Brussels / 2 & 3 February 2019


FLOSS, the Internet and the Future

The FLOSS movement is not just about convenience; our DNA includes a set of values that bring life to FLOSS. We’ve seen some of these values encoded in the infrastructure of the Internet and online life. We’ve also seen very troubling characteristics emerge online, where individuals and society face new and sometimes explosive risk. This talk explores how the FLOSS movement might reevaluate our values and seek to apply the lessons to our own projects and perhaps more broadly to online life as well.

Today FLOSS software is everywhere. In some ways the dream of 20 years ago has been realized. FLOSS software is the norm, GitHub is mainstream. The technology that dominates our era — the internet — is firmly based in FLOSS software, open standards, and interoperability. These are victories, and we should celebrate them. FLOSS was radical idea, and we proved its value.

However, Internet life is increasingly run by a handful of organizations. Many of these, like Facebook, google and amazon have FLOSS software at the core of they systems. However, the layers on top are not FLOSS and there is little openness in the systems they create and run. Today a common refrain is “the Internet is broken. What can we do?”

One part of the answer to this is to be found in FLOSS software. That’s because FLOSS is not just a matter of convenience, of grabbing a library somewhere because it’s quick and efficient. FLOSS is not something of the past. FLOSS is not something settled, and comfortable and run of the mill.

FLOSS is about freedom.  It’s about the choice of the individual to not accept what we are given, the freedom to branch off, to fork off and create something different. 
Floss software is not about wringing the very last cent of value out of a piece of software for the benefit of a small set of people.  FLOSS software is about creating value for everyone.
FLOSS software is about collaboration. 

We need all of these values in digital life today. We don’t have them, just as we didn’t have them in desktop computing in the windows era. We didn’t have them until FLOSSS made them real. Starting with developer tools and compilers and building to operating systems,systems, and then browsers and then all sorts of software. We need that journey in digital life as well.

It won’t be easy. Facebook and Google and Amazon and Alibaba are powerful monopolies just as Microsoft was in the previous era. It won’t be easy— there will be a period of building developer tool s and libraries before the FLOSS movement generates a raft of full fledged complex products. It may not be easy, but its worthwhile. its’ beyond worthwhile — its critical. And it can be wildly rewarding.

FLOSS advocates and developers can not solve all the problems of digital life. But we can play an important role, a critical role. The world needs technologists who show that a better way is possible. We show a better ways possible by building a better way. By building tools and libraries and products that give a meaningful choice. Some will protect privacy, others will be algorithms and data sets that are transparent and verifiable. Others you will dream up. or perhaps you are working on them now.

For many people today technology is becoming frightening. the world is looking for technologists who with values, and technologies who actually live by their values. The FLOSS world does this. We have licenses that we don’t change whenever it’s convenient or might bring us more money than fame. We live with them because we have decided as a community that our licenses reflect enduring values that are bigger than we are.

We need FLOSS communities and projects in an every larger variety of the tech world. Perhaps that means reaching outside our own comfort zones. Or perhaps it means expanding the circle to include colleagues in open data, AI and other new technologies. We should be examples, support examples, and demand that more and more of online life incorporate the values that draw us to FLOSS. And we build and support those people and projects that are doing so.


Mitchell Baker