Saturday, April 29, 2006

FOSS Advocacy: Idealistic vs Realistic

Nice its finally Saturday and have some time to spare to summarize my thoughts of the past days events which I haven't had the decent time to tend to. After reviewing what has transpired and was written, I think it would be best to shed some light to the matter. Not to mention a bunch of emails that I have gotten due to the write up, which goes as far as saying my views falls under "false advocacy". Good thing a good number of them was enlightened enough to see my point.

To begin with, I wouldn't go into great lengths to quote some people here. Aside from a thing called respect, I think doing that can easily be mis-construed as a personal attack. Much more name specific individuals or groups, as the aim is to constructively critique an alarmingly growing local perception or attitude in advocating FOSS. Besides, the sporadic number of white hair instances on my head reminds me that the basic principle: "Your freedom ends where my nose begins" applies very much in situations like blogs, where you are presenting your article to a public audience. In contrast to mailling lists where you are addressing the group or replying to an individual directly. While its fair to say you have the freedom to say what you want because its your blog, I guess it fairly applies when you talk about yourself. It's a different scenario when you quote other people.

Actually, its all about my ongoing observation on one of the major obstacles in widespread FOSS adoption (especially on the local scene), which is the need to enlighten the FOSS advocates themselves, that approaches/pedagogies MATTERS A LOT.

Lets brainstorm this a little. :)

The background:

Somebody communicated that there is an urgent need for a resource person for a 2 day Linux crash course. There was a suggestion that of that 2 day crash training, 1 day be spent introducing the unix shell and toolset on the premise that GNU/Linux core system is Unix. The audience/participants: selected officials from selected municipalities on a relatively agricultural region. For short, obviously the not so technically savvy. But perhaps have enough interest and willing to spend their precious time to know more about Linux.

And since from the start I had expressed my opinions to the group regarding the Simplicity vs Complexity approach in FOSS advocacy and implementation, that suggestion triggered the simpleton in me. I asked if the 1 day intro to shells or toolset would still be relevant. And explained that, would the case be that the audience are CS geeks, they might find CLI's (shells) naturally sexy. But in this case, the intended audience might find that a bit unattractive, get traumatized and probably get the wrong impression that FOSS is complicated and not meant for the non-techie specie. More so, spending a day for that, when probably just a sweep would do. And rather just spend more time on other FOSS components that would serve the audience's needs, probably currently served by commercial alternatives.

I also mentioned that this is a common mistake that I seem to observe. And that FOSS is on a state that it can be possibly used by the average user (like the target audience mentioned above). Also that it might best to show them its as easy to use as commercial alternatives.

Of course, I was just pitching in my thoughts as the event was obviously over, with the aim to have it as a suggestion to the group to take into consideration on similar events.

The rebuttal:

Not surprisingly, some did not agree on this common mistake. And pointed out that the mistake is advocating FOSS as a mere alternative. I agree on not advocating it as a "mere" alternative. I however do not agree on ignoring the fact that it is an alternative (a damn good alternative I might add). Arrogantly dismissing that the number of users whose current needs is served by commercial alternatives greatly outnumber those who are already on the FOSS pool (swimming or chillin'), greatly needs "A Grip On Reality (TM)".

Things to ponder:

WE must not forget the reason why there is a need to advocate something: We want to publicly recommend and inform other people of this thing we genuinely believe in. With that in mind you need effective strategies for your message to get thru. Yes, thats right, for greater impact and long term success the goal should be to lean on the side of effectivity rather than efficiency. And I think that focusing and taking into consideration simplicity as an advocacy strategy would be more effective than unnecessarily bringing complexity too early in the process.

Lets look at the difference between the two (effective vs efficient) thru some examples in reference to the target users mentioned above.

It would be EFFICIENT to cover just a little bit of everything of FOSS to this group of users. You discuss the plethora of available OS options, how CLI's can titillate the wet corners of the mind, the different ways applications are packaged and installed, different desktop shells (GNOME, KDE, XFCE, Enlightenment etc), the sheer power to have your own web server running on your desktop and the things you can do with it, awesome selection of programming tools etc., etc,. After all, choice is good. This is the FOSS pool, made of technically superior high tech components than your previous commercial pool, entirely different. Efficient, because you covered a lot in a relatively short period of time.

It would be EFFECTIVE on the other hand to focus more on the things that the user would care about or would serve his current needs. Capitalizing on their existing knowledge of commercial alternatives and showing them what they can do on it can also be done with FOSS components. Hopefully, in an easier more better way than the user is accustomed to. This is the FOSS pool, you can still do what you were accustomed to on your previous commercial pool, an added bonus, if you take time to learn its features (the choice is yours) you will soon discover there's a lot more you can do with this pool without your pocket screaming for pain.

In summary:

There is nothing wrong with enticing users by showing them that FOSS has its simple side too, that is not a deception. Unless the advocate feels otherwise, or deep inside he really thinks FOSS has nothing to offer. The world is complicated as it is, you cannot accelerate adoption if at the entry point, what you are showing screams of complexity. Its by no means denying the user the freedom and potential of looking within FOSS. Its about bringing FOSS to the user in the first place so that he has the opportunity to see the potential within.

Neither it is wrong to show them that FOSS is an alternative. That is accepting reality. That is being humble. FOSS was made possible by standing on the shoulders of giants, which like it or not, some of this giants are powered by the commercial sector. Zealotry and bigotry should go to /dev/null as it poses the biggest obstacle in bridging the gap between FOSS loving techies and the non-techie crowd. Hence greatly hindering adoption.

I think FOSS advocacy can be more effective if we take these things into consideration. The learning curve doesn't have to be so steep. It wouldn't hurt FOSS to make himself presentable when introducing them to newbies either. Simplicity is the key.

Friday, April 28, 2006


One of the things I realized this past few days:

Enlightening other people is really hard. Simply because some people can not tolerate the light.

Well that's reality I guess. No choice but to deal with it.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Different Worlds

Take control of your mind...
Because we are living in different worlds...