Just saw a "free software" manifesto that actually says that "software should be written for programmers", and... how can anyone be this dense? If software is only usable by a small percentage of people with highly specialized technical skills, it's not really free, is it? You're just replacing one gatekeeper with another.

Instead of software being controlled by capitalistic monopolists, you're advocating it be controlled by a small technocratic elite. That's not better!!!

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@matt moreso given that "programmer" by and large also disproportionately excludes poor people and people of colour

@ckeen Just some bullshit I stumbled across, no one of any actual importance or influence. But it's definitely an attitude I've seen poop up in various forms in the FOSS community at large.

@matt I have seen similar phrases too but the context was totally different, meaning to make the innards of the software inspectable, and being able to change it, to adapt it to a taskt. As opposed to closed source, complex systems that reduce the 'user' to an 'end user' a mere consumer of it.

So a little additional context could make a difference, don't you think?

@ckeen If that's what they meant then the way they made that point sounds hostile and exclusionary. They should work on that.

@matt Maybe, that's been the reason why I asked for the source of your quote.

If your idea of revolution is "take power away from the oppressors and give it to me instead", you're not a revolutionary, you're a usurper. Congratulations. Read Animal Farm.

@matt I'm assuming this is related to your previous comment abiutbthe free software manifesto (which i havent read). how do you propose we give power to the people at large, who are largely technologically illiterate?

@0x3F How do you propose we give health care to the people at large, who are largely anatomically illiterate? Clearly the answer is that everyone needs to learn how to perform open heart surgery on each other.

@matt even if software was built for the masses instead of other software developers, users aren't in control of it. they don't get to make meaningful decisions. the architecture is laid out for them

@0x3F Yes, that's what needs to change.

I think Mastodon is a pretty good example of FOSS done right. The developers listen to the users about what needs to change, **even the non-technical ones** (this is important) and implement features that make the software more usable. The users support the developers financially. They write software for the users. No one "controls" it because we all control it. It's a good system.

A lot of people don't share that philosophy. Those are the ones I'm talking about.

@0x3F A common attitude I see is "You have the source code, if you don't like it, fix it yourself, and if you don't want to lean how to program then fuck you", which, in my opinion, is pretty antithetical to what free software should be about. But apparently I have a radically different definition of freedom than a lot of people.

@matt @0x3F
Ok, but if I, in my free time, without getting any compensation whatsoever, write a program that's written with me as the sole user in mind, and keep it for myself, it's ok, right?
Now, if instaed of keeping it for myself, I publish the source code and put a big sign "you can do whatever you want with it, but at your own risk" it's better, isn't it?

@matt @0x3F
Of course it would be even more geneerous of me if I maintained the software in a way that makes it usable to other people, but I may not want to do that in my free time, without compensation. And it's ok for me not to do that, and just leave the software out in the wild.

@matt how is this any different from the technical elite or the capitalists being in control of the software? users pay for software all the time, and developers also listen to user feedback (in best case scenarios) but in the end the developers still own the software and are free to do it with it as they please. "nobody controls it because we all do" is just hogwash, and unachievable if developers are setting fees, and users are paying them.
i agee with you. we need a better system. but that isn't it.

@0x3F I don't see how it's different from any other public service. We need firefighters, so we pool our resources and pay people to fight fires. We need roads, so we pool our resources and pay people to build roads. We need software, etc.

We just need a more democratic system. I'm not going to get into socialism vs anarchism right now BUT, for example, a national tax-funded software institute dedicated to providing good, functional, open alternatives would be a huge improvement over what we have now.

@matt oh i see. i didnt understand that you wanted it to be a public service (which btw would mean the government is control, which is still not "everyone", but perhaps better than the alts). that's interesting. i imagine you'd have a fairly difficult time convincing tax payers to get on board with that. and even then what kind of projects should this institution take on? would it be services or software? should they be charging for them?
it's an interesting take, but I'm still not convinced it would work

@0x3F The reason a government exists is to represent its people. "The government" isn't a monolithic entity, it's us (in a democratic nation, anyway.) If the government controls something, it means we all do. We control what happens in our countries by voting for people to represent us and make decisions on a larger scale. Obviously the system is broken and people are jaded and demoralized, but it's still a democracy and we still have the power to change things. We just need to exercise that power.

Heading to bed, thanks everyone for the discussion. I can tell that software as a public good is still a sore spot for a lot of developers, and it's hard to blame you, because like everyone trying to build a better world, society still doesn't reward you for your hard work. Better things are not only possible, but inevitable! One day we'll all be able to develop our skills and use our talents and pursue our passions in a way that benefits all of us.

@matt Do you think "software should be written for its target users" would be a better statement?

@Jenkar How about "software should be for everyone"? That seems to be a pretty good benchmark for whether something's actually free or not

@matt Be (accessible?) for everyone, yes. Be written for everyone (which, in my understanding, means be written so that anyone has an easy understanding of it), no? Wouldn't you then lose the ability to make software that targets extremely specialized fields? For example, if you make software that enables testing of ideas in the field of machine learning, you'd need to have a certain mathematical background to be able to understand what (many of) the tools given by the software concretely are and do.

@Jenkar Okay, yes, "software should be written for its target users" is the more technically correct statement. But I think everyone understands that. Some software will require programming skills to use effectively. Music tracking software will require composition skills to use effectively. But the goal should be to design software that's intuitive and accessible enough that people who want to learn and apply these skills aren't hindered by the software.

