Software Syndicate For Whom

A software syndicate, for whom?

In the coming social transformation and rise of fascist society resistance networks cannot continue depending on existing infrastructure, and need to start organising the continuity of communication infrastructure autonomously.

(en français.)

Who is concerned by a software syndicate? How can a software syndicate embrace transformational forces?

As the we have seen the centralisation and privatisation of software under neoliberal model, we can observe that many activists do not bind to the tools and existing models developed over time in the free software community, that have proposed unique community organisation methods, and dedicated software I would like to mention here Lorea project that had a short and intense lifespan engaging resistance organisations[1], and other long lasting structures, who have been providing secure services for community to organise steadily over time, for example Rise-Up.net and Autistici/Inventati. [2] As of today it however feels that resistance networks seldom have access to the possibility of functional, well organised, and secured organisational tools that can be configured according to our needs, not that those tools do not exists but they are mostly unused or at least not to their full extend. While popular demonstrations that bring hundred of thousands in the street rely on corporate social media platforms, the autonomous organised groups will eventually individually use some safe communication method but as of now I do not know of a concerted coherent digital organisation. Not only are we depending on the organisational models imposed upon us by the corporations but also we have to trust them in managing our data and the systems we use to organise ourselves.
Free Software is both an approach to bring software code to public domain and a methodology of organisation for developers who maintain tools and organisations that respond to their situation and current needs. However, it feels that each time free software developers face limitations caused by the system in place, social organisation infrastructure etc…
Proposing a global approach to this issue is often called idealist however as political context is evolving towards more surveillance and discrimination maybe it might be the only possibility to organise ourselves here and now for the coming world.
Starting from questioning who develops Free Software and for whom might help us to get a better picture of the situation.

Knowledge silos.

  • Free Software projects are almost always originating from Euro-American culture, they mostly originates from people bearing occidental heritage and reproducing existing domination systems.
  • When developers realise they are creating a knowledge silo, they often address it by a move towards mainstream either mimiking proprietary software interfaces and structures, or attempting to be compatible with the existent rather than asserting the construction of a different technological system.
  • Incapacity to perceive the necessity of radical transformation, and to ground this transformation into the fragility of communities.

Free software developers are not the majority and they have developed an international community that sometimes share a form of aggreement over collaborative models of development and specific tools, git version control software for example. However it is observed that developers often share social characteristics, so do free software developers, creating knowledge silos that might influence the orientations of the software development.

As a direct consequence of colonial history and occidental domination impacting education and access to infrastructure the largest part of software and even more free software is developed in the Euro-American zone, by people who have better access to university education and the identity brought forth by the community or in the workplace does not help transforming the situation [1:1]. Charlton Mc Ilwain explains that from the start some population have been historically deliberately excluded from the institutions where thechnology is developed: “The Folks at MIT and hose like them were building a new society they made the de-facto decision to exclude Negroes from designing, building, or deciding what computer systems would be built” [3]
Furthermore developers bring their culture with them and they organise social structures that fit their models, and that does not look welcoming to people from a different background or a different country. While contribution to free software projects are distributed from worldwide sources [4] this is not visible in the social structures where developers get together nor in the decisional processes. Saddly for diverse reasons (to complex to deploy and analyse here) it appears free software developers population is more unified than its counter part in the corporate environment.[5] Unified population is often the first thing that strikes a person first attending a major free software conference.[6]
In consequence, while free software has its own community and development models, they are maintained in the limit of developers society, fit occidental social structures and often does not completely detach itself from existing dominant corporate model that is overwhelmingly present in close proximity; not only does it present it as the reference point, but also fosters hierarchical and personnality based organisation.

There are many attempts to address the situation and the discussion often revolves around comparing free software to proprietary software. Most of the time developers do not bring forward the different functions and the specific assets developed in free software projects, but compare free software to corporate counterparts. The same thing happens when it comes to attend “users” needs, the very successful campaign by the French free software provider Framasoft called DeGooglify internet proposes free software alternatives to the main online centralised services. [7] The rationale for proposing alternative to existing services is to facilitate user experience and transition, however by keeping the same referential model as proposed by corporate centralised software, we submit civil society organisations to the world view they are fostering articulated around individual projects and identities, seeking to foster achievement and uniqueness rather then exchange and collaboration. It feels the need is not to compare with existing services but to propose a different social organisation, a transformation inline with existing resistance organisation. While the reasoning leading to mimic proprietary platform is often of common agreement, there is very few spaces where transdisciplinary exchanges happen between software projects and other knowledges, very few knowledge bridges where developers learn form other disciplines other experiences and reciprocally engage in brnging to life models that respond to actual organisational needs.

