PARIS — The final note for today from Paris and the Open World Forum (OWF): Let’s de-Google the Internet. If that didn’t catch your attention, then this will: It can be done.
It’s almost a given that at any gathering of open source workers there’s going to be a lot of shouting about taking the web back, and putting Microsoft, Google, IBM, Apple and all the other IT gorillas back in their cages.
From previous experience, this usually takes place after about the fifth glass of wine, beer or whatever your particular poison happens to be (OK, after the second glass, if you don’t do it often).
OWF is no different, except the call to free the web from Google came during one of the sessions this afternoon. Pierre-Yves Gosset of Framasoft, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of free, libre and open source software and culture, pointed out that not only should the web be freed of control by the big companies, but that it should also be decentralized.
Framasoft is not against Google per se, but rather the strict borders that Google, and the other IT giants are placing on software and the web in their quest to make a buck.
In fact, according to Gosset, it's not an evil empire munching on all the good code it can find. Not entirely, that is. He points out some of the many good things that Google has done, including things for the open source community.
"Google is a major player in the free computing space. Think of initiatives like the Google Summer of Code, for example that has enabled [developers] to get to known and improve open source hardware and software,” Gosset said.
However, he argues that Google is also a major force in the closure of code and computing in general. On the back of this it has built a company that is the second most valuable in the world.
The problem with companies like this: the IT industry is being forced to toe the line and basically do what it is told, just because of the market that these gorillas have created.
It’s a convincing argument, but it is only an argument. Google would no doubt point out that it only provides the services that users are looking for and has, in the past, closed down poor performing apps.
But it still has a huge amount of clout. That's what Gosset and Framasoft are fighting against:
Not happy with 500 million people signing up to Gmail and more than 100 million Google Drive accounts, Google is the main advertising agency on the web. It is now expanding into all kinds of areas like voice and video communications as well as cars, glasses and DNA databases. 'Don’t be evil' is the information slogan of Google, but how likely will it be before the Internet becomes Google-net.”
An Open Source Alternative
The implications off this are already being felt. Gosset points to the fact that in recent times more than 400 companies have been snapped up by internet giants, including Waze, Skype, WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus Rift.
Where, he asks, will the originality needed to sustain the web come from if entrepreneurs are creating and building companies whose sole purpose is acquisition by the likes of Google or Microsoft? There are three basic measures that could be introduced in both the private and the public sector to combat this, he suggests:
- Better education around open source computing
- A social vision for open source IT
- A political and industrial bias favoring the development of open source initiatives
They are small building blocks, but more has seen built on less. Framasoft, which does not make a profit, already offers a number of alternatives for Google Apps, like Framapad (Google Docs like), Framacalc (Google Spreadsheet like) and Framadate (Doodle like).
These are available to everyone for free and without publicity, along with the guarantee that any data that used in these apps will remain private, something that Google has consistently refused to assure.
Gosset is no starry eyed idealist and this is no call for a revolution on the web. It is simply to encourage people to think differently about the way the use the web and think about what they want it to look like in the future.
In his own words, Gosset says Framasoft is just raising a flag, pointing to a problem and suggesting that all those that use the web start looking for a solution. Framasoft cannot provide solutions to the problems given how pervasive the problems have become, but it can put you in contact with open source vendors and businesses’ that can point to a way forward.
(Most of the sessions at OWF are in French. All translations have been done by the author, so if there are any issue, blame him.)