Thanks for your thoughtful post on OSS and 'Third World' social problems. Since I am not a well-connected youngster with a bunch of OSS buddies on Advogato to cross-certify me, I can't reply publicly to your post. At the moment, all I can do is post this diary post. (Update: I left 'Observer Hell' thanks to a couple additional confidence votes, so I can now post this entry as a reply!)
While I would agree with some that the Third World has massive problems which defy solution with software alone, folks who have replied to your article may be missing an important point.
It isn't what Third World 'Have-nots' do _directly_ with OSS initially that matters. Rather, it is far more important that 'guerrilla activists' have access to powerful software technologies to mount their own grassroots campaigns to contribute to solving these pressing social problems that matters.
For example, my wife and I were Executive Consultants in object technology at IBM leading the classic 'Road Warrior' lives and it was killing us, spiritually as well as physically. We are now hosts of Sohodojo, an OSS 'applied R&D Lab' where we are attempting to rally OSS developers to contribute to our 'role/actor executable business model' technology agenda.
We are doing this because we believe such technology is essential as the 'software infrastructure' for 'Small is Good' business-webs which we intend to apply in business development within the U.S. Enterprise Communities and Empowerment Zones. (You will often hear these communities referred to as 'distressed' or targets for 'renewal'.)
For us, it is more important what you do with technology rather than seeing technology as an end in itself. That is the greatest frustration I find with the OSS community. We have so many folks with all this energy and skills and they think that technology for its own sake is the motivation for what they do. Technology is only really valuable when you apply it to something useful.
For us, that did not mean traveling around the world helping IBM customers build yet another 'enterprise system'.
If you would like to know more about our perspective, including our recent political 'change insurgency', feel free to visit these URLs:
Our 'EC Inclusion Amendment' change insurgency where we are fighting 'pork barrel politics' which is threatening to subvert the 'American Community Renewal and New Markets Empowerment Act', and
Again, thank you, Charles, for your provocative post. I am sure it will cause at least some folks to think about these important challenges.