A number of people agree that we are facing a techno-fascist system and that we need to organize in order to bring forth a radical transformative social organisation, awkardly a lot of tolerance is given in this process to the use of surveillance capitalism tools, brigging forth the difficulty of changing existing processes rather then thinking the actual organisational benefits and how all could profit from that change. This results in the cristallisation of a domination structure where developers keep the hand on technological systems submissive to corporation and comfort their assumptions that they do their part by contributing to free software; and activists and resistance organisation argue of their fragility lack of time and knowledge to feed techno-surveillance systems with their data, emotions, motivations, relational graphs and more than anything to bind to the fragmented self promotional and time consuming model brought forward by the system they use.

Understanding of existing systems
  • Technological systems are unknown because most people are maintained into dependance by corporations
  • Activists do not have the time to invest in understanding technology, they are already divided and overloaded
  • Difficulty/Impossibility to get feedback from users at software development level because they have no referential in software systems, only in identity based corporate products

Most arguments for not looking at other possible technological organisations are self derogatory " technology is not for me" “I do not understand anything” “I do not have time” etc… However gmail accounts are almost universally used and the time spent in front of a screen constantly increases while all of us depend on surveillance capitalist platforms for indispensable daily life operations.
Activists are already burning out because of their to many responsibilities and activities the technology they use needs to support them in their activities and not to demand more time, as attention economy models promoted by many platforms do. On another hand, free software projects repeatedly lament the limited number of users they have (compared to corporate platforms), they rightly assess the necessity to better address users needs, get feedback, do UX design however their point of comparison is often existing in the same direction. This comparison is comforted by the fact that when asked about desired features in free software the “users” who are not engaged in a larger reflection about technology will use as a comparison point the software they already know.
We need shared working groups about technological society where we form decisional models for software development feeding sharing strategies with and from resistance networks. Software Syndicates are here understood as locality based structures that can serve as a basis for strategising and passing information and knowledge both about technological models, decentralised and online decisional processes and federation of needs.
There is a lot of understanding of the functioning of surveillance capitalism formalised by free software communities that could support activist projects, acknowledging in which ways both groups pursue the same goals seems urgent.

Those arguments do not respond to our question, what are the spaces where we can collabratively exchange and organize. The need to create the space for discussing technological practices in a society where computers are dominant seems urgent, and those spaces need to be inhabited both by people contributing to development and using software and all the range in between.

Passeur de savoir, Knowledge bridge, Feminist methodologies.
  • Sys admin as possible knowledge bridges to the community.
  • Necessity to organise systemic adoption of free infrastructure

About sysadmins: they are the human intermediary to the machine, automated system deployement seem to be an objective that corporations envision. It is interesting to look at the possible consequences of such a transformation and by extension the role of the sysadmin; automating system deployment certainly open the possibility for non specialised accesss to the machine, however at term it might remove human interaction. When using automation to organise the deployement of a system it both allows its implementation by a larger pole of persons and its consolidation into a preset format that the person implementing will not question. Reducing the amount of knowledge people use to maintain a system, also rarefies the presence of this knowledge that is not needed anymore.

While sysadmins are most often the invisible part of the system the ones that do the reproductive work of the infrastructure maintenance, they are indispensable, invisible, often overloaded with work and misconsidered. In the situation considering the sysadmin away from an invisibilising black box and thinking through his or her relation to the community, envision how bringgin forward sysadmin’s role enriches the possibility of appropriation and knowledge sharing ad might create knowledge bridges. In this prospect proposing a feminist methodology is an attempt that has been proposed several times: Andrea Zappa resumed it very clearly in her 36C3 presentation, based on experiences in different feminist servers she proposes a list of modalities for installing a system:

"

  • Do not do things alone.
  • Testing environment.
  • Document everything and explain the choice of alogorithm.
  • Give yourself the time to study.
  • Not be to much specialized " [1:2]

