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How viral is GPL?

Sunday, August 10, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A couple of disclaimers up front: Permalink to this paragraph

1. I love to stir the pot cause that's how we all learn, by pushing up against the boundaries of what people think to see how strong our beliefs are. It's the same reason my friend NakedJen walks around naked, partially cause it feels good and partially cause it gets people to think differently.  Permalink to this paragraph

2. About open source and whether I have the standing to discuss it, I've made a huge contribution to open source with the 2004 release of Frontier under the GPL. I was releasing code long before the terms free software or open source existed. Even so, as you'll see, I don't believe in the boundaries, I think ideas should freely cross the boundaries, and they do.  Permalink to this paragraph

Anyway, a few days ago I suggested that identi.ca and Disqus, two products that I admire, should be made to work with each other. Permalink to this paragraph

I suggested that a plug-in architecture could be designed for identi.ca that would allow developers to add modules without modifying identi.ca. They would cross server boundaries, my plug-in would run on my server, and would be linked into identi.ca via a URL. Permalink to this paragraph

It was suggested, I believe incorrectly, that because Disqus was not licensed under GPL that such integration can't happen. You can read the discussion on FriendFeed. Permalink to this paragraph

So if this is true, if it can't happen, why is it that I can point from FriendFeed to identi.ca and vice versa?  Permalink to this paragraph

Further, why is it that I can call into identi.ca through their implementation of the Twitter API from any software I want to whether or not it is licensed under an open source or free software license?  Permalink to this paragraph

This is where open source religion has always fallen down, and it was one of the reasons I promoted XML-RPC and SOAP, because I wanted to end the uberness of all operating systems and religions once and for all. Choice is what matters, and people should always be free to use whatever they want and to license their work on any basis they want, without coercion. It's cool to be generous, but giving stuff away with onerous conditions isn't particularly generous. And the web fights you on this, unless you want to completely wall yourself off from the rest of the world, the rest of the world is going to get in, whether you want them to or not. Permalink to this paragraph

I love identi.ca, and I love what Evan and his team are doing. I plan to support it as long as I'm breathing. I also like that it can be influenced by and has influence on stuff that lives elsewhere and works according to different rules. I also love that Twitter defined an open API that was waiting for identi.ca to adopt. I love where all this is going. Permalink to this paragraph

I hope this generates a stimulating and interesting and respectful discussion. Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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