Open Ambiguity


Emily outsources her talk for Open Source and Feelings to a gig actor from the sharing economy.


“Owning pipelines, people, products or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is,” proclaims the Internet pundit Jeff Jarvis. Open source has gone mainstream, and everyone wants to be down with open. But what does 'open' mean these days? And how does the ambiguity of openness, which allows for the extraction of free labor from individuals eager to contribute to open source projects (because love) by institutions eager to #openwash all of the things (because capitalism) impact us beyond the technologies they produce? Under this apolitical free-for-all: How do the social and ethical values associated with our technologies get defined and expressed? When do the practical benefits of an efficient development model start to give way to shared exhaustion? Finally, how do we collaborate without giving away our power?


[1] Stallman, Richard. “GNU/Linux FAQ”. GNU Operating System.

[2] Wikipedia. “Open Source.”

[3] Stallman, Richard. “When Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software”. GNU Operating System.

[4] Morozov, Evgeny. “Open and Closed.” The New York Times: Op Ed. March 16, 2013.

[5] Levi, Ran. “Richard Stallman & The History of Free Software and Open Source.” Curious Minds Podcast. June 27, 2016.

[6] Bauwens, Michel. “The Cooperative Model Revisited.” Commons Transition. Dec 15, 2014.

[7] Slee, Tom. What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy. OR Books, 2016.

[8] Jordan, Marvin. Interview with Hito Steyerl. “Hito Steyerl: Politics of Post-Representation”. Dis Magazine.

[9] Wood, Brian Kuan. "Is It Love?" e-flux Journal. 2014.


The Internet of Ownership: a directory for the online democratic ecosystem The Internet of Ownership.

Schneider, Nathan. "Platform Cooperativism as a Critique of Open-Source." The Internet of Ownership.

Scholz, Trebor. "Platform Cooperativism: Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy"



Good morning Open Source and Feelings attendees. My name is Voiceover Pete. I'm a hired gig actor from the sharing economy, joining you here today in Seattle on behalf of Emily Martinez, who in the spirit of openness and sharing, decided to outsource part of her presentation to me.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy this brief lecture on the history of open source, the rise of the sharing economy, love and labor, and other important topics about openness and sharing such as: Will I have a job tomorrow? How soon before my skills become obsolete, outsourced, or displaced by an algorithm? Is sharing bad? Also, why am I so exhausted?

Free Software vs Open Source

According to Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation:

The largest division in the development community is between people who appreciate free software as a social and ethical issue and consider proprietary software a social problem (supporters of the free software movement), and those who cite only practical benefits and present free software only as an efficient development model (the open source movement). [1]

The two terms describe almost the same category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. [1]

Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. [1]

This cultural split occurred in the late 1990s, when Netscape decided to release their popular Netscape Communicator Internet suite as free software. Netscape's act prompted Eric S Raymond and others to look into how to bring the Free Software Foundation's free software ideas and perceived benefits to the commercial software industry. They concluded that the Free Software Foundation's social activism was not appealing to companies like Netscape, and looked for a way to rebrand the free software movement to emphasize the business potential of sharing and collaborating on software source code. The new term they chose was "open source". And so, the Open Source Initiative was founded in February 1998 to encourage use of the new term and evangelize open-source principles. [2]

Open What?

Since then, the term “open source” has been further stretched by its application to other activities, such as government, education, and science, where there is no such thing as source code, and where criteria for software licensing are simply not pertinent. The only thing these activities have in common is that they somehow invite people to participate. They stretch the term so far that it only means “participatory” or “transparent". [3]

For many institutions, “open” has become the new “green.” And in the same way that companies will “greenwash” their initiatives by invoking eco-friendly window dressing to hide less-palatable practices, there has also emerged a term to describe similar efforts to read “openness” into situations and environments where it doesn’t exist: “openwashing.” [4]

Alas, “openwashing,” as catchy as it sounds, only questions the authenticity of “open” initiatives; it doesn’t tell us what kinds of “openness,” if any, are worth pursuing. We must differentiate the many different types of “open.” [4]

Take the “openness” celebrated by the philosopher Karl Popper, who defined the “open society” as the apotheosis of liberal political values. This is not the same openness implied by open-source. While Popper’s openness is primarily about politics and a free flow of ideas, open-source is about cooperation, innovation and efficiency — useful outcomes, but not in all situations. [4]

The C Word

In Richard Stallman's view, companies like Google adopt the Open Source policy for the financial benefit it offers. But as soon as that benefit disappears, they happily abandoned it. [5]

Tim O'Reilly disagrees, proclaiming “Open Source is the way of life, just like gravity is the way of life. There are certain dynamics that actually work, and the quest of Open Source should figure out what works in terms of creating the most value for society, for individuals or companies.” [5]

