Join WordPress Executive Director Josepha Haden Chomphosy in the 54th episode of the WordPress Briefing as she explores the concept of the four freedoms of open source and likens it to today’s Bill of Rights for the open web.
Have a question you’d like answered? You can submit them to [email protected], either written or as a voice recording.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:00:00]
Hello, everyone! And welcome to the WordPress Briefing: the podcast where you can catch quick explanations of the ideas behind the WordPress open source project, some insight into the community that supports it, and get a small list of big things coming up in the next two weeks.
I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy. Here we go!
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:00:40] Start of Show
Just over 50 episodes ago, I shared some basic thoughts about the four freedoms of open source. I also talked through the most quoted phrase in open source “free as in free speech, not free as in beer.” And honestly, what podcast about the freedoms of open source would be complete without that? If you haven’t listened to that episode, I suggest you do, but if you don’t have time, I’ll start by reminding us all of the definition of free software, which is most commonly referred to as the four freedoms of open source.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:01:12]
So the first thing is the freedom to run the program as you wish for any purpose. The second thing is the freedom to study how the program works and to change it so that it does your computing as you wish. As a side note, access to the source code is a precondition for this.
The third freedom is the freedom to redistribute copies so that you can help others. And the fourth freedom is the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this, you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes, and of course, also access to the source code is a precondition for this.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:01:47]
The TLDR version of these freedoms is, essentially, that users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change, and improve the software. Now, normally when I speak about the freedoms of open source, I’m talking about it either from a practical or a philosophical standpoint, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about it from a leadership and organizational perspective.
Every once in a while, you might hear me talk about the effects of “open source at scale,” or you might hear Matt say that the four freedoms are essentially the “Bill of Rghts for the open web.” I almost never really dig into either of those topics because it’s just really complicated. But for starters, anytime you talk about what someone is entitled to or deserves or expects, there is a feeling of political bias.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:02:40]
And while I personally believe that creating software is inherently political or, at a minimum, concerned with the needs of people, that’s not what convinces anyone to participate in open source, and it’s certainly not what convinces people to use WordPress. But here’s the thing, as a leader in a widely used, free, and open source software project, as a leader in WordPress, I also know that every new user to our platform or any other open source platform represents a little more freedom in the world.
A little more access to tools and jobs that weren’t available before. A slightly more open door to networks that undergird the success of entrepreneurs across the globe and a little more equity to the world of democratizing publishing.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:03:28]
When I look at the four freedoms of open source, this Bill of Rights for the Web, I see not only the freedoms that we should have but also the things that we should have freedom from.
We should have the freedom to know how our tools work, the freedom to know what information they need from us, and also the freedom to have some way to make that software work specifically for us because that’s why we have software because we have humans that need it. But we should also have freedom from having to hide our hacky enhancements or freedom from fear of losing our earned audience, or even the fear of losing access to copious amounts of content that we have created ourselves over the years.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:04:13]
And honestly, the things that we should be free from just include a lot of fear of loss. Loss of opportunity or relevance or livelihood. And I feel like for our project, and maybe for open source as a whole, we’re encountering a lot of that right now, whether we are aware of it or not. We’re seeing advancements like GPT3 or ChatGPT if that sounds more familiar and co-pilot.
And while it’s not quite in the same vein, also things like Gutenberg. Advancements that are coming to technology around us, technology we’re familiar with. And it’s hard to see what’s in them sometimes. It’s hard to see what drives them. It’s hard to know how we can make them work for us. So I have to remind us all, as citizens of an open source community, that what protects us from those things we should be free from is directly connected to how active we are in the things we are free to.
We hear that in a slightly more routine way from folks around open source communities. Basically, the whole concept of open source software is being built by the folks who show up. You can’t influence the future of anything if you’re not showing up in the spaces where the influence happens.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:05:35]
So be an active participant in these new technologies. Learn how GPT works and how it could work for you, even if it’s just writing better prompts. Learn how Gutenberg can support your needs, not subvert your needs, even if it’s just learning how to arrange a series of blocks into a pattern or patterns into a page.
But as with all fast-moving technological advances, I encourage you to leap in feet first, not head first. Get in up to your neck in the “why”s and “how”s of that new technology you’ve been worrying about. Be the first to become best at this arcane new thing because that’s why we open source at all so that you have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change, and improve your software.
[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:06:33] Small List of Big Things
That brings me now to my small list of big things. It’s a very small list, but it is very big, as always. The first thing is that we are gearing up for the remaining major releases of the year, WP 6.3 and 6.4 in an atypical moment for our project. You can volunteer for both simultaneously if you want, and hopefully, you do want.
Second thing is that there are many ways to celebrate WordPress’s 20th anniversary on May 27th. But one of the things you can do right now is record a short video or sound clip about a great memory or experience you have had in this community or just generally because of WordPress. Those will be featured on the WP 20 website, and maybe even a lucky few will make it into the second volume of the WordPress history book.
And that, my friends, is your small list of big things. Thanks for tuning in today for the WordPress Briefing. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy, and I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.