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NAIST Survey on Github dot Com

Hello – I am Brian M Hamlin, a Charter member of OSGeo dot org. “The OSGeo Foundation is a not-for-profit supporting Geospatial Open Source Software development, promotion and education.

First meta-comment : “Dear Free Open Source Developer” … this is not accurate, and badly so … This English means “your software is free (as in beer)” .. our software is not “free as in beer”, it is “free as in Freedoms” . When a large commercial company, with a history of strong actions against Open intellectual property, says “Hey developer of no-money software, why do you do this?” Do you see how this is “framing” the conversation, to show the others in a certain way?

The problem of the name of FOSS is spread across the world.. Freedom is not the same as “no-money” .

Q. Fast forward to October 2019, GitHub has just released the Octoverse 2019, in a blog. They state that “Ten million new developers joined in the last year alone, 44% more created their first repository in 2019 than 2018, and 1.3 million made their very first contribution to open source“. Furthermore, they have new features such as vulnerability alerts, and automated updates and the increased use of pull requests.

As part of a follow-up, we would like to simply ask the following question: After one year, has your perception on Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub changed?

We encourage you to voice your opinion on this topic to us and assure that your identity is secure (anonymized). You are free to ask for your data to be withdrawn from the study.

Direct Answer to the Survey Question “How has your perception changed over one year, of the Microsoft acquisition of Github”

first, showing growth numbers alone at the top of your question, appears to show bias by you. I am not persuaded by marketing ads about growth of Github, it is an implicit invitation to “jump on the bandwagon” . For reasons listed below in detail, there is a lot of room for mistrust and doubt one year later. Github slogan “Open Source has won” is not the same as “A Microsoft company called Github has non-transparent, profit-motive control of an important platform for Open Source” !! It is trivially obvious ! Github dot com is a difficult trade-off between visibility, ease-of-use, and the misfortune of being manipulated and recorded for the sole advantage and profit of others.

Github dot com comments:

Centralization — the history of social activity across the ages is filled with a contrast between specialization and not, control or cooperation. When agriculture produced surplus, a management class was born. When armies conquered villages, a warlord was made. Human history is filled with examples of cooperative, productive people being invaded by conquerers who wish to control the surplus of others. It is not an exaggeration to say, that in the Information Age, with Internet and TCP/IP, these lessons do apply. Of course in complex systems, there are multiple effects.. common protection,or larger markets… I am not blind to some benefits here, also.. BUT Microsoft Corporation, in its “DNA” is an aggressive, for-profit conqueror, who makes no issue of taking the business of others, by cooperation or other ways.. Ask Google today what they think of Microsoft, today. However, today we discuss the point of view of the AUTHOR of original software.

Individuals are ultimately the source of invention, even in large organizations. In software development since the personal computer, individuals have a unique opportunity to invent and publish. If the individual publishes via the Internet, how do others find the results ? Of course this is challenging, but plurality grows with local effects.. Japanese language authors, special needs like a diabetic patient, detective stories in English .. lots of example where local authors can publish to certain audiences, but also have large groups via markets and communications… Somewhere in this story, the forces change to the scale of society and the world.. especially in military competition, in electronics themselves (since they have no language, only circuits), and “security” which I will not try to describe..

Social-scale competition creates an endless need for collecting the works of others, for advantage. Did you know that Github dot com was hired by the United States Pentagon, to create constant reporting on relevant publications and activity privately ? (more on this kind of thing in a later section).

I show that local publication, or market segment publication, supports diversity of opinion, of cultural expression, and trade opportunity to others, when the products are ready. Individual authors are the origin of invention, even in large settings, and benefit from some mix of localization and markets. Extreme centralization has a negative history across the ages. An endless hunger for the work of others drives some un-balanced market activity, and can be psychologically associated with the role of raiders, plunderers and slave owning in extreme cases, which is obviously profitable. The rules of law and moral drivers put some balance on extreme aggressive activity, over time.

