There is a Software Supply Chain
The real problem is capitalism

Table of Contents

Back home.

1. Software as supply chain is a great metaphor

I just saw this article, and I like it.

Essentially, it calls out a lot of issues with what industry and society expects form the free software (and open source1) community.

It’s infuriating to me that, as the author states:

Google even wanted to disallow anonymous individuals from maintaining critical software and wanted to police the identities of others.

But what I dislike about it is that it seems to couple all of these things to the supply chain metaphor, and not what I would consider the abuse of that metaphor by capitalism.

I wanna give a full quote here from the article, so as to represent the author as directly as possible:

“This is where the supply chain metaphor — and it is just that, a metaphor — breaks down. If a microchip vendor enters an agreement and fails to uphold it, the vendor’s customers have recourse. If an open source maintainer leaves a project unmaintained for whatever reason, that’s not the maintainer’s fault, and the companies that relied on their work are the ones who get to solve their problems in the future. Using the term “supply chain” here dehumanizes the labor involved in developing and maintaining software as a hobby.”

And while I completely agree with the sentiment behind this, I disagree that it’s a bad metaphor.2

This metaphor adds insights — we can consider the operations of a more canonical supply chain, and find that they do apply quite nicely in explaining software supply chains.

For example, we can consider the interplay between a push and pull chain strategy. In a push system, the supply of goods is determined primarily by the producers, where as in a pull system, it’s primarily determined by the consumers.3

In the case of software, we might see that when someone decides to e.g. package a piece of software they like, just for their own sake, or to make it more available, that is driven by that persons intent to make that available, and so they push it out into the supply chain.

In the other case, we can imagine someone opening an issue, which a contributor sees and decided to take action on. In this case, the user pulled on that person to create a product.

With this alone, we can start to see how useful this metaphor is, because it helps us understand something about why people demand too much from free software contributors.

Why in the world should the supply chain be structured towards pull when the rewards of the supply chain are generated by the creators themselves? The pull method works for a supply chain that gets its feedback from profits from those that pull on it, but when the primary payoff for the producers (the contributors) is generate by themselves, it seems perfectly logical that the supply chain is biased towards a push strategy.

And if someone comes along to pull on the supply chain, it’s perfectly natural then to notice that, if there is no feedback into the system in terms of compensation or at least appreciation… Well, then obviously that should not be prioritized by a system that runs on the enjoyment of the creators.

We might actually start to see how part of the problem is that companies in these cases are seeking to alienate the contributors from the supply chain and take control of it, and so it is even more crucial that we remain lucid of its existence.4

So when e.g. Google wants to ban anonymous contributions, the obvious question is why they think they get to appropriate the supply chain — even more so without offering anything in return.

Because the real problem is not the metaphors, it’s corporations.

Footnotes:

1

This and the latter attempts at appropriation/astroturfing by not so noble people.

2

As to whether or not it is dehumanizing, I think that lays more in our tendency to view production as inhumane than in the supply chain metaphor itself. I mean, we rarely realize that everything around us has been touched and created by someone else, and that’s a totally different problem, which is still real, but should not be solved by axing metaphors. The problems of labor being alienated from the producers are nothing inherent to the supply chain.

3

You might have a different idea about push/pull that relies on the idea that a push system is based on projections, and a pull system is based on market feedback, but that’s just an example to explain in the case of a supply chain that’s driven by a profit motive. For other definitions, see https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4614-6777-9_7.

4

The attempts to take over the supply chain by corporations (Microsoft <3 Linux) is why I host my own gitea.

Author: Christina Sørensen

Created: 2022-11-12 Sat 03:57