Re: Cyberunions Podcast: Building links with the Co-operative Movement

John Atherton sent me a link to cyberunions discussing open-source and worker co-ops.

In general, it’s a very good show and worth a listen by anyone from the union movement, in my opinion. It’s available in Ogg as well as MP3, which I think is also a plus point.

There were a couple of points where I was ranting at the radio, though…

The first was the choice to try Skype alternatives. Leaving aside the danger of playing the “alternatives” game, I can understand why they chose that (the change of corporate control to Microsoft has been in the headlines recently and the phones affect them but not their listeners or readers), but open internet phones are a bit fiddly because they try to move quite a lot of data (audio) in real-time and a lot of domestic network devices don’t behave correctly with the protocols that they use to do it.

I agree with their conclusion that the problem is probably networking, but I wonder why they didn’t log in to their routers, look at any debugging output and try to find the setting to change? Or try switching on debugging in the software and see what’s wrong, or send it to someone who can help? Instead, it seemed like Linphone and Ekiga got blamed for not doing Skype-style router-busting without asking. They don’t mention whether they tried switching on the STUN option mentioned in the Linphone FAQ and I don’t see a email on linphone-users asking for support but I don’t read every mail on that list.

Am I being unfair, expecting them to seek support? Maybe but I’m not sure. If you got the software from a store, what would you do? Would you throw it away and tell people that the stupid thing doesn’t work? Moreover, would you use your podcast to say it doesn’t work because users need to be “clever enough” for that “obscure” tool? That’s a great way to scare people off unnecessarily.

Wouldn’t you usually think you might be overlooking some detail and ask for support, from its maker or the place where you got it? I think you’d ask. I’d probably ask, even though I’m available for hire to fix FOSS problems and it’s not the proudest feeling when I have a script-reading call-centre worker solve my mistake.

Of course, with most from-store software, you’ve paid an artificially-inflated box price, but the bigger cost is your time and that’s the same for downloaded free and open source software, so why give it less of a chance to work?

I also think they had easier options, like switching more of their website over to free and open source software, like getting rid of the rubbish comment system which doesn’t work if you don’t let it run javascript on your browser. I’ve had a bit of discussion with them since the show and it seems my first suggestion may no longer work (typical!), so we’ll see how that goes.

Back to the show: the next segment did a good job of linking FOSS to the co-operative movement. I really think they should call it Free and Open Source Software and not just “open source” because I feel the freedom should be important to the labour movement. Also, calling the whole thing “open source” seems like calling all of the political left “Revolutionary Socialism”: inaccurate at best. I don’t often express this objection these days (I’ve bigger targets to work on), but it’s important when trying to inform new audiences, else they only see part of our rainbow, a less radical part.

Pretty interesting to suggest Orbea bikes as Mondragon’s most famous brand. I’d pick Eroski or Caja Laboral. What about you?

Then it moved on to a pretty good description of UK co-ops, mentioning co-ops that I’m a member of (the Co-operative Group) or buy from (John Lewis and Suma). I was surprised that it seemed to stop short and didn’t mention any of the co-ops that work with free software, or with any software in fact. Of course, I’d love software.coop to be mentioned, but there are other interesting and very different ones like BristolWireless.net and OSAlliance.com. Globally, many of the worker tech co-ops are linked through the tech-coop mailing list. This was the second part where I was shouting at the speakers. After all, Debian is a great voluntary project making a fantastic GNU/Linux distribution, but it is not a worker co-op by a long way and I suspect some of my fellow developers would be horrified to hear that suggested. Why not mention some actual tech worker co-ops?

Finally, before the listener feedback, suggestions of tools which union activists could use. There was some minor confusion about exactly which version or name was really FOSS and a surprising claim about openoffice into LibreOffice (I thought Oracle were still screwing that up with Apache’s help but I may have missed some news), but it was a good list of door-opening suggestions. I hope some activists will take them up.

It seems there’s an earlier show about open social networks, which is a topic I’ll look at after I finish my series of posts about mailing lists. So, please let me know if you have comments on this show, that show, open social networks or mailing lists which you think I might find interesting, or if there’s anything above you’d like me to expand upon (or correct – often, correct…).

m4s0n501
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