In our dealings with Free Software and Free Content we are usually only emphasising the technological and business advantages of it. But recently, after a comment from one of my friends, it occurred to me that there's an important social aspect that we may be missing to mention.
The funniest thing is that the basis of this aspect is getting through a lot of articles, without much notice. It's one of those words you seem to use completely nonchalantly, yet it bears much more meaning, if you would only pay a little more attention to it. The word is <em>community</em>.
Some people might say that there's nothing new there, that this has been known aspect of Free Software for a long time, but from what I can tell it's very, very rarely emphasized. Behind this word lies much more than most people think.
Typically the projects get started by a small group of people, who know each-other directly, or even by a single person. After a while, if the project shows any progress, more people tend to join in, both as developers and users. In order to accommodate for the increasing number of people participating in the project, usually an IRC channel gets opened, or some other similar means of communication between several people at the same time.
At first the IRC channel usually serves only the purpose of providing an easy way for several developers to discuss ideas which should be implemented in the project, as well as providing help for users. At some point the topics within the channel expand, very often becoming unrelated to the project. People start exchanging their thoughts on various topics, whether it's music, travel, or something else. To put it shortly - people start to <em>know</em> each other.
And this has got to be one of the most interesting aspects to Free Software and Content. There simply isn't room for similar situations within the proprietary sphere of development. These people are limited to interacting with their co-workers due to development model, so they rarely can form more personal relationships with people whom they don't meet face-to-face.
During Free Software and Content development many friendships can form. These friendships can later on lead even to people from very distant countries visiting each-other. In fact, I actually know a case where this kind of visitation led to a co-developer of mine finding his current girlfriend (and they're madly in love). And the chances they'd end-up together if it wasn't for the Free Software project he worked on? Practically zero (very distant countries).
Finally, as a communist, I must notice that this kind of socialisation to me looks like a form of de-alienation of people. And much, much more. Friendships which otherwise wouldn't happen become possible and people throughout the world get connected.
As a final note, on February 5th I'll be heading off for the FOSDEM conference (in Brussels). Although the fact that it is a conference about Free Software is part of why I'll be attending, I must say it's not my main motivation. The main motivation was the chance of meeting some of my fellow developers with whom I've been working on a project.