Applying my question on the main site to this site itself:

Can this site, which is trying to be a community for Free Software (besides other topics), run on a proprietary platform (SE)?

Which part of the Free Software community can and will find this acceptable?

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    Where would this question better be asked? – user490 Jul 10 '15 at 15:24
  • I am asking you, the people how try to build this site. I don't think that the answer is obvious just because you are here. I am here, too, and I don't think SE is a good thing. – user490 Jul 10 '15 at 15:26
  • Why isn't SE a good thing? – Zizouz212 Jul 10 '15 at 15:28
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    @EricGärtner With all respect to you and your opinions, what motivates you to be here if you don't think SE is a good thing? – ArtOfCode Jul 10 '15 at 15:28
  • @ArtOfCode Discussion about topics I find important. – user490 Jul 10 '15 at 15:32
  • @EricGärtner And therein you prove my point in my answer: if this is the best discussion site, people will come here despite having objections to the principles. Case in point. – ArtOfCode Jul 10 '15 at 15:33
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    @EricGärtner - just to say, disagreeing with a meta post doesn't make it bad. I am glad you're interested in how we run the site. – ArtOfCode Jul 10 '15 at 15:39
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    @Zizouz212 I disagree, this is a fair question to ask and there is no better place than here to ask it. The community might not realise that most people here actually dislike that this is on SE. If we all realise that we would rather continue somewhere else, we could take this community and settle on another platform. That being said, I disagree and think SE is a perfectly fine platform for this site to be on. It might not be ideal, but it's the best we've got. – overactor Jul 10 '15 at 16:37

Consider for a moment what "Stack Exchange" is really about. Our mission is to share and cultivate open knowledge…and to keep that knowledge free and available for reuse. We believe in that mission deeply and we cultivate it unwaveringly.

But Stack Exchange is not actually a software company. The idea that we have to write software at all is just an artifact of how we get things done. If it were a simple matter of throwing a switch, we probably would have made the core engine open source a long time ago; we talked about it on many occasions. But maintaining and documenting and supporting software in a distributable format is a big responsibility; not something we would have done half-assed or taken lightly. So a decision had to be made about whether to make it about the software… or about what we're trying to do with that software. We chose the latter.

Stack Exchange is actually a huge supporter of open source software and everything it stands for. That's not just talk. You can read about all the projects we do in open source. A few quick examples:

We've provided free vote-based advertising for anyone with open source projects, and have donated $100s of thousands of dollars to organizations like Git, Software Freedom Conservancy, Internet Archive, MathJax, HAProxy, the jQuery Foundation, and OpenBSD.

I'm probably forgetting a bunch, but you get the gist of it..

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    That is all very nice. From the Free Software perspective the main point is that the system is proprietary. You can do any sort of nice things on such a platform but you deny the users the freedom to use, change, and distribute the platform as a software product. That is, as far as I understand it, not what the Free Software movement can accept. – user490 Jul 10 '15 at 18:49
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    @EricGärtner - Robert's point notes and accepts that. Yes, it's a non-free platform, but Robert is providing Stack Exchange's perspective on free software. – ArtOfCode Jul 10 '15 at 21:27
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    Add the blog and your whatever jekyl monitoring system :D – Zizouz212 Jul 10 '15 at 21:31
  • "The idea that we have to write software at all is just an artifact of how we get things done". SE can not exist without software. That is not accidental. My point is that a community for Free Software and Open Source should care about the platform it uses. SE donating code and money is a very good thing but not an answer to my question. Robert, your whole answer describes what SE is doing but it is not answering if you think this site should use a platform like SE. – user490 Jul 11 '15 at 15:32

Literal answer: yes. It's already doing so.

If your question is more moral/ethical, I'm afraid there's not a whole lot we can (or will) do about it. We've convened a community here, and we've got a very good platform to do Q&A on. The fact that it's a proprietary platform does indeed seem contrary to the site's topic, but there's your answer:

The site's topic is the only thing contravened by using a proprietary platform. The site's community don't seem to mind, and the site's only principles are high quality Q&A.

