I often write about the "free software movement". But what exactly is this movement, or does it even exist? If we consider the different reasons people have for using and advocating free software, it almost makes more sense to talk about a broad coalition of coherent movements who unite on one point only: a the advocacy of specific software products (e.g. Linux, OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Firefox). Consider the Open Source advocate who is interested in cheaper software for businesses, and perhaps in the development model Eric Raymond wrote about in The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Then contrast that advocate with myself, as an example of a Free Software advocate who is interested in deconstructing the so-called "Intellectual Property" system for the sake of an almost Marxist interpretation of freedom. If we were discussing any other issue, even within the technology world, I can imagine us completely disagreeing. So are we part of the same movement?
The question of what constitutes a social movement is a complex one, with lots of competing theories. The one that I think we commonly assume is that a social movement shares a common ideology. But that is obviously false when you look at myself and the example Open Source advocate. Or one could say that a movement consists of individuals and organisations who are working towards the same end result, which in this case would be the dissemination of free software products (though even here, I'd dispute that the desired result is that narrow and simple). Other tacks might involve looking at our shared use of resources, and the way we collaborate to mobilise them, or even the way in which we are shaping political processes like the battle against software patents and the limiting of copyright legislation.
But even if one could make a case for there being a free software movement today - a case that I suspect would be quite fragile - would it apply in the future? In five or ten years, when presumably software products that the OSI considers "Open Source" will have a pretty large market share across the board. Will we then see the split between the different sub-sections widening until we're no longer a recognisable movement?
A further question to ponder is this: will the sub-sections be assimilated by other movements that more closely associate with the sub-sections aims, logic and space? Will, for example, the Open Source advocates be assimilated into the mainstream business community, and will my interest in free software become a sub-discipline of political philosophy?