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Liberating liberation - an infrastructure for progress

An excellent article was forwarded to me by a friend of formidable intellect, Surajit Basu - Liberation by Software .

The article talks about Free software and how it has democratized communication and freed people up from the clutches of established power hierarchies.

This view itself has become democratized, and it goes back to 1994 or earlier. 1994 changed everything with the launch of Netscape/Mosaic. It enabled software and information to take off from the early unpaved runways of smtp/nntp/ftp. A few gems of software, notably Linux and Perl, would emerge in the backdrop of the original internetwork to speedup this flight of freedom around the world. Many great minds had worked on the previous layers and laid the foundation for this take off. As is usual in the free software/open source world, the harbingers of change were not the established corporations, but passionate individuals within them or outside them - hobbyists and scientific researchers - who had "an itch to scratch" and were hell bent on doing it right while having supreme fun in the process. As is true of innovative work before and after, this year was not a year of revolution, but a catalyst that set forth a chain of events that would result in the amazing democratization of access to communication that we see today.

It is certain that free/open software will eventually rule the infrastructure layer. It would also be a fair bet that the next revolution is not a mega entity, but exists now as a germ of an idea being wrought into shape in the mind of someone who wants to do it for themselves and would die to do it "right now".

But openness (or freedom) is a fractal game - what starts out as a game changer in one level becomes the infrastructure for the next game changer. In this process, there are a few "alpha dogs" that end up ruling the current infrastructure - mega entities who control the end-to-end demand-supply chain that forms itself around the game at this level.

The reason openness wins is that it is not "for anything". Openness is the natural state of an energized, mutating, diversifying field of experimentation. Here, the field of effects are unbounded. We can close loop the system by fixing a reason for it's existence and evolution(like "e-commerce" for web). When this is done, a network of relationships form quickly to optimize on something, be it "survival", "perfection" or "need satisfaction".

Open platforms, by their very "agnostic" nature, do not prevent power concentration at the next layer because someone can choose to "close loop" the system for another use. Think of the most open process of all: Science. Invention, freedom and progress depend on this greatest open system of all. But power almost always belongs initially to those who already have advantages that they can wield in the field of science and channelize it's output to their ends. This is a natural consequence, for better or worse - a truly "free" system would gravitate to a "power law" distribution in how the rewards of activity are distributed. However, once someone gets to become too big, they can determine that they are too big to fail. This causes stasis, stagnation and a gentle drift in freedom. Freedom becomes one of superficial differentiation for the majority - what was "hey, we never knew this new pod can be built, let's play!" becomes "my pod's color is better than yours".

The truly satisfying end goal would be that open source enable democratization not merely in creation of enterprise and activity, but also in how we determine who wins the game. Free software holds the key to keeping openness a viable contender at every level above the current playing field.

Free software will need two more legs - a free security infrastructure, and an open analytics infrastructure. Open analytics will allow us to see the growth and concentration of power/advantages. Free security infrastructure will break through smoke and mirrors that all too often hide the evolution of concentration of power.

In this way, we may be able to democratize the ability to see and direct the rise of power networks. We may have a chance at determining what level of "power" is good enough and what level becomes "too big to fail". Sometimes, too big to fail is an euphemism for stuck in a rut of infrastructure. The universe throws up a few curve balls to stir up the variety and freedom in the real world evolution of life. We should democratize the ability for anyone to throw curve balls at the existing order, and there are many rumblings of change already under way.


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