The refered presentation explains a project that takes place in an Italian Valley among a community of farmers that organise autonomously their social and economical model of production and distribution. Andrea presents how a mesh network was installed in the valley based on different tools developed by and used in free software communities. Andrea’s proposition brings the community at the center of the technological implementation, by clarify a structure where knowledge transmission is essential she ensures the durability of the system, both the network implementation and the servers, as she made sure documentation was accessible and clear, paving the way for different people to enter in the conversation about the imlementation and management of the network and servers they use. Infrastructure becomes one of the

There has been several projects that pave the way towards thinking about how to organise technological systems in a way that is more integrated to the organisation and structures of the communities they serve. It is worth looking at their model for proposing a model for a software syndicate that would be integrative of communities civil societies and users decisional processes.
Another example of such an endeavor is fossbox [3:1] Fossbox is a network of researchers, artists, and technologists interested in the human creative potential in emerging technologies formed as a social enterprise in 2007. Their many projects put at the center both the implementation of the technology and knowledge bridges to the different concerned communities. The Hublink, a participatively designed and custom built networked database supporting a consortium of local Information, Advice and Advocacy organisations to deliver local services collaboratively.

These organisations are local organisations, are based on local structures each is happening in different context for different reasons with different type of funding support. Starting from the grounds of free software principles and tools, they aim to bring point of exchange about technology and by bringing people into experiencing how tech is organised and offering some entry points for their decisions.

Relations Locality Proximity Community and Globality

While locality makes sense when people using services are in question, the referential that might be different if we talk about software, as we adress systems that adress a machine who’s primary function is to reproduce information and that people have been using to transcend a sense of place; hence might bring a different view on locality developping more towards a sense of commonalism.

local referential is immediately accessible. local information, commons networks, cartography
  • Local is amazing for human relations and continuation of comunication.
  • For software geographic location is not significant and might lead to redundancy in development.

In the upcoming local revolution protagonists are becoming conscious that reaching out to the nearest source for their needs (would it be food clothing energy or else) sharing both resources and needs has many social and economic advantages. It allows to better define what is needed and how groups can organise around those needs resulting in new

Proximity based development
  • Software development network based, organising in afinity and identity groups. People are localised and meet in hackerspaces for example. Identifying local representative of software projects might allow to create a referential bridge for local based user groups.
  • Who does this, situation is that developer’s time is usually taken, other people serve as an intermediary to share systemic understanding and support community building.●●●●●●

Software development relies on human organisations that are both localised in certain urban centers and at a distance historically formalising online ways of organisation, that allows them to keep track of their projects and communities in a decentralised manner very adaple and reliable. Those tools allow to form affinity groups over specific software/type of softwares where technological choices are discussed for their pertinence but also for some more obscure reasons that can ressemble a form of attachment to a certain identity, aesthetics or , even what some might call political reasons (most of the time unacknowleged). For example adhesion to decentralisation, or technological minimalism has definitive political groundings, most of the time not presented as such.
Developer’s affinity groups form proximity relations that are not solely depending on their locality and constrining them to a local implementation would be absurd, contrary to the networked quality of the technology.

Community
  • Community technological organisation needs to be understood from the grounds up as free software system
  • Access to funding for developing systems permiting resistance is bound to diminish quickly, we need to find integrated ways of leaving reforming communities from the grounds up.
Notes:
  • “When more than one person can use a computer at the same time those people will use the computer to communicate with eachother”

  1. ref: https://ftp.fau.de/cdn.media.ccc.de/congress/2019/h264-sd/36c3-10858-eng-deu-spa-Infrastructures_in_a_horizontal_farmers_community_sd.mp4 ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. https://networkcultures.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/kaos.pdf ↩︎

  3. Projects – Fossbox CIC ↩︎ ↩︎

  4. Dempsey, Bert & Weiss, Debra & Jones, Paul & Greenberg, Jane. (2002). Who is an open source software developer?. Commun. ACM. 45. 67-72. 10.1145/503124.503125. ↩︎

  5. FOSDEM 2019 - Beyond the 10%: analysis of the gender-diversity gap ↩︎

  6. FOSDEM 2019 | Anna Dodson ↩︎

  7. De-google-ify Internet ↩︎