Not to sound like an alarmist, but the free internet is in crisis

Earlier this year, I presented a talk at FOSDEM. My talk was called Learning from disaster response teams to save the internet.

“Save the internet” and “disaster response” may sound like bringing a jackhammer to a chisel’s job, but all you have to do is put “open source” into your favorite search engine to see what I mean. Corporations and bad actors treat people like products and mine their data and passions for profit. And there isn’t much standing in their way.

Over my years in the open source community, I’ve found that most people who work on open source identify more with the specific project or two rather than as part of a movement. I wish we would think of ourselves as the entire community more often because forgetting our guiding principles limits our ability to coordinate and cooperate. It breeds competitiveness between people with the same ideals but different ideas on achieving them. And it distracts us from our common goal: to ensure the internet is free, open, and safe for all, forever.

So, we must convene as a community to save the internet. But that is easier said than done when, by virtuous design, open source communities are distributed and decentralized.

Pathways to achieving the communitas in open source that I’m describing exist. And what’s more, they’re pretty well-trodden. Organizations across many industries have perfected the art of operating as disparate and self-contained teams while working to achieve a common goal. (They tend to be more formalized/ structured than the open source community, but that doesn’t mean the learnings gleaned from studying those organizations can’t be applied in less structured ones.) In social network analysis, these organizational structures are conceptualized as “multiteam systems,” and some of the best examples exist in disaster response.

In the talk, I explored how we can apply social network analysis findings gleaned from studying disaster response teams in laboratory and field settings to empower leadership and strengthen community ties in pursuit of our collective goal.

I hope you enjoy it or at least learn from it. You can watch the recording below or on FOSDEM's site.