Kevin Faaborg

Head of Product at ARA Blocks

Why We're Choosing Open Source for Ara (And Why You Should, Too)

Earlier this year, we released the Ara File Manager. Today, we’re very happy to announce we’ve also released the Ara File Manager’s source code.
We’re building Ara to let creators and fans break free of platforms that take too much value and control from both sides, and help platforms be better as a result. This story talks more about the Ara File Manager, the kinds of problems we’re aiming to solve, and our plan for Ara to fix them.
What does open source mean for you? Even if you’re not a coder, open source is important.
Would you buy a box of cereal at the grocery store if there were no ingredients listed on the back?
Would you choose a new car if the hood was locked, and only by the dealer who sold it to you had the key?
While these imagined situations feel unfair, they’re analogous to the protections we as consumers give up countless times a day as we use closed, proprietary, and secret apps, software services, and electronic devices.
More and more people today are interested in educating themselves about how the choices they make as consumers affect not just them, but the wider world we all share.
You might choose a T-shirt from a company that talks about how it was made, rather than an alternative that comes from a supply chain that likely exploits workers in the developing world.
You might choose between utility providers not just on price, but also to encourage the development of renewables.
You might eat more vegetables and less meat not just for the personal health benefits, but also because animal farming emits a lot of carbon and is often inhumane.
You might choose books and toys for your children that feature unbranded characters and universes (trucks, castles, dinosaurs, ponies, pirates) to encourage creative play, rather than assembling the Avengers.
Digital products are no different. The choices we make as digital consumers affect not just us, but also the market and society as a whole. It’s been great to see, in recent years, a new generation of consumers who really care about the network effects of their decisions, and choose stuff that’s best for both themselves and the world. The learning curve may be steeper with apps compared to food, but no less surmountable.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Can I (or third parties I trust) see the insides of this? (Or is it locked and secret?)
  • Later on, will I be able to move from this to an alternative? (Or is the stuff I make trapped in here forever?)
  • Is my information private in a way that protects me? (Or are things instead designed to protect and enrich the service provider at the cost of my freedom and privacy?)
A really simple thing to look for is open source. Similar to the label ‘organic’ on food, it can mean a few different things, but they’re all generally good. Open source products allow audit, and invite modification. Communities form around them of individuals who don’t all share a single agenda or motive, leading to decisions that guide the product that are far more likely to respect users.
Simply put: a project gives away a lot of power in choosing to be open source, and is more likely to act better as a result.
At Ara Blocks, we’re choosing open source for a few reasons:
1. Transparency and Trust
Any product makes claims about how it operates. Are these claims true? With closed apps and services, you can’t really know for sure. Instead, you just have to trust the organization making the claims.
Open source is much better: you (or a knowledgeable independent third party) can verify the claims for themselves. You don’t have to wait for a skilled investigative journalist to smell trouble and somehow get inside a closed organization to try to discover more. All the details that would uncover something that’s not right are already laid out on the table for everyone to see.
2. Your Freedom to Tinker.
Maybe there’s some little part of the Ara File Manager that you find annoying. Well, because it’s open source, you can change it. (And if so, please let us know, so we can include your change into the next version we distribute!) Maybe there’s another part that you would like to know exactly how it works. Access to the source code means you can find out.
3. Evangelism and Recruiting.
A software project’s success depends on attracting a talented team of people around it. Some work here, building Ara as their day jobs. Others might be working for another company integrating the Ara modules to improve their own products and services. And more people might just play around with Ara in their free time, just for fun but still helping the project through testing, providing user feedback, and sharing ideas for improvements and new directions.
If you’re interested in finding out more about open source ideals and the open source movement, there are many excellent resources online:
  • The Open Source Initiative works to raise awareness and adoption of open source software.
  • GNU is an operating system and community and writes about the philosophy behind free software.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a digital rights group that fights to protect our rights as individuals in the digital world.
  • And lastly, Freedom to Tinker is a blog from the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University.
Follow @AraBlocks on GitHubInstagramTwitter, and Medium, and read our whitepaper at ara.one.
Kevin Faaborg first saw the web in his freshman dorm at Harvard, where he studied physics, learned C from Brian Kernighan, and wrote for the Harvard Lampoon. Four years later working at MTV, he tried to explain Napster to Viacom execs. Few people are aware that LimeWire was a company; Kevin worked there for 5 years, writing code at the start and defending it in a Manhattan courtroom at the end. Spotify then launched in America, where Kevin worked for 7 years before joining Ara. His publisher wants him to link his book, Mastering Node.js, now in its second edition. Follow Kevin on Twitter @zootella.

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