Information wants to be free

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Even though I’ve been practicing it for what sometimes seems like forever, I still find web development to be fun and creative. One of the side benefits that I enjoy are the odd trips down unexpected pathways.

One example of this was my accidental discovery of the origins of the quote “Information wants to be free” and the rarely cited second-half of this quote.  The strange part is how I came to read up on the history of this quote.
First, the full quote:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

— Stewart Brand

Now, the context:  While working on a WordPress theme for a client, I once again turned to Google’s hosted Web Fonts.  The value of these free and open-source fonts are occasionally the subject of some debate.  An excellent example of this is the following essay by Matthew Butterick.  This essay then lead me to Jessica Hische’s excellent site “Should I work for Free?” and Matthew’s other excellent essay “Seven essential qualities of open source” which ultimately lead me to Stewart Brand’s quote as reported by Wikipedia.

Our company relies heavily on open-source.  We often solve our client’s needs using either WordPress or Drupal, both of which are open-source, as are many of the themes that I use as a base.  The font that I’m using on this site is the open-source Ubuntu font developed for Canonical by Dalton Maag.  Our invoicing software is open-source.  The entire Internet could not exist and thrive in it’s current state without a myriad of open-source technologies such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, Bind, Sendmail, PHP, Python, Wikipedia, you name it.  Mac OS X, iOS, Android, WebOS, BlackBerry OS, and even Windows, all rely on open-source to varying degrees.  As a long-time open-source advocate, I want to encourage development and make use of open-source software whenever and wherever I can.

That said, I fully understand that open-source isn’t a free ride.  I have personally donated to many open-source projects over the years, run mirrors for several at my day job, and look forward to our company giving back to the projects that we need in the future.  This is the tricky second-half of Brand’s quote.  If we want to continue to make use of open-source, we can’t forget to do our part, and to give back what we can when we can.  This is something we should always be mindful of.

Stewart Brand, twenty eight years later, is still dead-on.  What a pleasant way to start the weekend.



GoSaBe Blog - Jan 21, 2012 | Web Development, Web Standards