When all I seem to do is bitch, bitch, bitch

Twitter / Daniel Dura: I guess that now Adobe isn't open sourcing things in the 'right way'. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. http://is.gd/1GUJh

Ok, so I see it now. It’s not like I didn’t have some notion of it before, but now it’s really obvious.

It would seem as though I’ve become one of those mean and despised open source nut-case curmudgeons with nothing nice to say.

How soon we forget the lessons our mothers taught us.

While constructive criticism is essential for keeping in context the various actions and decisions of industry players, consistently taking on the role of the negative creep just doesn’t jive with the more powerful approach of positive reinforcement. Just because I’m personally disappointed or disagree with someone’s decision doesn’t mean that my way is right, nor does it mean I’ve got all the facts that I need in order to deliver a credible critique. Worse, all this negativity just gets people’s backs up — reinforcing the very walls that I’ve been trying to tear down!

Case in point?

Writing for CNET, Open Road columnist Matt Asay cites my post on Adobe’s Open Source Media Framework to demonstrate how open source advocates (acolytes?) are potentially doing more harm than good with their vitriolic complaints:

Sigh. In open source, no good deed goes unpunished. There is no greater enemy to open source than itself.

[...]

…why would anyone expect Microsoft and its ilk to continue to court a community that ridicules and second-guesses its every attempt at perestroika? I know from conversations with several companies that they’re actually scared to engage the open-source community because the responses have been so intemperate and ideological.

I’m convinced that this element of the open-source community, vocal and sometimes vicious, is a minority. I’m equally convinced that we’d better off if this enemy within would spend more time analyzing its own behavior rather than shouting down the supposed “mudbloods” of open source.

But it’s not just Matt that made this point. In personal conversations and on Twitter… it’s clear that my rhetoric, though well-intentioned (in my mind), is perhaps missing the mark and needs an attitudinal adjustment. Furthermore — to Matt’s point — other people in open source that I respect have called me out on it — people like Alex Russell:

Reading your post makes me grumpy as someone who’s spent nearly all of his career building Open Source products. It makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that everyone else who choses a set of licensing terms *does so for the same reasons that you do*. It’s human nature to assume that others can and do share your perspective, but it’s as often wrong in software as it tends to be in other aspects of life.

“open washing”? “anti-community”? WTF?

The good arguments for OSS are economic…and your critique doesn’t begin to address Adobe (or anyone else’s) moves in that context. The code is MPL. The community process is likely not 100%, and together those things will define who *else* invests in this code. MPL is a fine license. That investment will determine if (and for whom) this announcement is good. Trying to tar Adobe for not being sufficiently slavish in their devotion to a cause that they can’t *ever* get on board with (economically speaking) seems…strange. Why bother?

And he’s right. Why bother ranting on for 1100+ words when the intended target is going to end up feeling bruised and angry, if they don’t just walk away altogether?

A much more civil tone could perchance reach the intended audience as well as a wider audience — and be replayed across many contexts beyond this blog’s readership: a wider, and therefore more valuable, contribution.

Though it’s no consolation, I am at least an equal-opportunity curmudgeon. I’ve poked Mozilla in the eye just as I have Microsoft. Adobe and Opera were only the most recent in a long line of targets that I’ve besmirched. When I write these tirades, in my head my intention is to inform and elucidate — trying to achieve contrast, if not through provocation. But without counterbalancing my complaints with some positivity from time to time, it just ends up sounding grating and unhelpful. And that’s something that I clearly need to work on.

So Matt, Alex, Ryanothers — message received. Perhaps this little personal intervention will lead to a more constructive approach to the challenge of evangelizing open source, while promoting and highlighting the aspects of it that I think are being forgotten as it becomes a more mainstream concept.

Of course there has been great progress made recently by the most unlikely of industry players — and for that, they should be praised and acknowledged. Never one to be satisfied (especially in my own endeavors), maybe I’ve just assumed that I need to stay up on the offensive, even as things have shifted. I mean, perhaps we have made so much progress that this new narrative that I keep talking about is necessary — and that continuing to fight when the battle’s been won risks alienation and undoing much of the progress that’s been made!

If I really believe that “this can all be made better”, perhaps I should recognize when it finally has?

13 Comments

  1. Alex Choi said
    at 5pm on Jul 22nd # |

    I’m glad to hear you’ve made this self realization. I’ve enjoyed hearing you speak, your tweets, and blog posts, but I got a bit down seeing your vitriol at Bar camp (aimed at a hapless Mozilla employee who had nothing to do with XUL runner) and the overly negative tweets.

    Yay for self reflection. I look forward to hearing more from the “new” factory joe.

  2. Todd said
    at 6pm on Jul 22nd # |

    Oh hells no. Do not stop calling people out Chris. They want to wear us down, hope that we’ll shut open and go “Oh, I guess that’s good enough.” If anything you need to write posts like the open washing ones, and the opera one, *more* frequently!

    “Complacency is the enemy of us all!” –President Barack Obama commencement speech to Arizona State University graduating class Students.

  3. Jens Alfke said
    at 7pm on Jul 22nd # |

    To be honest, your previous post didn’t succeed in making me understand _why_ Adobe’s new scheme isn’t “real” open source. You seemed to take that as a given, and devoted the post to saying why it’s bad, without going into the reasoning of what exactly is bad.

  4. at 7pm on Jul 22nd # |

    Perhaps a bit lighter or collaborative but don’t let an ounce of you stop caring about the subject.

    I love reading the passion.

  5. at 8pm on Jul 22nd # |

    Chris, I’ve been a long time reader of Factory Joe and am truly a fan for your contribution to open source and the computing community in general. Let me congratulate you on the fine contributions as well as this huge self realization.

