To Drupal or not to Drupal

It’s good to begin any discussion of do’s and don’ts with morality. Thankfully David Weinberger did just that at this Drupalcon DC.

While this Berkman powerhouse gave a great talk, as those folk do, and one that you can watch along with the others, called “Is Drupal Moral.” On whether technology itself is moral, he broke it down, outlining the “Atoms for Peace” program and how it is not necessarily moral in and of itself, but rather depends on the social situation in which it exists. However, and this is where it gets interesting, there’s a potential to think differently about it in the information age.

For example, the way that we understand punctuation. Previously these little symbols told us where to pause and stop. Now we can imagine <href>,

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
, and other digital forms as new punctuation that tells us to go. While I don’t agree entirely, there were always asterisks and footnotes, I think that this is an extremely constructive way to think about the current potential that the web gives us. Conversations with no bounds. And tying ideas to those that came before them means truly standing on the shoulders of giants.

So is Drupal moral?

Well it looks sort of moral. Sort of.

But the root of being able to unbound our conversations means that idea sharing is more open than its ever been. And this is where relationships come from. And moral or not, at least we’re having a conversation about it, which is pretty great. Drupal -> Share -> Care.

But my big question at the convention was more about whether Drupal can be ethical. Can it incorporate Justice, Value, Right, Duty, Virtue, Equality, Freedom, Trust, Free will, Consent and all those other ideals that societies crave? And can it be lightweight and secure at the same time.

The world of open-source software has come a long way. It was not long ago that it looked like H2K, Jello Biafra was the Keynote. While I’m always interested for a “Holiday in Cambodia”, I’m glad that we’re beyond arresting programmers because law enforcement doesn’t quite understand what it is they’re doing. Well, for the most part. Recovery.gov is a major step in the other direction. The US government using open source technology as a major step in the move towards economic recovery. The site even uses the Timeline from MIT’s Simile. Truly astounding. But whether the path to the US economic recovery is based in the free software solution is still something that remains to be seen. The rest of Obama’s economic policies so far are less than free and open.

It’s come along so far in fact that the rooms were packed with around 1500 people looking to discuss the solutions that Drupal can provide. And a lot of other people tuned in via Twitter, making it the #1 trend for the days it was happening. People were even Tweeting on the big board from China. This is what serious progress looks like:    

To see a room of people devoted to this kind of solution is something like seeing Wikipedians come together. In some sense I knew they were there, but seeing them all together really has me thinking that this is going to be something big. In fact, that it already is. The security session was just as crowded, discussing integration with Facebook left no empty seats, and use by church groups created some eager followers. The momentum here is impressive and whether it can jumpstart the economy is only a part of it. Can it be used to create a safe and secure social network and data hub for community-based organizations around the world? That still remains to be seen. For one thing, it’ll be competing with Facebook Connect, which is trying to become THE sign on to the internet in a similar way to Google’s being THE gateway to the internet. Scary but good? I still don’t trust that my information won’t be sold to the highest bidder by any of these companies, nor can I ensure what the government (even the Obama administration) will do with information once they have it.

An anecdote that I heard at the convention describes how when the Nazis came into Holland, they confiscated the phone records and had a quick hit list of dissidents. While I’m not sure that enough people had phones for this to be true, the Europeans are certainly aware of the security implications and have been competing against conservative American dogma to give governments complete access to such records to thwart “terrorism.” Open source technology certainly means an added transparency, but at what point is that no longer synonymous with security and what’s the tipping point in effectiveness between paid customization and mass participation.

P.S. Congrats to 6 new Knight Foundation sponsored Drupal projects and thanks to Development Seed for putting together a great time.

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