Introducing “A free, libre and open Glossary”

The following guest post is by Chris Sakkas.

A few months ago, we ran into a problem at work. ‘Let’s open source this,’ my boss said, and then ran a conventional brainstorming session. I am constantly frustrated by people misusing terms like free, libre and open that have well-established definitions. I decided to spend an afternoon writing the first draft of a glossary that would explain in depth what these words mean and their relationship to one another. My hope is that if someone read the glossary from start to finish, they would never again confuse crowdsourcing with open source, or freeware with software.

Here’s the summary:

  • A free/libre/open work is one that can be shared and adapted by any person for any purpose, without infringing copyright.
  • A crowdsourced work is one that was solicited from the community, rather than internally or by conventional contracting.
  • Freeware describes software that is free of cost to download.
  • Free software is free/libre/open, but might cost money to buy.

The glossary is a collaboration by the community, but I’ve also released it as an ODT and PDF in a fixed form. The advantage of this is that it is proofread, verified and able to be cited. However, it also survives as a living document that you are welcome to contribute to.

The research that I needed to do to write the glossary made me more sympathetic to those who blur or misuse the terms. While the big concepts – open knowledge, open source, free software, free cultural works – are clearly defined, they are not quite synonyms. What is free, libre and open has been filtered through the expectations of the drafters: the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Definition requires a work to be open access to qualify as open knowledge; the Definition of Free Cultural Works requires the work to be in a free format to qualify as a free cultural work. It’s thus possible to have a free cultural work that is not open knowledge, and vice versa; it’s also not unusual for a work to be under a free cultural licence/open knowledge licence but be neither a free cultural work nor open knowledge.

The community response to my first draft was interesting and useful. I experienced early and sustained criticism of my use of the non-free, libre and open Google Drive to host the file. I also learned first-hand the power of the carrot over the stick: I ignored people simply criticising the use of Google Drive, but transferred it to the Etherpad when someone suggested it.

If this sounds of interest to you, jump in and check it out!


Chris Sakkas is the admin of the FOSsil Bank wiki and the Living Libre blog and Twitter feed.

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