Radio talk show and podcast host Leo
Laporte doesn't think operating systems or network infrastructures should
ever be proprietary. He's the host of The Tech
Guy radio show, which airs every weekend on stations around the United
States, and of FLOSS Weekly, a regular
podcast in which Laporte discusses different aspects of the Free, Libre, and
Open Source software community. On The Tech Guy show, Laporte answers
questions from computer users who call in to get advice and find ways to make
their computers run better. Most of his callers are Windows users, but
way to mention Linux and other open source software during the course of his
Laporte says he has been writing software for decades, and that he has always
shared the source code, even before he had a notion of open
source. "It was
public domain then. But even then, I understood that if you're programming,
the most interesting part is to see other people's code and be able to modify
it. That's just a natural way to work." His first shot at
installing Linux was
back in 1994 when he got his hands on a copy of Slackware. "It was
but it opened my eyes to the growing open source world."
At the time, Laporte was the host of a cable television show called Tech TV.
"We were the first television show to install Linux live."
On that show,
Laporte hosted some of the biggest names in FLOSS, including Linus Torvalds
and Richard Stallman, during Tech TV's run. "The longer I worked as a computer
journalist, the more obvious it became to me that proprietary software is a
bad idea. It's not natural to be secretive and it doesn't make sense." Laporte
says that especially in the enterprise, the technological infrastructure
should be open. "That should never be proprietary. Protocols, standards, and
code need to be open."
When it comes to applications, Laporte is a bit more flexible. "If you want to
write an app that is closed source, I can see there are reasons why one might
want to do that and that's fine with me. But closing the operating system
makes no sense, and it is bad for everybody."
Laporte, a Twitter user with over
fifty-five thousand followers, recently announced he would no longer use
Twitter, but would instead now throw his support behind
Laconica, the open source micro-blogging
platform on which Identi.ca is built. Laporte
spoke extensively about Laconica on FLOSS Weekly last month when he chatted
with Evan Prodromou, the original
author of Laconica and the person who maintains identi.ca.
"Laconica is identical to Twitter, but it's open, which is huge,
and, more than open just in terms of it being open source."
says open standards are just as important in this case, and that the protocols
for micro-blogging should become commoditized so that others can build
on top of the infrastructure instead of having to start from
scratch. Laconica also offers users the option to release all their
micro-posts under a Creative Commons attribution license, making the service
about as "open as you could hope for," writes Dan Brickley, co-founder of the
Friend of a Friend project (FOAF).
With Laconica, different micro-blogging services can communicate with each
other since the platform is open, unlike Twitter's service. This makes it
possible for different communities to form their own branded services in which
users can still search for and follow users in other communities, tying them
together in what has become known as a "federation." Right now, Laconica is
of disparate servers, whose users can all subscribe to each others'
updates. Laconica is built using the
specification, which is completely open, free, and independent of any one
central maintenance authority, unlike Twitter's proprietary protocol.
Laporte believes that this kind of federation, which could be called
distributed micro-blogging, is the key to overcoming scalability issues that
have plagued Twitter, resulting in frequent outages for the popular service.
"If you can't scale, that's another reason to have a more
distributed system. Maybe we shouldn't have two million people on one
Twitter. Maybe we
should have five thousand people on four hundred 'twitters.' I have three
thousand people on my system, and that's just about right."
Laporte's system is called the TWiT
Army, [Note that the web site is currently down]
named after another of his podcasts known as This
Week in Tech, or TWiT. "The conversation [there] has been very
cohesive. The conversation is with people you know. With Twitter, it
turns into a broadcast medium instead of a conversation. Now, it is a very
useful way to get a message out to all those people. But I would love to have
all those people all in their own communities, able to search across the
federation by keyword, and if I post something of interest they'll find out
Laporte says he is not trying to go "head to head" against Twitter. But he is
convinced that Laconica is a better way to do micro-blogging. "One of my
problems with Twitter is that I contribute a lot of content and they shut down
access to it. I want to be part of an open platform — that's where the
innovation is going to occur."
Laporte says that features Twitter previously offered but has shut down,
including instant messaging and
two of the most valuable features that Twitter offered. "Comcast realized a
huge value from Track," he says. Comcast customer service agents were tracking
Twitter posts to monitor complaints or issues posted by users, and then
following up directly with those people. "Twitter was saying, 'well it's too
demanding,' but the conspiracy theory is that they realize this is where the
real value of Twitter is and they want to try to monetize it." With Laconica,
Laporte says, these types of features can remain open and accessible, not
subject to the whims of proprietary ownership.
Laporte, Prodromou, and others including RSS pioneer
Dave Winer, are talking about a
collaborative effort to standardize and open the protocols for micro-blogging.
The group is planning a
for all who are interested in the concept of open micro-blogging, called the
BearhugCamp. Laporte says, "we would very much like to
encourage Twitter to become a part. The idea is to get all the
players to the table and encourage them to support the
Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol
(XMPP) (developed by Jabber). We're creating
a new messaging medium with emerging open standards, in new and exciting ways.
It's not really about Twitter at all – Twitter gave us this idea of
micro-blogging, and now we're onto the next thing: let's make it open."
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