On tech, activism and BarnCamp

These are extracts from a list discussion between “tech” and “non-tech” people. I found them useful for a wider public, for even wider discussion, even for reference for the future. That is another way blogs can be used for.

Excuse the plagiarism.

“[…] The only way, in my honest opinion, for righteous techs to help activists be more tech savy is to […] seeing how the world looks from a non techy activist mindset.. and then to take the […] steps required to cater to the needs of people who do not feel or think the same way as techs do […],

recruiting help where needed, compromising where possible, and making it EASY and FUN for busy people with different skill sets and expertise from techies to use better tech tools than the easy corporate ones.”

“The whole point [of Barncamp] is to provide an open and free framework for techies to include people in their processes, to provide practical, inclusive, pragmatic ways of using tech in activism. It’s about techies doing what non-techies want us to do – refrain from jargon, explain themselves patiently and generally understand the tech/non-tech interface.”

“We need more [non-tech] people […] to make it even more like what you describe.”

“I never seem to be able to make open source tools work the way that I need them to if I’m not to spend my days trying ever harder to understand […] what on earth this or that new tool or setting or module might be for, and instead get on with my own work.”

“[…] there is a divide between the “User Interface people”, who are cast as the ‘complainers’, and the tech heroes who build the interfaces […] One of the real issues is cash money and community. […] it takes a lot of time and really good team work and mutual understanding. This seems to be something that can be solved by throwing a lot of money and skills and free pizza and free android phones etc etc that you get when you are developing a web 2.0 site. Everyone gets paid and there’s a couple of project managers with super good people skills to pull it all together.

“But let’s face it we don’t work in that kind of culture and we don’t have those resources. We are volunteering our time for free and when it comes down to it we put in what we are prepared to put in. I imagine that it is really [frequent] to be a tech volunteer, put in lots of work, and then get lots of feedback saying that it’s ‘not usable’. It would be really easy to see that as complaining if there wasn’t good understanding between the teams.”

“While I understand that most people are used to expecting that techs provide a service (…) which they simply consume, it seems quite unfair to expect that activist techs become similar service providers. The politics of social movements around building directly democratic, inclusive and horizontally organised structures requires that people do get involved and are included in techie processes and design. The producer/consumer relationship […] between ‘tech’ and ‘ordinary’ activists does not and should not be a part of activist culture because it’s completely contradictory to the politics of the movements themselves. […] coders and users are one community.”

“I fail and fail to understand why core tools have to be separately packaged up and presented without a simple work process guided by big shiny buttons and language suited to idiots like me to do straightforward tasks like media uploading, video encoding, feed item moderation etc, […]”

“[…] Free sofware takes longer to make because we need to find ways for a large number of unpaid people to collaborate. Because of that we need to build small components which work together and can be independently maintained. We also end up scrapping large frameworks because they just don’t do what we want any more. It all takes time. We don’t really yet have methodologies for deciding how to improve these structures either.

“If only providing nice GUIs was all we needed in Free Software, we’d probably be there by now. Things is, Free Software is getting better, getting stronger. We can speed that up by using it with tolerance of it’s faults and contributing to the development. Free Software is not a service.”

“What if you don’t have the courage, confidence, access, time, language, ability, awareness etc to contribute to the ‘community’ in the first place? […] What if you really, really want to use free software, and to find a way to contribute to the community within your particular limitations, but you haven’t found a way that fits the way you are in the world, your immediate concerns and forms of action? What real encouragement, facilitation is there for such outsiders […]? how can we realistically contribute to a community if we are, for any reason not comfortable stepping into it?”

“I am being active in minimising emailing people, specifically those who use a providers that are revenue based (i.e. email providers that get money from our usage in a million ways). We serve these revenue streams that ultimately, one way or other down the chain, help things I want less of in the world.

[A lot of Free Software sucks] “in lots of ways […]. It used to suck a lot more, and with the help we’ve been getting in User Interface design and all the usability contributions that people have been making, plus the total redesign of the upload systems which is targeted at making the upload story a lot nicer, its suck factor is hopefully going down slowly but steadily.

“yeah a lot of our software sucks. But jesus, you should see the shit that people in FTSE 250 companies are routinely forced to work with. […] is our software steadily sucking less? Yes. Could it get a lot better? Also yes. Does it suck less than your average corporate system? Actually, I think yes. But these are the boring questions.

“Are we doing as much as we can to make it suck less? I think we’re trying hard and doing all right. BarnCamp is a good shot at bridging a whole lot of gaps and HacktionLab in general is great. I think that with work, we steadily get better at bridging gaps and building capability.
“Certainly the amount of skills available to our political movements are way, way beyond what they were 5 years ago. HacktionLab has played a role in that, along with some other initiatives. […] To succeed at what we’re doing, we need to have technical and less-technical people collaborating on projects […]