diary at Telent Netowrks

A couple of references have been made to the problem with cliki's#

Tue, 02 Nov 2004 01:16:54 +0000

A couple of references have been made to the problem with cliki's free-software-only stance. Let me explain why, in the time-honoured term, I consider that this is "a feature, not a bug".

This diary entry was lifted wholesale from an email I sent earlier this evening; I apologise if you have to sit through it more often than you wanted to

Two words: "network effects".

It's like this: the constituency CLiki aims to serve is people using the software it lists, not (except incidentally) the authors of that software. Five years ago, a vast amount of the commonly used downloadable software in CL had homebrew licences. Have a look around the AI repository. ILISP had a clause to prohibit selling it for money. mk-defsystem required anyone modifying it to submit the changes back to the authors before the modified version could be distributed. Now, you might say "so what?" and indeed these are on the face of it both reasonable positions to take. But the cumulative (possibly even combinatorial) effect of all these homebrew licenses was that anyone wanting to write software that builds on them had to spend an inordinate amount of time reading licences.

These days? Practically everything is PD or BSD- or MIT-licensed. Some stuff is LGPLed. A small amount is GPLed. For anything using a familiar licence, it takes about two minutes to determine whether it's OK for for a given purpose, and as a result we can all spend more time programming and less time reading legalese. This morning I used cl-ppcre to hack together a kludgey regex-based "bad words" filter for cliki in about twenty minutes. If Edi had written his own licence of approximately the same length as the BSD one, it'd have taken me that long just to read it. If I'd needed a couple of hours of head-scratching to work out whether making cliki (which has in the past been used for sites which could be described "commercial use") depend on cl-ppcre was legal, that's two hours I'd have probably spent badly reimplementing the appropriate bits of cl-ppcre instead.

(So, thank you, Edi)

Things might be different if my focus was more on authors and helping them make a buck or two - but honestly, there's not much I can do there anyway. If you're atttempting to make money from programmers you're probably deluded anyway - we've always been a really tough crowd to please. And if you're not selling to programmers, what exactly do you expect from a listing in a Lisp directory? Better to spend the marketing effort getting listed in a directory appropriate to your business domain.

Now, we can argue about some other points: for example

but I don't want people to think that my only reason for stating DFSG on CLiki was some "religious" viewpoint. I think that the community software scene around CL is a lot healthier these days than it was back in 2000 when CLiki started, and although the people we primarily must thank for this are its authors, I'd like to hope that CLiki played its own educational and publicity role in encouraging people to make their software legally compatible with each other.

My opinion. Yours may vary.