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edk's notes

on openness

For some background, I'm heavily involved as a volunteer for an IRC network.

The previous evening, I learned (via IRC, naturally) that Mozilla intends to shut down its IRC network. With hindsight, I don't think this should have been surprising, but it was, and it precipitated a rather funerial line of thought I'd like to share.

I was struck by two phrases in particular from the blog announcing this news:

"I wasn't in the room when IRC.mozilla.org was stood up, [...]

"Like a lot of the early internet IRC is [...] built with far more of the optimism of the time than the paranoia the infosec community now refers to as 'common sense', [...]

It's not the first time, but hearing IRC criticized for being too optimistic has lost none of its bite. The Internet was a place of possibilities then—the only genuine frontier any living human has ever known.

IRC's reflection of that didn't survive the subsequent growth unchanged, losing, for example, open federation relatively early on. But the foundation of openness never left. You can connect to any of the significant IRC networks right now with no account. Channels for a limitlessly diverse cross-section of projects are listed side by side, and wandering between them is encouraged.

To Mozilla, one presumes, this openness is equatable only with spambots and harassment.

To me, it remains a mirror to the optimistic Internet of yesterday, and to a FOSS culture of free and spontaneous collaboration, not of gated communities, polished web UIs, and planning meetings in which candidate "products" to replace an organic medium of cultural exchange are "stood up".

I've spent considerable energy over the course of my life arguing with people who fear change of various kinds. I'd still disagree with most of them, but for once I've caught a glimpse of the world through their eyes—the horizons of the natural world, with its openness, its warrantless optimism, its idiosyncracies and its sheer beauty, steadily shrinking, decommissioned piece by piece by community managers with their modern, proven services—and I'm terrified.