As for the free/open-source communities, if this is the best Q&A site for the topic there is, people are going to come here whether it's closed-source or not.

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  • People are going to come here because SE is very good at SEO. – user490 Jul 10 '15 at 15:28
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    That's not what I said, nor what I meant, nor what I implied. People are going to come here if this site has the best quality. – ArtOfCode Jul 10 '15 at 15:29
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    A person may come here once because of SEO. IF they don't find it acceptable, they are unlikely to return – kdopen Jul 10 '15 at 15:31
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    @EricGärtner, SE follows the Wikipedia model of SEO: provide an incredibly useful resource, and everyone and their dog will link to it. – Mark Jul 10 '15 at 21:30
  • @Mark The difference is that WP is doing it for the content while SE is doing it for the ads show to low-rep users. We all provide the UGC that drives this scheme. – user490 Jul 11 '15 at 15:37

If you have ethical issues with the site as proprietary software, you must weigh the costs and benefits of your use.

If you think the benefits of using this site (personal enjoyment; public increase of free software awareness on a large platform; support of well-defined community rules and norms) outweigh the costs (using proprietary software and encouraging others to do so via a network effect), then you should continue using the site. If you don't think the benefits of use outweigh the costs of use, you shouldn't use the site.

By definition, everyone here thinks the benefits outweigh the costs. Of course, the cost-benefit tradeoff of a hypothetical site exactly like this one, but run on free software, would be more favorable to you (and others), but no such site exists. You are free to undertake this monumental task of software engineering and community-building, if you wish. (Certainly, hugely-scoped tasks in the past have not stopped free software development, e.g., in building a free operating system. :)

You are welcome also to petition the owners of Stack Exchange to freely release their software, but the odds of this having a positive outcome seem vanishingly small.

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There is always the distinction between what is realistic and what is desirable. Sure, it would be better for almost anyone (except Stack Exchange, Inc) if all SE-sites would be running on free software. But realism hits us at two points:

  • Stack Exchange doesn't make it open source/free software (and they are the copyright owners)
  • where does no equivalent alternative exists

For the second point everyone has to decide if the worse alternatives work for them. As kdopen points out, there are some who think the superiority of the SE-platform beats open source-ness. But everyone has to decide for themselves. You wrote for yourself, that even GNU at some point was created with proprietary software.

For the first point: you can lobby for that on meta SE. Still it's the decision of Stack Exchange, and seemingly they think they make more money if the software is proprietary.

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The answers seem self-evident

Specifically to this part:

Can this site, ..., run on a proprietary platform (SE)?

It seems to be doing OK so far, as are all the other sites in the SE network.

SE is not a charity, it is a for-profit organization. If they wanted to run this site off a windows-based server that is their prerogative. So of course it can (as in 'is able' or 'is allowed') run on a proprietary platform.

and then to this part:

Which part of the Free Software community can and will find this acceptable?

Those who continue to come here to ask questions and find answers

By coming to this site repeatedly, they are "voting with their feet" and showing acceptance of the site. The ones who don't like it, will (hopefully) stay away.

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  • Ah, you try to be funny :) – user490 Jul 10 '15 at 15:24
  • Well, if I ask "should" wise guys will vote for closing on grounds of the question being opinion based. Catch 21. – user490 Jul 10 '15 at 15:27
  • @EricGärtner That question is a heated debate in the making: Let me sharpen this question: If a tool is available as proprietary software with many features and as Free Software with fewer features, should a Free Software community choose the Free Software version? – Zizouz212 Jul 10 '15 at 15:33
  • @Zizouz212 Is that a quote? :) – kdopen Jul 10 '15 at 15:36
  • @kdopen yes – trichoplax Jul 10 '15 at 15:39
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    @EricGärtner opinion based is not such a problem on meta. – trichoplax Jul 10 '15 at 15:40

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