The Dazzle Commons

By Johannes Ernst


The world today knows two major ways of developing technology:

  • Traditional, “closed source”: from iPhone to Windows, from your high-tech car to the Amazon website, most technology products today are implemented by companies that claim exclusive ownership over what they developed and keep secret how their products work.

  • “Open source”: much software that keeps the internet running, such as Linux, is developed in the open, collaboratively, by interested parties that range from individuals to large corporates. By and large, anybody can use open-source for any purpose, and there is no cost.

Which should we use for the software that implements Dazzle Data Palaces? Well, given what we want to accomplish, there are problems with both of those models:

  • If we used tradional closed source, then the developers of that closed source technology would have the exclusive right to decide what these Data Palaces do, and don’t do. They could and would keep as much of the details secret as they like (in fact, they could lie about it and practically nobody would ever be able to find out). This is clearly against what we want at Dazzle, where we want as much transparency as possible, and where we want to empower users to use their personal data as they wish and have a say in what the software does.

  • If we did it as open source project, all the code would be out in the open and that would be much better. But this approach has two major other problems:

    • We could not keep the surveillance capitalists – and other unsavory characters – from invading our nice little town and use what we labored to build for purposes that we don’t approve of. Such as surveillance capitalism. As discussed before, we need a wall. Open source development cannot provide this, and it is indeed a recurring complaint about open source by developers who don’t want to see their code used for certain purposes they don’t approve of, e.g. for military applications. At Dazzle, we don’t want to see our code used for surveillance capitalism.

    • All investment in the code, and the telling of the story, and the governance, and the many other activities needed to make Dazzle successful, would have to be paid for from “other” revenue sources.

What “other” revenue sources? As an example, let’s take the Linux kernel, a very successful open-source project. Both Google and Facebook are major contributors to the Linux kernel. Guess how they pay for their employees’ time? Surveillance capitalism! We don’t want to go there.

So we need a third way that combines the best of traditional and open-source development, while avoiding the problems either have for Dazzle. The basic idea is this:

  • We know we need a wall to keep the bad guys out. Nobody gets to touch our technology if they haven’t committed to our covenant.

  • Inside the wall, we behave just like an open-source project: all code is there for all to see, and use, as long as you are a member in good standing.

  • The Dazzle community decides how to fund ongoing development. For example, it could require a certain percentage of profits made, or revenue generated, with code in the Dazzle commons, to be allocated to Dazzle commons development and maintenance.