Why GPL isn’t working – the Freedom vs Convenience Debate
What distinguishes GPL from other freedom licenses is their premise:
The GPL or copyleft strives for the freedom of the plebians of the community, and guarantees them absolute freedom on the source code of a software to not just view it, but also run and modify it, and most importantly, to share it with whoever they want.
But in the real world, the plebians don’t want freedom, they want functionality and convenience. If a closed-source solution gives them the convenience to do a task with least efforts, they are happily going to embrace that solution despite knowing that both their privacy and freedom is at stake by using that solution. The proof of this fact is usage and popularity metrics of many such apps. For example, almost everyone knows about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal that happened recently, and yet how many people switched to open and freedom respecting platforms like Mastodon and GNU/Social after that? Ask your friends about them and there is a good chance that 9 out of 10 would not have even heard about platforms like Mastodon and GNU/Social.
Its the same situation with messengers too. For instance, Jitsi is a freedom respecting messenger software and yet people use only Skype and WhatsApp for messaging. Not only are Skype and WhatsApp closed-source applications, their problems with privacy and security are also well known.
The only reason attributable to this situation is lethargy and laziness – people just don’t want to step into the shoes of power-users or even try and learn a new tool. And as for those power-users, they do occasionally experiment with freedom respecting software, but can’t make a permanent switch because of compatibility – you can’t convince your entire friend circle to switch to Jitsi and Mastodon overnight, can you? If you press too much, then they’ll cut off the friendship and isolate you. And though you may end up with some freedom respecting messenger software, there will be no friends left to message if you go that route.
Going forward, freedom friendliness is going to be a very important attribute while choosing a software or even a hardware for us netizens, and the reason is the ongoing concentration of technological power in the hands of a few. Its no secret that large tech companies are eating smaller startups since last several years. If history is any evidence, this concentration doesn’t result in a very healthy ecosystem. If we let only a few players like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon to dominate the entire digital world, then we all know that the result is not going to be good, especially for us plebians.
A healthy dose of competition should prevail in the ecosystem, only that can ensure that everybody thrives. We need more and more alternatives for Youtubes, Skypes, Facebooks and the Twitters of the world, and more importantly, people should start using them. However difficult it might be, stick with it for a while – search for popular plugins, raise bug reports on the project issue tracker, participate in user forums, contact the developers and your local open source meetups, walk that extra mile and you’ll find that you’ve got more than a solution to your problem!
Ultimately, our freedom is in our hands as a community or collective bunch of people. Its up to us whether we take control back into our own hands or let the technological powers dominate us.