Free data (free as in open)

Free as in "free speech", not as in "free beer".

Years we spent fighting to be able to read, fix, adapt and improve software. Being able to operate software wasn't always enough so we routed around the problem of software lock in. That solution is called Free and Open Source Software.

With web services becoming a commodity, and with companies like Yahoo! and Google that collect all our data, how do we prevent that our own data becomes proprietary data that we have no control over? How are we going to route around data lock in?

Much like Linux was able to take on Microsoft, and Wikipedia was able to take on Brittanica, will there be a community-driven David to take on today's Goliaths? Or do we need a Free Data Foundation similar to the Free Software Foundation?

A new battle is brewing.

The pain before the pay-off

Invariably, breaking programming interfaces creates a lot of pain, and the habitual willingness to change Drupal's programming interfaces is routinely identified as one of the main issues with Drupal.

For example, rewriting Drupal's form handling from Drupal 4.6 to Drupal 4.7 broke hundreds of contributed modules. And when it turned out that updating those modules was a much bigger effort than anticipated, hell broke loose. It led to quality problems, made release dates slip significantly and hordes of frustrated users were unleashed.

Today, two months after the Drupal 4.7.0 release, Drupal developers around the world are slowly recovering from the pain. We're not quite there yet but more and more people assert that the pay-off is huge and that they are thoroughly enjoying themselves with the new possibilities.

So let's capture that thought for future reference. Sweeping changes are required to make major advances in technology, and often times there is a lot of pain before the pay-off.