Vendor Lock-In with Features — In the normal course of teamwork on Open software, especially software with a long life, the tickets, comments and collaboration features become very important. Microsoft has a long history of using features on top of standards to lock in customers in a “soft” way. Github shows all of the qualities to fit this kind of strategy. Hundreds of Linux software developers over time, led by Linus Torvalds, wrote the difficult and precise GIT software, but it is hard to use. Github dot com adds a user interface, and facilitates common GIT patterns via a good-looking, straightforward web interface. The value-add to GIT is obvious, which contributed strongly to success at Github. Microsoft paid to own the right to control the feature set development, and has shown over decades that they use this control for vendor lock-in.

Transparency — Computer systems have a unique capacity to make lasting records of vast amounts of information, report on that information, and transmit that information. “Data is the new Oil” is a saying that has been repeated in the recent Internet times. When individuals and teams make progress on their challenging new technology, their time and effort is in the invention. Yet a common computer system can record the efforts and results of the activity quietly, report on it, and transmit it, without the knowledge of the users. It is practically a “one-way mirror”. Operators of the common system can see ALL the activity of the users, yet users may not see the activity of others. Who owns this reporting capacity ? What restrictions are in place for privacy ? What kinds of records are kept, on which teams ? We are in new territory. Ask the Board of Directors of a Stock Market, if there is advantage to reporting on the sum total of all trading in their system. It insults the intelligence of authors, to suggest that smart people cannot know that there is value being created by reporting on their activity. There is no gurantee of fairness and rights without oversight. Microsoft Corporation was repeatedly convicted of unfair trade practices, while the founder Bill Gates displayed his wealth for more than twenty years. Despite promises, ads and financial contributions to Universities, there is no way to know what is being done without Transparency. Since it is effectively not possible to know all the parts of such a large and active system, it is very, very difficult to see fairness over time with a centralized, opaque system owned by a competitive corporation.

Records on Others as a Profit Source — if Data is the New Oil, then selling that data is obvious. As in the example above, Github earned contract money from the USA Pentagon by creating high-level, consistent reporting privately for their wealthy, competitive client. Why does the individual and team put their core content on a common site, and derive no profit (money) from the sale of reports on it ? The distribution of profits in FOSS eco-system is deeply debated right now. It is obvious that many lack the de-facto ability to collect money from their software, although every author needs to sleep somewhere, and eat food. I am writing to you from the San Francisco Bay Area, which is heavily impacted by unequal distribution of money.

Records on Others as a Surveillance Source — common security is a balance, and a moving target. From the point of view of law-enforcement, there is no end to the details they may want (“need”) on the activity of individuals or teams, over time. But the rule of law (supposedly) sets a balance between this security record keeping, and the actions of an individual as they choose. Moving to budgets, in fact, in a large society, security is constantly funded, while authorship is sporadic and un-predictable. Over time, constant budgets have a survival benefit, while authors may starve or take forced choices during low productivity. Very large companies are attracted to constant revenue over sporadic invention. This creates “perverse incentives” in markets to create new products for security, instead of supporting invention by authors.

Psychologically and behaviorally, a predator mode is part of human nature, and has a rough history associated with it. Surveillance of the activity of others, routinely exceeds rational need in nations around the world. Add to this the “other” of activity of a different group, tribe, ideology, market or similar, and the drives to create surveillance quickly escalate. Like other social expressions, the ones who really are purposefully dangerous, are much more difficult to detect and monitor, than those who are expressing healthy rebellion, trying new things, or learning by acting out in some developmental way.

I have shown that there is an extreme and unhealthy tendency to create surveillance records for sale to constantly funded security systems in a large society. Github can be used in this way, sometimes beyond the real of software development.

Motivations Matter — Just as a corporation seeking profitable control is seen as “natural” , so the drive of authors to invent, express, and solve problems is also natural. The motivation of a company the size of Microsoft, with a system as active as Github, is not possible to summarize in single sentences. However, it is safe to say that the motivations of authors tend to problem solving for profit and also for non-profit, while the motivations of a corporation tend toward capturing and controlling profit in money terms. As a contributor to “Free as in Freedom” software, I will absolutely defend the rights and interests of authors first.