FOSS as Folk

Let us expand a bit on the theme of Free and Open Source Software as _Folk_ software development, i. e. of the people, for the people, and by the people. When I put together my presentation for FOSS4G Korea 2014, I had elements of this theme in it. I expected I would talk about the relationship between governance and open source software in the context of legitimacy — that one informs the legitimacy of the other, as both operate in that shared space we might call commons and derive their legitimacy from that commons.

As I spoke with Sanghee Shin and other OSGeo folks when I arrived, the concepts really crystalized: Free and Open Source Software is folk software, enabled to be built due to the connectivity available by the medium of the internet, by creators with common purpose and common love. And as _folk_ software, not only will development and support of Free and Open Source Geospatial sofware lend legitimacy to the South Korea’s central government’s initiative in software, but that as commons-based peer production, open source software becomes an open expression of Korean culture, Korean ingenuity, and Korea’s contribution to the broader GeoSpatial world.

From the outset, what I was attempting with the speech was to combine Paul Ramsey’s diagram for commons-based peer production (Love of common interest + inexpensive tools for production + internet = commons-based peer production, i.e. Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, FOSS software, etc.) with Kate Chapman’s call to action: Geo for All, a call for the widening and deepening of the pool of contributors and users of GeoSpatial data and software. The concept of FOSS as Folk happens to do just this thing, and hints at some of the challenges before us in making FOSS accessible.

But, the question of _folk_ explicitly gives us additional conditions and context for creating an inclusive community. This touches back to Kate Chapman’s call for geo4all — understanding FOSS as Folk explicitly calls us to balance simplicity and elaborateness (석가탑 다보탑), and thus helps us be inclusive, but also gives us traditions and context for implementation.

Let us tie this all together in a sentence or two: FOSS is Folk Software, Folk has legitimacy through inclusive process similar to democratic society, and Folk software can draw on other Folk traditions to achieve the balance of simplicity and elaborativeness that results in software and tools that are inclusive and effective. Finally, looking to Governance and Open Source, the work of South Korea in supporting FOSS for geospatial and initiatives like Code for America, FOSS and democratic processes can draw legitimacy from each other by resourcing the same Commons space.


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