Ryan Gorley

Freehive Creative Agency

[January '22]

Ryan makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from January 17 to 24. Thank you, Ryan!

Please tell us about yourself

I’m a creative professional and run a small agency called Freehive that for the past 4 years has used Free and Open Source Software exclusively to create 3D animations, websites, logos, product packaging, and other marketing collateral. The FOSS community would probably recognize us most for the work we did for System76 around the launch of the Thelio desktop, the recent GNOME release videos, and the night/day desktop background for elementary OS 6. I did my undergraduate studies in architecture, and went back to school later to get my Master’s degree focusing on entrepreneurship and marketing. I’ve been working in design and marketing for over 18 years, almost 12 of those running my own business. I am a regular contributor to the Inkscape project and am an advocate for the use of FOSS by creative professionals. My pride and joy are something I can take little credit for though–my kids. They are more magnificent than anything I’ve ever designed or built. They give me great hope for the future. My family and my faith are the guiding force of my life and have carried me through serious personal struggles, including a difficult bout with cancer. I don’t imagine I’ll every make a single, great contribution to the world, but I hope to make a lot of small ones in the time I am given.

How did you first discover FOSS?

In 1999 I came upon a strange alternative to Windows on a store shelf. It was called Linux. You may have heard of it :) I read the box and wished I could try it out, but I was a college student with very little money. I didn’t. In early 2010 I was configuring a custom workstation for my new business and saw Ubuntu as an configuration option. That got me curious again. I ordered the machine with Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration and soon afterwards installed Blender. Blender stuck, Ubuntu didn’t, mostly because I was still very dependent upon certain proprietary tools. But about 5 years ago I transitioned to using a Linux desktop exclusively, along with a suite of free and open source creative applications, and I haven’t looked back.

What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?

An invitation. I had started using Inkscape a lot for work and was nudging my co-workers to do the same. At some point I introduced myself on one of the Inkscape community forums and a couple nice people asked me if I wanted to get involved in the project. I had a background in design and marketing and there wasn’t any formal, organized effort to promote Inkscape happening within the project, so I started there. I asked around about who would be interested in helping with that kind of thing and we ended up starting a team called the Vectors, which I continue to be involved with today.

Why should others get involved with FOSS?

There are three reasons I’m involved in FOSS. Firstly, I think it’s just the right thing to do when you’re given something to also give. Whether that means contributing code, submitting good bug reports, answering questions, documenting a feature, or telling people about an application, you’re using Free and Open Source software in the spirit that it was given. Not everyone can give in equal measure or in the same way, but everyone can give in some way. Even saying “thank you” or being gracious about trying to get some problem solved are ways to contribute something positive back. I believe everyone can and should do that as much as they can.

The second reason I’m involved is personal. Much of the course of my professional life can be traced back to my high-school art teacher spending his own money to purchase a copy of Photoshop for his students to try out on his grading computer. Not everyone has enough money to buy a license to proprietary creative software. FOSS creates the kind of opportunity for young people all over the world that made a huge difference to me. I think the whole world suffers when opportunity is only available to those who can pay for it.

The third reason is practical. Because I have made FOSS the sole software I use for work, I want it to continue to be stable and work better for me. People shouldn’t just assume that will happen on its own, because it won’t. Much of the free software universe succeeds by the dedication of just a few devoted individuals. It likewise fails. So if you enjoy your freedom, like me, and you want to enjoy it long into the future, then get involved however you can. It can make a big difference.

How should they get started?

Find a project you’re passionate about and look for gaps. If you have big ideas, be humble and patient. If some needed change seems obvious to you, it probably is to others, but there are reasons it hasn’t happened. Ask questions and get to know why before criticizing or shouting. In my experience most things in open source projects require a lot of patience, persistence, and goodwill among community members. Relationships are super important. Seemingly small contributions make a big difference too. The question answered by a community member, instead of a developer, frees up their time to focus on the things only they can do. Documentation of how to use software doesn’t always require a lot of expertise, but can really help people using the software when it is done thoughtfully. Translations help these tools reach more people. There are just so many ways to help.

What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?

FOSS is still software. It’s going to have bugs. It’s not going to do everything the way everyone wants. Sometimes free and open source applications stall in their progress or get abandoned altogether. These are discouraging difficulties, but none of them are unique to FOSS. They all exist with proprietary, commercial applications too. The difference is that with FOSS you can often do something about it.

How can they be solved?

People are conditioned by those selling them proprietary software to be dependent and powerlessness. Dependency is profitable. In such imbalanced relationships between vendor and user the only means for a user to bring about change are threats of not using software or public shaming the makers. When that attitude finds its way into free and open source software projects often run by volunteers not getting paid it is really demoralizing and unhelpful. We have to help our users understand that their relationship with free and open source software is different. They can bring about change by being constructive and kind. They can get involved and become part of a community of contributors. I don’t know of any FOSS projects that couldn’t benefit from more meaningful contributions from more people. We can’t hold it against our users for not understanding and behaving poorly at times, we have to help them understand the difference, and give them a pathway for being part of the solution.

Do you want to tell us something else we didn’t ask?

I think I’ve probably said enough! I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk a little about something that has greatly benefited me. I would like to say “thank you” to the many many people who have built this software or some part of it, to those people who have documented how to use it, to the kind and patient community members who have answered my questions along the way. Your efforts have made a meaningful difference in my life.