or "Won't fix" and closing a bug reaction is wrong. This person is having a real problem so let's listen to them. We need to slow down and pay attention - and give credit to them for their experience. Because they are usually not idiots, so why don't we trust them?
derStandard.at: In your keynote at OSCON at 2009 you did a keynote on women in Open source which showed at huge gender gap. Did the situation improve since then?
Alex Bayley: I think a few things have changed since 2009. It was actually a bit before that that I set up the Geekfeminism Wiki. And the reason I set it up was that I wasn't very good at feminism, I didn't have much knowledge or experience, I didn't know the language. I agreed in principle but really didn't know how to talk about it. And my immediate reaction always is: When I'm using a system and I don't understand it I want to document it. So my intention was to document Feminism as I explored it in a way that would be useful for women in open source and technology or in science fiction fandom - all these "geeky" areas.
And a few of the things we did at the Geekfeminism Wiki I think have really made a difference. The main one I would say is this timeline of incidents that we started doing in - I think - 2008 or 2009. Whenever something happens, whenever someone gets harassed at a conference, whenever a company gets strippers for one of their conferences - and all those things, we make a list of them. Often when something like this happens people will say "This is just an isolated incident". So being able to say "Actually: No" and having the list has made a real difference on how people perceive these things. And as soon as people realize this is a systemic problem they start to address it in another way.
The other thing of significance that has come out of that is the Ada Initiative and the work they have been doing on conference policies. And there is now over a hundred conferences that use a policy based on the Ada Initiative / Geekfeminism sample policy. I know for myself when coming to these conferences I'm always a little nervous about harassment issues. Especially after I gave the talk at OSCON I experienced a lot of harassment. I got people sending me some really nasty emails, I got death threats, stalkers, I lost a lot of friends who just thought I was a bitch. I also found a lot of new friends - which is better. But for a while attending a conference didn't feel very safe to me. So to come to a conference where I know people have been told that such a behaviour is not acceptable and if something does happen I know who to contact is very reassuring.
We've seen a lot of conferences with vastly increased numbers of women. GUADEC this year is at 17% and we are very happy about that. There's Open Source Bridge in Portland, Oregon - which is a very good conference with lots of awareness about this stuff - which had like a third or even more women. And all sorts of other conferences see this too. So I'd like to think that all this has had a triple-down effect.
derStandard.at: What do you think about GNOME's "Outreach Program for Women"?
Alex Bayley: What is different about the GNOME program compared to all the other Women in Open Source things I have seen is that it is very results-based and very practical, very much focused on getting work done to further GNOME's goals. And the impression I get is that nobody argues against that, they are like "Great - we've got more people doing stuff - all good". Whereas with a lot of Women in Open Source things historically - especially 10 or 5 years ago - the default thing to do would be to start a women's group. But those groups often don't have a goal or a focus, it's all very indirect and fuzzy. And the GNOME Outreach Program says: "Here is this thing we'll do, there will be fixed time schedule, there will be an end result" - and then people will really get into it.
(Andreas Proschofsky, derStandard.at, 02.09.12)
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