Hi Benno,

Benno Schulenberg <bensb...@telfort.nl> skribis:

> Anyway... I've carefully read https://wiki.gnu.tools/gnu:social-contract
> (Last modified: 2020/01/22 11:55), and here are my comments.

Thanks for taking the time to read it and to comment it.

> Please don't call the document a Social Contract.  The first sentence says:
> "These are the core commitments of the GNU Project...".  In other words:
> these are promises.  A better title for the document would be:
>   The GNU Promises

I agree these are promises.  I personally find the name “Social
Contract” clear, but perhaps the context is missing: it is a reference
to Rousseau’s Social Contract¹, and the phrase has since been used
broadly to designate documents that are a collective pledge or set of
promises (an example is Debian’s Social Contract).

I think “social contract” accurately defines the document, but “GNU
Pledge” or similar would also work I guess, although it does not have
the nice effect of making it clear that it’s a social construct.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_contract

> The first sentence continues with: "to the broader free software community".
> Well, why only to the free-software people?  I would say: "to the world".

Yes, good point, I agree.

> The second sentence says: "The GNU Project provides a software system..."
> The word "system" is both too vague and too all-encompassing; it sounds as
> if it wants to be a single, massive block of software.  I would say that
> the GNU project "provides software packages...".  The second section then
> nicely elaborates a bit on this.

Sounds good to me.

> I'm glad to see that the numbering in the first section goes from 1 to 4.
> Please don't use the numbering from 0 to 3, as in the email, because then
> the average person reading this would think that we are nerds and inepts.

OK, makes sense to me.

> The first section ends with: "the GNU Project pays attention and responds
> to new threats to users' freedom as they arise."  I applaud an organization
> that takes it upon itself to respond to such threats, but I as an individual
> maintainer cannot and will not make any such promise.

Right, I think this is a collective pledge: this is what we members want
the project to promise.  Do you think the individual/collective
distinction needs to be clarified?

> The third section begins: "Free software extends beyond the GNU Project..."
> Huh?  Vague.  Does this want to say that there is also free software that
> is not part of the GNU project?  If yes, then say so.

Yes, that was the goal.

> It continues: "which works with companion free software projects that
> develop key components of the GNU System".  Oof...  Who are those
> "companion free software projects"?  How can such projects "that
> develop key components of the GNU System" not be part of the GNU
> project itself?  In short: what does this want to say?  Where is the
> promise here?

The goal is to acknowledge that GNU is not the only free software
provider, and that the GNU Project (socially) and the GNU System
(technically) has to work with these other free software projects.

The promise is that of working hand in hand with free software projects
that are natural allies and/or develop tools that GNU relies on.  It’s
about being a “good citizen.”

There’s been several occasions in the past where GNU drove away some of
its allies, or was perceived as failing to acknowledge the technical
importance of other free software components.  As I see it, this promise
is a way to rectify that.

WDYT?  Can you think of a way to reword it to clarify this?

> And then: "The GNU Project aims to extend the reach of free software to
> new fields."  Huh?  What new "fields"?  Again: what is the promise here?
> Is it that we intend to assimilate everything?

The idea I think is that GNU is not tied to a specific set of
application domains and includes packages of any field—compilers,
astronomy tools, math software, etc.

There probably lacks a transition from the previous sentence though.

Any wording you would suggest?

> The fourth section says: "The GNU Project wants to give everyone the
> opportunity of contributing to its efforts..."  To me this sounds as if
> the GNU project will not put any hurdles and conditions in people's way
> before they can contribute.  But in practice the GNU project requires
> that significant contributors sign a copyright assignment, and that
> translators sign a copyright disclaimer.  I think that these two things
> make the GNU project quite unwelcoming to possible contributors.  So,
> in my opinion, that sentence is rather untruthful.

Note that copyright assignment has always been optional; a number of GNU
packages do not have copyright assignment at all, but for those that do,
contributors are indeed required to sign an assignment form.

To me this is more of a policy issue and beyond the scope of this

Thanks for your feedback!  I guess we’ll incorporate some of your
suggestions in the coming days.  (Note that the wiki contents can be
accessed through Git:


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