Need for democracy in social networking

I’ve read a newspaper article about closed accounts on Facebook. They wrote about incidents such as blocking an account of an activist due to complaints deliberately submitted by his political opponents, or permanent closing of an account based on Facebook detection of posting copyrighted images despite the images were actually copyrighted by the account owner (which Facebook refused to recognize).

Large centralized social networks can easily conflict with their users’ needs. Big business based on selling personal data and information about users inherently conflicts with issues such as privacy protection or proper user handling.

The article mentioned government regulation as one of possible, although not necessarily effective, solutions. But it’s better to think about democratization instead. Such processes are already working in some well known projects like Wikipedia (democratization of knowledge sharing) or OpenStreetMap (democratization of geographic data). Those big and very successful projects are completely based on cooperation of their users, from content creation through software development to infrastructure maintenance.

A completely new and different social network could raise in a similar way in the future. A decentralized social network created in a bottom-up way and available to anybody without one-sided conditions could offer communication free of closed accounts, lack of privacy, censorship and government supervision. Yet another reason to pay attention to projects like FreedomBox, StatusNet or Diaspora.

Using Mac OS X

I use a proprietary operating system even on a desktop computer now. I’m forced to use Mac OS X at my job. Apple says OS X Mountain Lion is an easy to use and incredibly powerful system with features I’ll love. In my user’s experience the system is primitive, inflexible and chaotic. It’s very hard to find a single feature which would make me excited and I feel relief each time something works at least as expected. OS X is similar to other proprietary systems in that regard. It’s just much more overhyped.

But my point is not ranting about Apple software here. My point is that after I had become somewhat familiar with OS X, I lost (although maybe just temporarily) my habit to complain of GNU/Linux. It’s often a bit hard but then I can usually say to myself “OS X can’t do that at all”. I’m not much familiar with Windows systems but I guess they are not much better than OS X. So if you are in despair because your favorite free software system tends to be buggy, deficient and confused, I suggest using OS X or Windows for a week exclusively as a cure.

My lesson is we shouldn’t underestimate what free software operating systems have achieved and how much they are ahead of proprietary systems. Software freedom is not primarily about advanced features or quality of software. But we can see that freedom and collaboration can achieve a lot despite all the well known problems.

An interesting question related to OS X is the practical difference between copyleft licensing of GNU/Linux systems and relaxed licensing of *BSD systems. Is it good or bad (or does it matter at all) that Apple could derive its new operating system from a free Unix system? On one hand the Unix roots make OS X survival easier (e.g. it’s fine to have ls available) and maybe Apple has contributed something to FreeBSD (I don’t know), on the other hand *BSD licensing helps making proprietary software. My view is that copyleft licensing is one of significant reasons to prefer GNU/Linux systems over *BSD systems.