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28 Concepts For a Free Society To Know About

Diving deeper into the world of open source, free and collaborative projects, I find myself more and more confused about the vocabulary being used.

It feels like over time time layers of thinkers and activists created their own definitions. Words are being used in all kind of contexts and many of us are too shy to admit we sometimes don’t fully get it.

Is “generative design” different from “mass customization”? What is “sharing economy” compared to “collaborative consumption” and “peer to peer economy”? “Open source” versus “free”? Is “sustainable” the same than “cradle to cradle” or “biomimicry”?

If we want to make a change in this world and build the foundation of a free society, we need to communicate better. Using words that only a small percentage of the population understand is not going to help.

This article is about defining concepts to better understand what we are all talking about.


“Free” is mostly used for software. The Free Software movement launched in 1984 with the development of the free operating system GNU. The Free Software movement – led by Richard Stallman – gave birth to the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). “Free Software” is like free speech, not free beer. It’s about defending the freedom to use, copy, modify and redistribute computer software.

“Open Source” came afterwards. In 1998, a portion of Free Software activists split. They created the Open Source Definition that defends the same principles than the Free Software but focuses on a work methodology based on collaboration rather than emphasizing freedom.

“FOSS” or “FLOSS” is the term that entails both movements. It means “Free or Open Source Software”.

“Open Source Hardware” was defined in 2010 based on the Open Source Definition. Idea behind the Open Source Hardware Definition is to adapt Open Source for hardware projects and allow users to use, copy, modify and redistribute hardware.

“Open design” is a term used to describe an object simultaneously created by the designer, the end user and sometimes the builder. It’s a product that is made collaboratively. It doesn’t mean it’s placed under an open source hardware license even if it’s sometimes the case.

“Generative design” is the tool used to work on an open design. It can be a piece of software or the way the design is itself conceived (a chair made of many parts or that can change shape for example).

“Mass customization” is a model where final users can modify parts of the product, such as changing colors, adding their name or more. It doesn’t mean that the product is open source.

“Sharing economy” is a model that lets users share their underutilized assets. With Lyft for example, users make money from their cars.

“Collaborative economy” is an economy in which people do business with each others without the need of traditional institutions. AirBnB is a good example of a platform that allows for a collaborative economy to happen.

“Peer production economy” is the same idea of a model that enables users to exchange with each others but focused on the creation of commons and the lack of centralized platform or institution. Instead of replacing traditional institutions with new ones, the idea is to create an economy that doesn’t depend on a intermediary but only on the network of users.

“Peer to peer” means from someone to someone else. It defines a network that doesn’t depend on a centralized institution.

“Virtual currency” is a currency that doesn’t exist physically but only as a computer-based unit. Bitcoin, for example, is a virtual currency that is exchanged in peer to peer.

“Cryptocurrency” means that the currency is created with cryptography, a secure system of communication.

“Commons” are assets in society that are shared and freely accessible to all citizens. A free software, an open source hardware product, books in the public domain are examples of commons.

“Open knowledge” is the idea of making the knowledge of humanity available to everyone.

“Distributed manufacturing” is the idea of manufacturing a product thanks to a network of builders, individuals or companies. Many think it could be a way to improve local economies and reduce pollution.

“Open Value Network” or “OVN” is a model that allows for co-production, where all members of a project can participate and get acknowledged and rewarded accordingly.

“Basic Income” is the idea that the State should give a monthly income to all citizens, may they work or not, so that they can have the freedom to decide what they truly want to work on.

“Sustainable development” is a very large concept that defines all practices leading to lessen the negative impact of human activities on the planet, and to do so in the long run.

“Green economy” is the economical model behind sustainable development. It is focused on having a balanced use of natural resources.

“Circular economy” is an economy that doesn’t create any waste. It works by taking into consideration the full life of a product.

“Cradle to Cradle” or “Zero Waste” both define a strategy in which products don’t generate any waste: they are designed to be build, used, disassembled, recycled, transformed and re-used, just like in nature.

“Biomimicry” means “copying nature”. In nature, everything is reused, nothing is lost.

“Permaculture” is the agricultural practice of growing food with nature rather than against it (following natural ecosystems instead of using pesticides for example), enabling for a sustainable agriculture.

“Jugaad” is a word from India that describes a product made out of something else, most often by hand. A scrappy object.

“Freegan” is a person that rejects consumerism, reduces its own waste and live out of discarded goods.

“Dumpster diving” is the activity of picking up discarded goods out of trash bins.

“DIY” or “DIWO” stand for “Do It Yourself” or “Do It With Others”. It means make something by hand, alone or with other people.

“Makerspaces” are spaces where people can practice DIWO. Members have access to tools and share ideas and skills with each others.

“Fab labs” are makerspaces that follow the Fab Lab Definition created by the Center for Bits and Atoms at the MIT. It’s a space with shared rapid prototyping tools and a community of people making projects and sharing the documentation to allow others to use, modify and reproduce them.

“Hackerspaces” are makerspaces that don’t need to comply to any definition. They are spaces with shared tools where a community of members can meet and work on their projects. Freedom is a core value of hackerspaces.

“Co-working spaces” are spaces for workers who don’t want to work from home or don’t want/have a company office.


——– Time for a Test ——-

Yes? So now if I tell you:

“In this hackerspace, a bunch of freegans came up with an idea for a circular economy that would use the Open Value Network and peer to peer virtual cryptocurrencies to let people create and share open source hardware generative designs for permaculture, using Free Software, that could not only be mass customized but also Cradle to Cradle. As soon as they accessed this open knowledge, Fab Labs and co-working spaces joined the movement and added to the Commons of the project. Zero Waste on the way!”

Am I talking about?

A. A software to generate Bitcoins

B. A set of tools for agriculture

C. A workshop to learn about home building


Hmm. Please. Never speak like that!


That’s it for now. Did I miss anything?





Answer is B of course 😉

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