Michel Bowens, founder of the Peer 2 Peer Foundation, points out that with open source licenses, "The more communistic the license, the more capitalistic the practice. So what we are dealing with then is a bit of a paradox: some kind of cyber communism operating at the heart of capitalism." [6]

The Sharing Economy

The sharing economy – sometimes referred to as the gig economy, and increasingly, the "on demand economy" – is only the latest wave of digital technology to take inspiration from ideas of openness. Open source, open content, and open data: each of these promised to empower individuals while challenging the power of big corporations and governments. Just as the sharing economy claims to be on the side of regular people against hotel chains and "Big Taxi", so openness promised to be on the side of hobbyist coders against Microsoft, of living room musicians against big record labels, and of bloggers against big media companies. But one by one these promises have been broken: instead of producing a more level playing field, openness has replaced one set of powerful institution with another, often even more powerful, set. [7]

The sharing economy promises to help previously powerless individuals take more control of their lives by becoming "micro entrepreneurs". We can be self-directed, dipping in and out of this new flexible mode of work, setting up our own businesses on sharing economy websites. The sharing economy also promises to be a sustainable alternative to mainstream commerce, helping us to make better use of underutilized resources. Supporters sometimes described the sharing economy as a new type of business and sometimes as a social movement. It's a familiar mix of commerce and cause in the digital world. [7]

But if the sharing economy is a movement, it is a movement for [extending the deregulated free-market into new areas of our lives]. [7]

Instead of freeing individuals to take control over their own lives, many sharing economy companies are making big money for their investors and executives, and making good jobs for their software engineers and marketers, by removing the protections and assurances won by decades of struggle, by creating riskier and more precarious forms of low-paid work for those who actually work in the sharing economy. [7]

The language of "a little extra money" turns out to be the same as that used about women's jobs 40 years ago, when they were not seen as "real" jobs that demanded a living wage, and did not need to be treated the same, or paid as much, as men's jobs. [7]

[As for this “movement”...] Uber has continued it meteoric rise during 2015, and together with Airbnb its growth has been taken as a demonstration of the superiority of this emerging form of company, in which employees are replaced by contractors, managers are replaced by reputation systems, and where major financial institutions and influential venture capital funds are seizing an opportunity to challenge rules made by democratic city governments around the world in order to reshape cities in their own interest. [7]

Airbnb makes its money by imposing a whole series of costs on the communities in which it operates by hobbling any attempt to limit the density of Airbnb rentals in popular districts or by avoiding the gentrification that accompanies a sudden influx of tourists, leaving the company into repeated conflicts with city governments in places such as Barcelona and Amsterdam, where tourism is a mixed blessing. It also hobbles realistic investigations of the company’s impact on affordable housing, and community zoning rules. [7]

Meanwhile, over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every state house. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitals around the nation, at least a third more than Walmart stores. That doesn't count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th largest city in the US, 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber's behalf. They become a constant force in City Hall. City officials say they've never seen anything on this scale. [7]


The sharing economy is young and it is changing rapidly. It will be shaped by our behavior as consumers, but also by our behavior as citizens and our behavior as workers. [7]

Tom Slee, author of “What’s Yours is Mine” (and every word out of my mouth), wrote this book because the sharing economy agenda appeals to ideals with which he and many others identify; ideals such as equality, sustainability, and community. The sharing economy is invoking those ideals to build massive private fortunes, to erode real communities, to encourage a more entitled form of consumerism, and to create a future that is more precarious and more unequal than ever. [7]

I work in the technology industry and in my daily life I spend a lot of time with computers. I do not doubt that new technologies can play an important part in building a better future, but they do not provide a shortcut for solving complex social problems or to resolving long-standing sources of social conflict. If the sharing economy proponents who do believe in equality and sustainability want to build something useful, they need to drop the hubris of Internet culture and learn some lessons from those in other fields who have been engaging in sharing for years. Just as there are no shortcuts to solving complex social problems, there is no simple Big Idea to countering the worst of the sharing economy. The starting point is that we recognize it for what it is. [7]

Intimacy scaled up is no longer intimacy. [7]

Love is debt, an economy of love and sharing is what you end up with when left to your own devices. However, an economy based on love ends up being an economy of exhaustion – after all, love is utterly exhausting — of deregulation, extraction and lawlessness. And I don’t even want to mention likes, notes and shares, which are the child-friendly, sanitized versions of affect as currency. [8][9]

Still… all is fair in love and war. It doesn’t mean that love isn’t true or passionate, but just that love is usually uneven, utterly unfair and asymmetric, just as capital tends to be distributed nowadays. [8][9]

If you ask me, it would be great to have a little bit less love, a little more infrastructure. [8]

Thank you.

Commissioned from: I will be your American Male Website Spokesman