68: Trickle-down & ripple-out: the 4 Freedoms with Anthony Ferrara

PHP core contributor, security expert, and Senior Architect at NBCUniversal, Anthony Ferrara and I sat down to talk at the PHP BeNeLux '13 conference. In part one of our conversation, we talked about open source as an ethos and how it affects business. In this part, we talk about what the Four Freedoms mean to us as IT and web professionals, but also the growing impact of open source software outside the world of software developers.

Anthony Ferrara is a prominent member of the PHP community and contributes a great deal of tutorials and materials "to help people understand complex topics in simple ways". His blog, about PHP, security, performance and general web application development is at blog at http://blog.ircmaxell.com/ and his YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/ircmaxell.

Opportunities and trickle-down

"When I was working on the Joomla project, open source gave me the tools to advance myself, it allowed me to contribute back, to be mentored and to learn, to gain experience in a non-professional setting that I can directly apply to a professional setting. Without those freedoms, I would have never have gotten the experience to be nearly as valuable in a professional context as I am today."

"I can talk about how my life as a developer is improved by open source, how my tools are incredible because they're open source, but at the end of the day, I think it's really more about how the world benefits from open source. That's the most powerful concept: Yes, it helps tons of developers that Drupal is open source, but at the end of the day, developers aren't the ones using most of these sites." The general public doesn't know "or want to care" how sites are built. "They shouldn't even know the word Drupal, because what matters at the end of the day are the experiences that are built for them. Open source allows us to build better and faster experiences for the end user." Anthony says the benefits to developers of using open source "trickle down" to the end users in better experiences on the web.

The perception of freedom v. actual freedom

Open source software touches many people every day and most never realize it. You are likely to encounter a product of the Four Freedoms in one or more of the following kinds of systems today: GPS navigation systems, 'smart' phones, ATMs (bank 'cash machines'), network routers, entertainments systems, and much more.

"The sheer usefulness of open source" means that we can install different versions of the operating system on our phones if they run an open source OS. "Ten years ago, the mass public had zero idea that something like this was possible. Even today, most people don't know about Linux, but they know that they can jailbreak their iPhone. That is the perception of freedom when there isn't any. So when you go to platforms like Android, Firefox OS, [or Ubuntu], and you see these mobile phones, the Four Freedoms are making an impact on everybody's lives in a meaningful way. I think this is going to continue to grown in the lives of every day people.

Open source and innovation

Open sourcing innovations lets others recognize your good ideas, put them to good use, learn from them, and improve on them. Inspired by your idea, someone else might make something else new; "innovation begets innovation" as it were. "Amazing things happen because there are people putting in time and effort and then saying 'Do with this what you will.' Open source is saying 'I value my intellectual property, but I want people to benefit from it.' You can sell it, of course, that's a valid use case; but by sharing it, you're allowing other people to benefit and build upon it." When others build up on your ideas, you can often benefit from their improvements as much or or as they have benefitted from your contribution, too!

"The chances of me creating the next huge innovation are relatively small ... the next breakthrough, Web 3.0; the chances of me doing it by myself is almost nothing. But the chance of us as a community doing it, through sharing, through concepts and ideas, the seeds can start from anywhere. It is humbling to think that anybody can be a part of this."

Chris Hartjes, aka "The Grumpy Programmer" in his keynote speech at PHP BeNeLux '13 made the point that even scepticism, criticism, or presenting problems is helpful in open source since others can use that information to make improvements.

The Four Freedoms are a multiplier. They allow us to multiply our ideas by the thousands of people working with us in our open source projects.

Credits, thank you's

Music for this podcast by Podington Bear. Used by permission. Thank you!

Additional voiceovers provided by Campbell Vertesi, Francesca Ballarin, Victoria McGuire, and Oliver McGuire. Thank you!