@Jenkar The best example I can think of is 3D modelling. The go-to FOSS solution is Blender, and it sucks. I've never seen anyone interested in getting into 3D modelling who didn't have to struggle constantly with the weird esoteric interface to get any work done.

If the software isn't functional, it doesn't matter how open and free it is. It's not doing its job. If it's so hard to use that people give up on it and buy Maya instead, then it's not doing what it's intended to do.

@Jenkar "Learn how to program so you can make the software better" isn't a solution. The person isn't interested in programming, the person is interested in 3D modelling, and the FOSS community is failing them.

@matt Okay, while i agree with what you're saying there (mostly, i think?), i don't see how it links to the freedom of the software? Maybe a link to the manifesto you were reading could give me some context?

@Jenkar Nah, it's not important. I was just commenting on something annoying I saw and I wasn't expecting it to blow up. Carry on!

@matt but everyone should be a programmer, and programming needs to change to make that possible. having full control of your computer is formally indistinguishable from programming.

@martensitingale Everyone should not be a programmer. That's elitist, exclusionary bullshit. A writer shouldn't need to know how to code word processing software. A composer shouldn't need to know how to code a tracker to make music. They want to be writers and composers, not programmers, and that's totally fine. They deserve good, free software too regardless of whether they share the same interests as you.

@matt how is it exclusionary to feel that programming needs to be made accessible to everyone? even programmers benefit from having *good* interfaces, and text-based interfaces are not ideal for many applications. not all programming is textual.

if users are not capable of directing their computers arbitrarily, how can they be freed of dependence on technocratic elites to produce and maintain the software they need?

@martensitingale "programming is accessible to everyone" is not the same thing as "everyone should be a programmer". Certainly anyone who's interested in programming should be able to access the code and understand it. Obviously I'm not against that.

But that doesn't mean that software should be made with the assumption that every person who uses it will be interested in programming. Anyone should be able to use it, because the goal of free software should be to make society better.

@matt I *am* a programmer and I don't want to be a programmer. I want to do cool things with computers, not tell them how to do cool things. (Incidentally, it would be nice if the difference between CS, software engineering, and doing cool things with computers were explained up front to prospective undergrad CS majors, that'd be nice.)

@matt who do you suggest control software? somebody has to?

@matt second freedom: right to understand how the program works, and understanding it.
I mean, I dunno about your not-linked manifesto, but that seems pretty much like "for everyone and anyone to learn"
Also useful to say that "programmers" or "hackers" often becomes a much broader term when someone like those important free software people talk.

@matt A better way of putting this is that usually all software is written for the purposes of the author to solve some particular problem which they have. You are the best person to know what your own problems are and so the best software comes from people who are embedded within the problem.

No mater how empathic you are it's genuinely hard to know what other people's problems are at the level of exactitude required to build software. This kind of problem crops up repeatedly in commercial software development, where the developer high-mindedly believes that they know exactly what other people's problems are and sets about to solve them. Except that often the developer is only indulging in hubris.

This is why diversity is important in software development. Without diversity you can't develop for a wider population because you can't bootstrap your own standpoint.

It's a shame they don't teach this stuff as part of computer degrees, AFAIK. It's too easily brushed off as "UX" or something by developers, like the idea that other users just need to be better educated on what the system does. Really, it's just about teaching empathy and humility. I don't know, but I'll find out by listening.

@matt Wait, why is that bad? Aren't programmers supposed to, you know, read and write that code? Does that imply software should be for programmers FIRST/ONLY? Is this particular text so important?

@espectalll No, it's not important, it's just a thing I saw which annoyed me representative of a lot of shitty attitudes in the FOSS community as a whole.

@matt Also, programmers of what level? Beginning programmers? Programmers who only know one language or one language family? Machine programmers? Web developers? This is not helpful!

@matt probably it aims to spread the programming skills all aroud

@matt That's... not uncommon?

Once people realize they have power over something, they want to keep it.

@matt except when you realise that everybody can #program, just like everybody can read, write or count.

The #freedom that #FreeSoftware spreads is not just the freedom to use.

We want you to become an #hacker.

The freedom we care about is the freedom to #hack, the freedom to to build upon what we know so that you can teach us more!

#Free Software is a #political movement, actually.

The movement of #hackers, the pursuit of #curiosity on a global scale, spread through #software #hacking.

@Shamar I disagree. People shouldn't need a desire to learn how to program in order to use computers. Comparing it to reading or counting is a total false equivalency. People don't need to learn all of the rules of grammar and sentence structure or be able to spell perfectly in order to read a book.


You need to learn grammar to fight for your rights. You need full literacy actually, or nobody will take your articles seriously.
And you need a decent degree of culture to understand law enough to not being manipulated.

You are giving all this as obvious just because others, before of you fought to give you the privilege of reading and writing. And maybe you don't even appreciate the benefit.

Hacking is the same.
You are a slave and you do not even realise it!

Kids don't love school.

@Shamar Nope shutting people down because they use "improper" grammar is also gatekeeping rooted in classism, racism and elitism and it also needs to die. Whether someone wants to master the grammatical structures imposed on them by their oppressors is irrelevant to whether they deserve freedom and happiness. I don't need your condescending bullshit to know the ways in which I'm oppressed, thanks

@matt I'd need to see the context of that comment, but at least for the FSF's definition it's very much kept in mind that non-programmers need to be able to hire programmers to make whatever changes to the software they utilize for them.

As for how they can do this without going through or being part of a "technocratic elite", that's a hard question to answer.

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