Don’t Attack Your Users

It seems to me like basic business common sense not to attack your software’s users, because they’re people who might fund your future development work, when they want some new feature adding or some adaptation making. We should hope that this audience will become co-promoters, co-developers or co-producers of free and open source software in the future.

Indeed, one of the basic lessons at our webmaster cooperative is to try to direct enquiries about software we’ve co-produced to somewhere useful, even if the question isn’t really much to do with us (because it’s about some part we didn’t produce or it’s something we’re no longer funded to work on), or even if we suspect the questioner has done something very silly. This approach has worked well so far. So, just don’t attack your users. It’s not on. Don’t do it.

This basic lesson of not attacking users doesn’t seem to have been learned in software industries in general. Most software comes with a very restrictive “End User License Agreement” that seems to treat the user as if they are a potential criminal and grabs as many rights as possible for the software producer. I expect that Microsoft’s new post-Windows operating system will continue this approach and that the user-tracking possibilities of internet-centred operation will be exploited as far as legally possible. Hopefully, we’ll continue to see pre-installed Linux growing strongly in UK as Bristol Wireless describe.

However, this pales into insignificance compared to many media companies. One of the worst offenders is Bristol-based TV Licensing who send us a “pay up or else, you potential criminal”-style letter each year. If there’s ever a reform that makes BBC subscription voluntary, they will probably reap the seeds of hatred that TVL have sown by attacking their audience.

I have quite a lot of admiration for people like Martyn Drake who are fighting a noble fight in things like TV Licensing – the war begins! but I wonder whether media companies will learn not to attack their users before they cease to exist.

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