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It is important for free software to use free software infrastructure

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Development
GNU
Software

Free and open source software (FOSS) projects need infrastructure. Somewhere to host the code, to facilitate things like code review, end-user support, bug tracking, marketing, and so on. A common example of this is the “forge” platform: infrastructure which pitches itself as a one-stop shop for many of the needs of FOSS projects in one place, such as code hosting and review, bug tracking, discussions, and so on. Many projects will also reach for additional platforms to provide other kinds of infrastructure: chat rooms, forums, social media, and more.

Many of these needs have non-free, proprietary solutions available. GitHub is a popular proprietary code forge, and GitLab, the biggest competitor to GitHub, is partially non-free. Some projects use Discord or Slack for chat rooms, Reddit as a forum, or Twitter and Facebook for marketing, outreach, and support; all of these are non-free. In my opinion, relying on these platforms to provide infrastructure for your FOSS project is a mistake.

When your FOSS project chooses to use a non-free platform, you give it an official vote of confidence on behalf of your project. In other words, you lend some of your project’s credibility and legitimacy to the platforms you choose. These platforms are defined by network effects, and your choice is an investment in that network. I would question this investment in and of itself, the wisdom of offering these platforms your confidence and legitimacy, but there’s a more concerning consequence of this choice as well: an investment in a non-free platform is also a divestment from the free alternatives.

Again, network effects are the main driver of success in these platforms. Large commercial platforms have a lot of advantages in this respect: large marketing budgets, lots of capital from investors, and the incumbency advantage. The larger the incumbent platform, the more difficult the task of competing with it becomes. Contrast this with free software platforms, which generally don’t have the benefit of large amounts of investment or big marketing budgets. Moreover, businesses are significantly more likely to play dirty to secure their foothold than free software projects are. If your own FOSS projects compete with proprietary commercial options, you should be very familiar with these challenges.

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