Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

Portland Open Source Convention 2013

Jerry Stratton, July 19, 2013

I’ve been to a handful of O’Reilly conferences—ETech while it was in San Diego, an OS X conference in Santa Clara, and the Open Source convention while it was in San Diego also. They are a firehose of knowledge. I’m especially looking forward to getting a handle on node.js this year—something I’d never heard of until I looked through the tutorial list.

July 25, 2013: Open source value shift at OSCON?

I’m at OSCON right now in Portland, Oregon. The last time I went to OSCON was when it was in San Diego, probably in 2002.

If, at OSCON 2002, a White House official had said that they were going to take visitor statistics from WhiteHouse.gov and use them to strongarm local legislatures with “localized data… to present the mood of their constituents”, there would have been an audible outcry. Here, there was nothing—the statement by Leigh Heyman (Director of New Media Technologies, Executive Office of the President) wasn’t applauded, it just went completely unnoticed. He was talking about the future of the White House petitioning system, We The People.

We The People was created by the White House “so that government can allow citizens to petition them.”1 Before We The People, he said, writing to the White House was “a bit like writing a letter to Santa Claus.”

He didn’t say this, obviously, but with today it’s a whole lot more like writing a letter to Santa Claus: writing a non-functioning third party to get free stuff from functioning second parties.

He had some interesting petition signing stats. There are currently (as of the time he made the slide, presumably) 9,660,791 members; he called that individual users. Ten million people is approximately 3% of the United States population. If you’re not a stats person, that might seem small. To me, it seems very large. I suspect that there are a lot of duplicate signups in the system—people who sign up under multiple email addresses to skew the petitions.

It’s likely to get worse. There’s a new API in the works to make We The People work more on the community organizing model: instead of having a place to go for votes (which will still exist to provide an illusion of voting), the new API will allow advocacy groups to bundle signatures into the system.

If, at the 2002 OSCON a speaker had said, as Jared Smith (Director of Open Source Outreach at Bluehost) did, that government is “too big to be efficient”, it would have fit right in: the government model of top-down one-size-fits-all programs is antithetical to open source’s focus on the end user doing the work themselves to create what they need and want.

  1. <- Socialized gasoline
  2. Train vs. Town Car ->