Over the last month I’ve seen a few posts that makes me wonder about the choices made in open vs closed software. These examples are all related to choices in the microblogging category. The choices are that of identi.ca vs twitter.
The first was an announcement of a new launchpad feature. This was announced as ‘Launchpad Now On Twitter’ and described a way to use twitterfeed to follow launchpad news and bugs on twitter. Looking at the description of what was being achieved I took a look at twitterfeed to see if I might find a use for it somehow. What I discovered was that what it did for twitter posts it also did for laconi.ca instances such as identi.ca. As seen in the comments my initial thought was the closed source twitter option was chosen for its popularity over the less known but open source identi.ca. Matt explained that it was not seeing the identi.ca option for the choice of twitter. The post was corrected to include the identi.ca option.
Then I came across a post from Jono about an app he had written way back when with the title of ‘I invented twitter’. I’ll admit, I missed the humor tag on it. By the time I had come to the end of the article I had a few thoughts in my head. First was an app frontend like that would be a neat quick way to post various updates about what you’re doing at the moment. Click this button to dent your currently playing song, click here to dent your IRC channels, etc. I was thinking ‘Quite the subtle hint to get something done Jono’ in a nice way. I then read the last line about asking twitter to pass on some of their gold.
Due to my thinking of the post as a subtle hint for a new app based on his old work my thoughts were gold = code to make this happen. (After all from what I know of twitter they have no financial gold [profit] yet) I was wondering why beg for the gold (read code) of twitter when you have the mine at laconi.ca? Then I noticed Jono’s twitter updates on the sidebar. I’ll sign up for his identi.ca feed. Oh wait, there is no identi.ca feed for Jono. I was surprised at this and said as much in the comments to the post. Turns out he has not had time to create an account on identi.ca and simply clings to the closed source option because of the very little use he puts it through.
Then today I came across this entry in the EFF’s deeplink blog announcing their new twitter account. According to Tim’s post it is an experiment and they are not quite sure how they are going to use it. This is an organization that under their free speech page has a line that reads ‘Preserving the Internet’s open architecture is critical to sustaining free speech’. So why make a choice to come out of the box in the microblogging world using a closed source system? I emailed Tim on this subject earlier today but have yet to received a response.
I’ve focused on microblogging platforms here as it drew my thoughts to the issue. My question in these and other cases are why go for the closed source option when there is a perfectly good and viable open source choice. I understand there are reasons for the choices. The first example was a lack of knowledge of the tool being used. The second was started before the Free option became available and viable and time has not been made to migrate to the Free choice. The third I’m still wondering about and will hopefully receive an answer to satisfy my curiosity.
I am not against closed source software nor its users. There are times where closed source provides the better software or platform allowing you to do something that you cannot get done via F/OSS. In my life these times are becoming more and more rare. I use MoneyDance for my financial software. It was originally due to it being cross-platform and GnuCash (and other options tested at the time) not doing things I wanted. Now it is because I’m integrated into its ways. The important part of the software, my data, is in an open format that I can take with me to other programs easily should I make the choice to leave (or should the developers simply go away). I’m using iTunes to manage my iPod. I have to get time to configure and learn to use Amarok on my Kubuntu desktop that I’ve been experimenting with the last few weeks. If I can figure out how to sync easily I’ll be rid of iTunes. My first session in trying to get the syncing done resulted in failure and I’ve not had the time to get back to it. I’ll be getting some closed source tax software in the coming weeks as well. I use a closed binary driver to get my wireless working on my laptop and netbook. I even have a twitter account because I was thinking it might be useful to follow people and organizations without identi.ca accounts. I would cross-post to it from my identi.ca as well for the same reason, those who are unaware of or choose not to embrace the freedom of identi.ca. (I have not used the microblogging overall as much as I thought I might though)
To close this post out, I have a few questions to ask you to think about. If you are a F/OSS enthusiast/ambassador when do you feel it is okay to use closed source software? If you are using a system such as twitter where the backend is closed but open APIs, is that good enough? Is it okay to continue to use a closed system such as twitter as your primary platform when an [at least] equal system such as identi.ca exists and can feed the same information to the closed system?