    I’ve always thought that rants were the best offensive, but now have come to realize that rants rarely get things done beyond irate others and breed negativity. I love the fact that more and more people are realizing this and am hoping that such positive affirmations would make the internet a place for open, rational and thoughtful discussions as opposed to the vitriolic diatribes that it often ends up being.

    All the best to “new” factory joe.

  6. at 11pm on Jul 22nd # |

    I agree that it’s important to recognize when someone makes progress towards openness. But it’s also important to distinguish progress from completion. Too much praise for half-measures can ensure that half-measures are all we get.

    Alex is a great guy but, at least at the moment, he’s not buying into the vision of a fully-open-source Web platform, where the users really have control of their own software. And it’s possible he’s correct: as I understand his position, it’s that end-user, mass-market software usability requires a level of centralized control that’s incompatible with the kind of unfettered user freedom to fork that open-source licenses necessarily provide. It’s a plausible position, and I could be wrong when I work toward a goal including both high usability and high autonomy.

    But it’s important to remember that *Alex’s* reasons for supporting openness may not be the same as yours, *either*. His vision of where to go may not be the same as yours. It may be something that’s more clearly achievable, but less desirable.

    If the implications of your post are actually *correct*, and Adobe is in fact leaving itself scope to sue Mozilla if Mozilla incorporates code and codecs from Adobe’s supposedly MPLed work, then that’s something that needs to be brought up and kept continually in view until it’s resolved. It doesn’t need you to make accusations of bad faith, but it needs to be discussed. Don’t apologize for that.

  7. at 3am on Jul 23rd # |

    Nice post, Chris! I appreciate the transparency…

  8. at 5am on Jul 23rd # |

    Some good rules to live by. With that said, keep up the good work.

  9. Arvind said
    at 3pm on Jul 23rd # |

    really interesting and transparent. I recently realized I was similar in my interactions (mostly offline) and somehow stumbled on to Dale Carnegie’s book – “How to win friends and influence people” and as old-fashioned as the title sounds (the book is many decades old), it is an amazing book. I really recommend it especially as it might be related to your current realization.

    I wish I could be as open and transparent about trying to change my style. This post is inspiring to me personally, coz of that.

  10. at 9am on Jul 24th # |

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for sharing your change of heart. It really gives me hope. Sorry if I came off as too direct before…my message was partially a reaction to your post and partially a result of years of pent-up frustration at the OSS circular firing squad.

    For what it’s worth, Kragen is right. I no longer am a “true believer” in the OSS cause, but I’m still a big fan of the effects that well-practiced community software development can achieve. I think most folks who’ve done OSS for a while will agree that licensing is a small part of what makes a project truly open — a point that your original post gets at. Part of my personal shift in perspective stems from a realization that choices are neither free nor do they always represent statistically positive opportunities. If the art of UX design seems diametrically opposed to OSS development on some fundamental level, this is the reason. Making “good” choices requires context and information that, as often as not, isn’t widely available. For end-users, the ability to make changes in a C/C++/Python/Ruby/JS code-base is no choice at all. It simply doesn’t represent an enfranchisement at a level which is distinguishable from paying somebody to fix something. Now, it might *make a market* for changes (which is one of the things I like about OSS), but that’s not always the case either. Put another way, the more you empathize with people who are less like developers, the less that something being OSS “matters” in any instantaneous sense. Good governance and market forces, though…those things transcend licensing but are affected by it. So OSS in my view matters, but not as a question of good vs. evil.

    Kragen suggests that the endpoint I work towards may be “less desirable”, and I suppose that from his perspective as an enfranchised part of the OSS world — a developer who can make “good” choices when handed source code — that might be true. What I care about are the larger social levers of change that OSS helps to drive: better allocation of capital to problems that matter, the ability to change the world for the better with information faster, etc. That’s about enfranchising people who *aren’t* developers…a view that doesn’t point a bright path towards an absolute good. Instead, it helps distinguish progress from back-sliding by answering the broader questions of “for who?” and “at what price?”.

    In that world, I’m happy to be “right-ish” and will gladly debate anyone on the mechanics of progress. In that sense, Kragen’s also right that there’s stuff left to talk about WRT the Adobe announcement.

    Regards

  11. at 2pm on Jul 24th # |

    Bitch, bitch, bitchin is our God-given right! But it doesn’t always get us the results we intended. Sure, we may feel better about it at the moment, but all too often it invokes regret and two aspirin in the morning.

    Yet sometimes that is exactly what the world needs — smack-down, called to the mat, black ‘n blue upside the face, called-me-out-cause-I-deserve-it bitchin’!!!!

    Still, that crazy balance of life often let’s us accomplish even more with tact and being polite; or better yet: tactful politeness.

    Balance. I suspect as time goes on that you, Chris, will increasingly weild that balance like a sword — to all of our benefit!!!! Bitchin’ included!

    Keep on rockin’ dude!

    — Steve Repetti
    http://www.radwebtech.com

  12. at 5pm on Jul 24th # |

    Bitch, bitch, bitchin is our God-given right! But it doesn’t always get us the results we intended. Sure, we may feel better about it at the moment, but all too often it invokes regret and two aspirin in the morning.

    Yet sometimes that is exactly what the world needs — smack-down, called to the mat, black ‘n blue upside the face, called-me-out-cause-I-deserve-it bitchin’!!!!

    Still, that crazy balance of life often let’s us accomplish even more with tact and being polite; or better yet: tactful politeness.

    Balance. I suspect as time goes on that you, Chris, will increasingly weild that balance like a sword — to all of our benefit!!!! Bitchin’ included!

    Keep on rockin’ dude!

  13. Einar said
    at 1pm on Jul 28th # |

    Bravo…the change is good.

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