SELF Platform Beta launched!

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SELF Founding Principles

As we have recently published a set of founding principles to define the shared thoughts and ideas of the participants in the SELF Platform, I thought it a good idea to comment on it. These principles form the basis of the Platform, should guide us when there is doubt and they will mark the direction of the future of SELF.

1. Sharing Knowledge

We share, create, stimulate and promote knowledge in the area of Free Software and Open Standards. Knowledge shared freely becomes much more valuable. For this reason, the materials on the SELF platform are available to everyone free of charge and can be used, adapted, modified, updated, translated, as defined in the Licensing Policy.

Sharing Knowledge in the area of Free Software and Open Standards is the main objective of SELF and is logically the first principle. See our mission statement.

2. Reciprocity

The SELF project is based on scientific principles and thoughts, it considers itself committed to the scientific tradition. This tradition includes mutual sharing of knowledge to enlighten each other. Contributors share their work with the expectation that others do the same when they build upon their contributions. This is called reciprocity. That principle is fundamentally inherent in science and Free Software, and its requirement is the defining principle of Copyleft. SELF reflects this principle in its Licensing Policy, where both the software and the educational material will follow these traditions.

We believe in the value of copyleft. When one contributes his/her work to the community, many people find it reasonable to require the derivative works to remain free as well. Copyleft has shown its value in the massive production of Free Software - and recently also in the production of free cultural works, public library of science, etc. The ethics of reciprocity refers to a fundamental moral principle of "treat others as you would like to be treated". Copyleft licenses are reciprocal licenses in that they require modifications to be distributed under the same conditions.

3. Freedom

The term "free" in "Free Software" exclusively refers to freedom, and never to price. The SELF project applies the same understanding of "free" to its other materials, and maintains the possibility of commercial use by third parties. However, as a non-profit activity, the SELF project itself will provide all materials gratis.

In the English language the word "free" has an ambiguous meaning: it may mean "free of charge" or "free as in freedom". Or as Richard Stallman says: "Free as in free speech, not as in free beer". In the context of SELF it should be clear that "free" refers to freedom, therefore we define this principle. Note that in other languages than English, this problem does not happen (so far I have not heard of any language with a similar ambiguity): "livre" in French and Portuguese, "libre" in Spanish, "lliure" in Catalan, "vrij" in Dutch, "frei" in German refer to freedom and not to price.

The freedoms we refer to when talking about Free Software are four:

  • the freedom to use the program for any purpose
  • the freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs*
  • the freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour
  • the freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits*
* Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
4. Free Software and Open Source

Free Software was first defined on January 1989 in the GNU's bulletins, and in 1992 "Libre Software" was proposed as a synonym based on the same definition. In 1997 Free Software was specified in the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG), and in 1998 the DFSG were used as the definition of the term "Open Source" which was proposed as a marketing term for Free Software, later resulting in the combined terms "FOSS" and "FLOSS".

The SELF consortium chooses to speak of Free Software for various reasons. Using the term that was first defined is good scientific tradition, to which SELF is committed. Also, the term Free Software refers to the defining criterion, which is freedom, and is thus better suited in our view to convey understanding. As freedom is a central objective for SELF, we made a decision for Free Software.

Both the terms Free Software and Open Source refer to the same software and both terms require explanation to get the full understanding of the term. As we consider the Freedom part a fundamental concept in the SELF project, we prefer to use Free Software. If others want to use other terms, that's fine. In the context of SELF we find it important to convey the understanding of the defining principles of Free Software, which are the four freedoms as commented in point 3.

5. Open Standards

Open Standards are the basis of interoperability, and fundamental to unencumbered flow of knowledge and information as well as freedom of competition as users do not depend any longer on formats and specifications that are controlled by one company.

Free Software tends to use and help define Open Standards as it consists by definition of publicly available specifications, and the availability of its source code promotes an open, democratic debate around the specifications, making them both more robust and interoperable (see: European Interoperability Framework).

The SELF project is committed to spread knowledge about Open Standards and at the same time strives to make the platform accessible by adhering to relevant Open Standards.

