Episode 45

The Meaning of 'Tyranny of Openness' with Nathan Schneider


July 17th, 2020

37 mins 44 secs

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About this Episode

Sponsored by Linode


Allen "Gunner" Gunn | Eric Berry | Justin Dorfman | Pia Mancini | Richard Littauer


Nathan Schneider
University of Colorado Boulder

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! In this episode, we have special guest, Nathan Schneider, a Professor of Media Studies at CU Boulder. He also runs a new little outfit called Media Enterprise Design Lab. In today’s episode, Nathan will tell us what he does, how he got to where he is today, and he explains what he means by, The Tyranny of Openness.” We will also discuss Democratic Mediums, Platform Cooperativism, and CommunityRule. Download this episode now!

[00:01:24] Nathan tells us what he does at University of Colorado, Boulder and social.coop. He’s also running Zoom right now on a Linux machine and he tells us how he got to where he is today.

[00:05:03] Richard wants Nathan to describe what he means by “The Tyranny of Openness.”

[00:07:33] Justin has been thinking about the Linux Kernel, Python (up until recently), Ruby, and cURL. They’re all run by BDFL and installed on billions of devices, so why is that working and in the future, how should projects at that scale work?

[00:11:10] Pia asks Nathan in his wildest dreams, what would a structure like he was talking about look like and what tools should we be building? Gunner is curious and asks if the notion of governance design patterns is something that’s part of Nathan’s Meta governance? Nathan talks about an attempt he made to collect patterns, a little directory called, Democratic Mediums, which was a forerunner to some of this work.

[00:17:54] Richard is curious to know what’s the split in coders like on a normal GitHub project, because there are people who would be classified as doers versus people who’d be classified as decision makers, and how does this work directly into governance?

[00:21:27] Nathan talks about Platform Cooperativism as a critique of open source.

[00:25:08] Nathan discusses about taking ownership, the big debates happening around Open Source right now and licensing issues.

[00:29:21] Pia asks Nathan to talk about CommunityRule and his thoughts on it.

[00:32:18] Nathan tells where you could find his work, where you can read his books, and how you can get involved.


  • [00:33:52] Justin’s spotlight is The Governance Ready Working Group.
  • [00:34:10] Gunner’s spotlight is Gathering for Open Science Hardware.
  • [00:34:29] Pia’s spotlight is SaveInternetFreedom.tech
  • [00:35:11] Eric’s spotlight is Allinone.im.
  • [00:35:27] Richard’s spotlight is Mathias Buus.
  • [00:35:53] Nathan’s spotlights are The Ethical Source Movement and System76.


[00:05:04] “You like the phrase of “The Tyranny of Openness.”

[00:05:18] “I guess another annoying habit I have is that when I love something, I like to criticize it.”

[00:09:13] “But there’s some sophistication there that a lot of our Open Source projects lack.”

[00:09:43] “You know you’re an Admin or not. Admins can silence people, and you know, have incredible despotic control over voice.”

[00:17:32] “It’s how engineers think. They want the engineered solution, but you know, politics is very good at resisting engineers.”

[00:24:16] “Microsoft is stepping in and forking their code and you know, making money off of it. And they’re like, wait, what’s going on? This is not in line with our values, but it is in line with their licenses.”

[00:25:59] “It’s sort of like a double-edged sword because you know with the Open Source licenses as they are defined now, they allow Amazon and Microsoft to do this.”


Nathan Schneider



Media Enterprise Design Lab

Democratic Mediums

Xkcd-A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language

The Tyranny of Openness: What Happened to Peer Production?

Governance Readiness

Gathering for Open Science Hardware

Save Internet Freedom Tech

All-in-One Messenger

Mathias Buus GitHub

The Ethical Source Movement



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