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Trust Unlimited - page 2

Affero Helps Open Source Developers Take Online Reputations With Them

  • March 27, 2003
  • By Robert McMillan

LP: For sites that already have reputation systems, Advogato and Slashdot for example, what do they think of what you're doing?

Poole: I haven't had any conversations with the folks at Slashdot, but I've had several conversations with Raph [Levien] at Advogato. He doesn't see much redundancy at all. In fact, we're looking at using his trust metric. He's got software that he's working on to do the trust calculations, and we're actually interested in using that software for the calculation of our trust graphs. In terms of integrating, he sees a natural fit. He has a specific community, but there are a lot of people that they don't touch. And because we're agnostic, there are a lot of people in forums that actually develop reputations and no one sees them when they move out. So those people might have worthy things to say, but there's no way to let them interact, because they haven't developed a reputation locally. It's like if you spent 20 years developing a reputation in some community and you're very trustworthy--when you make promises to people, you follow through on them--and you move from one town to another. What do you do?

There's certainly a lot of need for that. If you look at the big things happening right now, blogs are huge. But in the media space you've got this consolidation going on, which is completely destructive to democracy, because without an informed public you can't make the right decisions when you vote. Really the only thing that's listened to is money, and money is listened to because it helps somebody in campaign time, because it's used to control messages and get people to act by getting messages in through this consolidated media that's harder and harder to get into.

Because of the Net, and because of the number of people who are using the Internet on a daily basis, you've got this ability to have an alternate media that's a media of the people. And with blogs, you've got millions and millions of people's pages, and they're basically keeping news alive that they want to see alive. When Trent Lott exposes himself as a racist, it doesn't die anymore.

LP: So you see a reputation system as an important part of creating trusted, alternative sources of information?

Poole: It's essential to it. In order to enable the kind of social organizing that's possible with current technologies--people are mobilizing on the streets all around the world to demonstrate against their governments' policies, and the way they do that is they have these social networks that they connect with. And it's difficult to get beyond your one degree in your social network. You can't tap into the social network of your friend that you trust implicitly. If you could, then you could go two or three degrees out and tap into networks of your friends, there's amazing power there to do social change and to create a more participatory democracy, which is what I'd like

LP: So in the open source world, then, what would you like the ultimate benefit of Affero to be?

Poole: In the Free Software community there are people that just use the software and don't reciprocate--that don't offer the software to their friends and don't offer patches or support. I think that they would like to reciprocate, frankly. It makes me feel good to give money to somebody that's helped me because it reduces the debt that I feel in my heart. But there's not a real culture to do that, at this point, and I think that there could be, and I think that there should be. I think that people ought to donate more money to the Free Software Foundation, and I think that people are willing to do that; I just don't think that it's very easy to do so. Big global businesses are good at getting into your pockets.

LP: Free Software developers aren't, necessarily.

Poole: No they're not. In fact, a lot of them believe that profit is bad for some reason. They don't know why.

LP: You were recently appointed to the board of the Free Software Foundation, are you introducing them to the idea that profit is good?

Poole: Maybe I'm putting some light on it and saying that this is not a bad thing. I think that they are recognizing it. The foundation has done a lot in the last year and a half to strengthen their financial position.

LP: What have they done, exactly?

Poole: Well the first thing is they hired somebody to focus on it over a year ago. There have been fundraising events, we've also launched an associates membership program, which has been extremely successful. I think there are over 800 people who have signed up as yearly donors since December. That's a big gain for the foundation.

LP: What is that money being used for?

Poole: It's being used to not dip into savings, for one thing. The Foundation had some savings from the good years and the financial markets, but it was getting tight last summer, just because the amount of donations weren't coming in. That's just turned around because of these programs.

Part of the money needs to go into a legal defense fund. We need a significant amount of capital for that. I couldn't understate the importance of having a large amount of capital in the bank to fight legal challenges.

LP: How much do you need?

Poole: I wouldn't even know how to guess. It's in the millions. This is a dangerous time. We've got threats coming from the government. The laws have been changed. The laws are coming from the people down in Hollywood to keep Free Software from delivering content. GNU Radio announcers demoed a couple of weeks ago a HDTV broadcast--you could actually get a movie over your computer on GNU Radio. That's completely outside what's coming from the folks in Redmond. We're nervous about being attacked.

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