SELF provides educational materials about Open Standards and is based on Open Standards. For the accepted standards I refer to the Learning Standards Expert Group and the reports published here:

6. Education

We believe that educational resources should be accessible freely to everyone. Within the SELF platform, the possibility to contribute is guaranteed to teachers, students, parents, public and private institutions.

SELF is about Education, as can be derived from its name: Science, Education and Learning in Freedom. Education in Freedom refers to education that is freely accessible and can be used, adapted and distributed freely.

7. Not-for-profit

We are a not-for-profit organisation whose primary objective is to support our mission for non-commercial purposes. Others however may benefit from our work, including commercially.

SELF is currently a consortium of seven founding partners that are all not-for profit organisations and universities, that combine a common objective of spreading knowledge about Free Software and Open Standards. The fact that SELF doesn't have the objective to make profit does not prohibit others to do so. The four freedoms that define Free Software and the SELF project in general don't have any limitation of making profit. In other words: the freedom to charge for your services is a fundamental principle to make a viable ecosystem and a vibrant community.

8. No political affiliation

We are not attached to any political party. The ideas of Free Software and Open Standards are shared by people from all kinds of political influences.

As can be seen in many countries, both Free Software and Open Standards are motivated by political parties from right to left. Some think of it as a means to obtain a "free market" (this time "free" refers to another sort of free), where everyone can offer his or her services and compete on quality and specialisation while others are more interested in the concept of sharing and collaboration.

9. Funding

The SELF project welcomes financial contributions to maintain and improve the platform over time. We do not accept funding that would compromise our abilities to share, create, stimulate and promote knowledge in the area of Free Software and Open Standards freely, thoroughly and objectively.

To maintain the SELF Project and Platform over time interested parties are required to support SELF. Partners are needed in four main areas: Education, Communication, Technology & Service and Distribution. Individuals and organisations that consider the SELF Project important are welcome to engage in such partnerships, define specific projects and help SELF be sustainable and ongoing.

10. Organisation

SELF is a community of people that share the founding principles of the project and work together in order to achieve shared objectives. The SELF project and platform are guided by the SELF Executive Committee and SELF Board, which makes the final decision in case of disputes.

A detailed organisation structure is in progress. Apart from the Board that decides on strategical matters, there is the Execom (executive committee) performs daily operations. Various teams on concrete activities and on geographical areas are set up to facilitate the semi-autonomous operation of SELF.

11. Open Forum

SELF is an open forum without prior censorship.

SELF will not censor any information or materials on the SELF Platform that are within the scope and in line with the SELF Founding principles and policies. Responsibility of materials on the SELF Platform is on behalf of their respective authors. On request SELF will take appropriate action if information contained on SELF is in conflict with internal policies or laws.


12. High Quality

The SELF project is a community effort. While we cannot guarantee the quality we strive to make available excellent materials both by stimulating the community as well as by implementing quality procedures and mechanisms.

The SELF Platform incorporates innovative mechanisms to provide authoring options to interested users, quality feedback loops and indicators of the quality of its materials. Some more information can be found in the SELF Platform Definition documents.

13. Transparency

We promote transparency and inspire confidence by pursuing a proactive and comprehensive information policy.

As SELF is a community effort, information exchange in an open and transparent way is considered crucial.

14. Consensus

We strive to decide with consensus and to understand each others points of view.

We strive to make the platform accessible to anyone, including physically impaired people and people in developing and transition countries with technological difficulties. We strive to contribute to improve education about Free Software and Open Standards in developing and transition countries and to help these countries reclaim technology and knowledge for themselves. Our endeavours are to provide the materials in as many languages as possible.

SELF fits in the global trend of various organisations, collectives and individuals working for a world in which technology and knowledge is free and accessible to all. We think that especially the principles of Free Software, free content and free educational materials provide important tools for regions and countries wanting to develop local expertise, while not once again become dependent on external countries and companies. Our aim to provide these tools and materials in as many languages facilitates a global community of people willing to learn from each other through collaboration and knowledge sharing.





SELF - Science Education and Learning in Freedom