The Kerala experience

[Stefan Merten of Oekonux wrote an interesting report of a free software conference in India. Here is the post]

I’m just on the way back home from this great conference which took place in Thiruvananthapuram in the state of Kerala / India. I must say I’m really deeply impressed. I would wish that Free Software including things like Oekonux says would have that backing in Germany / Europe / industrialized countries!

Right now while we are struggling hard to find funding for our 4th conference I came to a place where the best hotel in town has been made not only the place for the conference but also gave a great temporary home for some of the speakers. That’s all possible because the state of Kerala employs an impressingly firm and decided Free Software strategy. Therefore obviously the government is ready to pay for such a conference including lunch and tea breaks and dinners…

And not only this. The Chief Minister of the State of Kerala were present during the inaugural session and addressed the audience and emphasized the necessity of Free Software and other Free knowledge resources. During the final session the chief of the opposition were present.

And if I then think of the press coverage this conference got in some standard news papers. It is really amazing! But not only the conference got news coverage. In the Sunday paper — i.e. before the conference and not related to it — there were also an article about a Free Dictionary for North-East Indian languages. They really mean it!

The conference itself was really two conferences in one. There were a technology track and a policy/culture track — though culture were not really there. I don’t know for sure but I think the conference participants also split between these two tracks. I for one attended none of the technology presentations. There were also 450+ registered participants — so it was really a rather big event.

During personal conversations I learned that in Kerala many are interested in not only the technology but also in the possible philosophical / societal meeting.

But what really amazed me most that the things Oekonux started to talk about nearly 10 years ago at least in Kerala slowly become an accepted idea. The potential of peer production is seen by many — though I still think what we do here is quite elaborated in this regard. In fact the talk I gave (which is heavily revised compared to the version I sent here) was welcomed by a couple of people afterwards.

I really would conclude that much of the potential of the whole peer production movement meanwhile moved to places like Kerala. This opinion I share for instance with Juan-Carlos (Hipatia) who also names South America here. I even thought that Thiruvananthapuram could be a place for the 5th Oekonux Conference. May be in the form of some partnership…

What also surprised me that the conference was attended by a relatively high share of women. I took a few samples and would guess about 25%. And in sharp contrast to the majority of women I see on German Free Software conferences these women were not the female part of a couple. However, the gender distribution of the speakers was as usual.

Of course there were a couple of interesting speakers including Eben Moglen, Richard Stallman, Jimmy Wales, Neville Roy Singham (ThoughtWorks). Michel Bauwens and Adam Arvidsson gave talks, too.

For me the best of all talks were the keynote of Eben Moglen. I’ll give some key aspects of it below. First I’d like to share two things:

  • Custom software is not proprietary software: Richard Stallman said that custom software — i.e. software written for a fixed customer with no plans to publish it, often created in-house — is not proprietary software. The reason is that it is not published. I found this separation quite interesting. It also reminds me of the discussions we had about the (exchange) value of software. Graham? StefanMz?
  • What about Oekonux when there is still 50% agriculture? I mean that is not really a new question but in India it was impossible to ignore: What does Oekonux theory has to say for a country where more than 50% are still doing agriculture and even a still quite high level of subsistence economy. Good question indeed. What I understood from the talks given is that at the moment Free Software helps people to create a more transparent market — for instance by knowing the price of a certain agricultural product in the neighbor city. Well, I’d agree that in a situation like Kerala Free Software is probably better suited to do the job but then this is only a modernization step on the way to integrate in capitalism better.

Keynote by Eben Moglen

  • Freedom in computing => freedom in society
    • Idea of Richard Stallman
  • Computers are ubiquitous
    • Computers „control“ our lives
    • Thus it’s crucial that we are able to control them
  • Sharing is crucial to humans
  • E-mail connected Eben to the world
    • `Internet is the name of a social condition` instead of a technology
    • Because connections are so important it is crucial that they run Free Software
  • `We want people never to be thirsty for things which are useful`
    • Make possible that everyone can develop according to her abilities
  • Success story of Wikipedia
    • British encyclopedia criticized for mistakes
    • But mistakes are fixed by everyone
    • Wikipedia reported about Virginia school shooting
    • Created recognition by even the New York Times
    • New York Times accepted that Wikipedia were better in this regard
  • Errors are no news to software
    • Best software on earth is the goal of Free Software
  • Free Software changed the world
    • There are differences in Free Software, encyclopedia, music, journalism
    • Important: Free Software proved that things can be done in Free mode
  • Revolution:
    • Knowledge is cheap
    • Knowledge no longer controlled by someone
  • And all by declaring freedoms
    • Not rules, and „ifs“
    • Only exception: If you take you have to share also
  • Meanwhile: Important for governments
    • Everywhere — but in USA
    • Barack Obama knows, that the net elected him
    • `Free government is impossible without Free Software`
  • `We are not only a community of freedom fighters – we are coming to power`
    • `We need to grow up`
    • Things are changing
  • Communities are crucial in 21st century
    • Products need community nowadays
    • We are changing the meaning of products, networks, …
  • Still there are some limitations
    • Such as software patents
    • But we are powerful because of good ideas
    • Still there are limitations angering us
    • No longer enough to protest against these limitations
    • Now we need to find solutions for these limitations by inviting things
    • Make new Free offerings
  • In the past we had to apologize for „free as in beer“
    • `Free as in beer is not a bad thing in the next few years` because of financial crisis
    • Offering knowledge for zero price
    • Not a small achievement
    • Start of a new era
  • We are in power meanwhile
    • No single person in power
    • Rather the community is powerful
    • „Servant of the servants“ (pope) is and should be our mode
    • That is why we are powerful
    • `Proof of concept plus running code — that’s our revolution`
    • We have to think for the future of mankind
  • That is a heavy responsibility
    • If we mess up „they“ will take over again and this historical opportunity will vanish
    • So we need to use power wisely
    • `We don’t need to change what we believe […] but we need to get smarter`
    • We need to welcome more brains to enter the movement
  • Generations struggled for this freedom
    • They failed and have been oppressed
    • Today we are almost there
    • `This time we win`

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