A journalist covering Iran I saw speak last night that got me thinking critically about the Freedombox in a way the Freedombox community would benefit from, in my opinion.
Someone asked the journalist what people working for freedom in Iran did about governments having access to data on Facebook and similar tools. Being in the Freedombox community, I anticipated her saying something like it was a big problem and people had to avoid it. She didn’t. She extolled the benefits of social networking and described how people worked around problems and celebrated Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Since joining the Freedombox mailing list at its start, I’ve seen months of discussions on how to make it perfect. Pursuing theoretical ideals has some use, but I concluded the more meaningful comparison is not to ideals but to alternatives people today are using.
People in Iran don’t need perfection. They have imperfect tools like Facebook. They benefit from something better. Absent something better, they appreciate the best they have, which means the people our community wants to help end up supporting exactly the tools we want to leapfrog.
Does everyone see this irony? Until we create a device in any way better than Facebook, the people we say Facebook is putting at risk support Facebook! They don’t just use it, they promote it and associate it with freedom. Trying to perfect X or Y software component undermines support for our own project when it delays creating a Freedombox.
Want more irony? The people we want to perfect the Freedombox for — the ones at greatest risk — can best solve our challenges. How? By using Freedomboxes. They are now solving current social networking problems. They will solve shortcomings in Freedomboxes has better through experience than we will through speculation, as long as they have Freedomboxes to use.
Perhaps the worst thing we can do to support people working for Freedom today is to delay producing code or working devices since it leaves them vulnerable and gets them to use and support what we consider nonfree tools.
I believe the best thing we can do for them is to create a Freedombox of any sort, however imperfect, as long as the code is Free and it has any advantages over alternatives like Facebook. Yes, it will have problems that could put people at risk so we should publicize what problems we know of so free software users can do what they do best — improve the code themselves or report their problems so others can for them.
Without user input, we’re a rudderless ship. Without users, we can have no user input. Without a device, we have no users. I believe to support freedom through creating Freedomboxes, the best we can do is create any Freedombox at all, however imperfect, and get it and its code to users. Publicize the imperfections as loudly as possible so users at risk can avoid them.
In the worst case users can use non-free alternatives like Facebook, which is no worse than today’s situation.
In the best case they will solve the problems.
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