In my last blog entry I wrote about building communities on ideas that tie the individual actors together, and letting those communities of individual actors interact freely, guided and driven by those ideas. I'd like to share with you one of two ways we're trying to bring that spirit to a practical result with the Make·Play·Live Add-Ons system.
First, though, a little update on the app itself in a screencast I hastily threw together for this blog entry to show some of the improvements made to the application since the last screencast. You can grab the original ogg recording here, or watch it via youtube below:
A couple years back, I spent a lot of time thinking about "app stores" and this led rather organically to the broader topic of add-ons of any type: books, graphic art, music, applications, widgets, services ... what principles should it embody, and for whom?
Free(dom) SoftwareSocieties that rely on technologies for processes impacting basic human rights must be open for all to use, to review and to modify for their specific needs. To forgo any of those things means trading rights that should not be negotiable in exchange for tools. This is a very poor exchange and would very likely eliminate the possibility of free societies with strong guarantees for human rights.
The add-ons system respects this in a number of different ways. Firstly, the implementation itself is Free software. The implications go way beyond being able to make client apps that integrate well with a given system, as the above Add-ons App does with Plasma Active. It means that other entities can also host their own content and other add-ons in their own database. This result of freeing the server side code will mean there is no single point where censorship or decisions made against you can be erected. It also means that those whose needs we can not take care of, say the needs of a specific educational environment or a specific community's needs, will be able to build those services.
However, there is another way we can support Free software: by promoting it in the catalogs. We show the licensing of applications directly, will be allowing you to filter based on Free-ness and will promote Free software applications to the device owners who are using the Add-ons App.
Keep in mind that Free software can be sold, and on devices such as these getting software that is tested and well packaged is a service much like bottling water. Yes, water can be had at no cost, but the convenience and safety of bottled water makes it something you can sell. So while we are shipping a ton of great Free software applications by default as part of Plasma Active (and therefore the Vivaldi tablet) so that it is useful out of the box, we are also going to be encouraging developers of Free software to think about putting a small price tag on their applications in the catalog.
The idea of voluntary payments, or "pay what you feel", has also come up and is something we've discussed. It isn't in the first version of the software, but I rather expect it to show up eventually. It will be interesting to see how well that works.
Free(dom) CultureFreedom doesn't begin and end with software, though. We are big fans of Free culture in general. There are a few reasons for this. First, we like sharing stuff with people and really enjoy experiencing the creative efforts of others. It's thrilling and enjoyable and highlights how "Make" and "Play" fit together so well.
That would be enough on its own, but there are other reasons to support Free culture. By sharing openly and broadly, society as a whole is enriched and entirely new and powerful works can be derived from this commons. Shakespeare didn't invent many (any?) storylines, but he took old themes and made them amazing, immortal. Disney as well tapped the large body of existing children's fiction that was in the commons to create animated films that many consider masterpieces. A society with Free culture is a society that invents more, creates more and is richer as a result.
This does not "just happen" on its own, though. Free culture needs to be supported. So we have put a focus on making Free culture works available, even if they may not draw a single penny for us. It makes the experience better for those of us using it and helps invest in our culture.
We've started with Project Gutenberg, but that will only be the beginning. Which brings up another interesting topic: federation of data.
Open ParticipationCentral storage of all the data is OK, but then we would once again have another silo, albeit one that was rooting for freedom. A rather more enticing concept is being able to have data that is worked on and exists outside our little silo available through the add-ons system. This allows greater opportunities for people to participate in their own way, in specialized communities, while bringing our audience to their doorstep.
With Project Gutenberg, they are doing a wonderful job of digitizing books left and right. There is no need for us to get in the way of that. So we mirror their content and make their catalog available to our audience. I contacted them about this and they were wonderfully supportive of the idea. And why not?
The system can already handle installing software from third party repositories, which will bring software communities using OBS into the same sort of relationship. Imagine: hundreds or even thousands of different communities working whatever it is they do, and able to be syndicated into a seamless whole by hundreds or even thousands of add-ons stores around the world in hundreds or even thousands of different constellations? Wow!
In the coming weeks we will also be unveiling the developer program. There will be no up-front cost to participate, and aside from illegal content we won't be telling you what you can and can not be sharing with others. You can upload what you make.
Of course, the audience needs to be taken care of and it would not be fair to them (which also includes us ;) if there was just an unfiltered firehose of whateverness sprayed through the Add-ons App. We designed the system so that catalog owners have tags which they can put on any content they want in their catalog.
This balances the participation of those making content available with the participation of those delivering the content. The result? One body of globally federated content that can be presented in an infinite number of catalogs that meet the needs of different audiences.
If a catalog owner doesn't like fart apps, they can filter those out. If a catalog owner wants only to show HTML5 apps, they can filter only those in. But nobody tells you what kind of app you can write, what sort of book you can author, etc.
tl;drNone of this is ground breaking philosophically. It is simply the re-application of well known principles from and attributes of Free societies to an add-ons system. But that required us to identify that those attributes ought to be in an add-ons system, and to develop that system from those principles as the first principles of the system.
It is also not enough to only be content with the application, in this case the add-ons app, itself being free enough. It is critical to consider the network effects and social interactions that are implied by the design. We live in a networked world and we are building the tools of togetherness, the tools of culture. It is therefore a requirement that we start designing with respect for the responsibilities that comes with.
We also believe that when you do that ... the results can only be more compelling.
p.s.I forgot to add some links that I had meant to .. so here they are:
Creating systems of support for Free culture is a trending topic. Just yesterday I came across Bryan Lunduke's project to move to a completely Free software approach for his work. This is a big gamble for him, but he's betting on an ethical route and I have mad respect for that. It shouldn't be a gamble, however, and we can change that dynamic by building systems of support that can free people of the temptation to hold their their own work hostage. I'd rather see people able to participate easily in free culture without making unreasonable financial sacrifices. This relates to our thinking on supporting Free software and Free culture in the add-ons system.
If you are interested in getting involved with the Big Picture ideas around the add-ons system and how it impacts mobile device usage, please join us over at OpenTablets to discuss it with us in the forums!