Update 11/07/2013: The Serval Project have developed free code software and open hardware to turn ordinary handheld computers (”smartphones”) into a mesh network, potentially independent of celll phone companies. Maybe they could partner with the Free Network Foundation?

——

Before I ever heard of Skype, I experimented with a free code (”public domain”), peer-to-peer voice chat software called Speak Freely, which was available for both Windows and “Unix” (rather “Unix-like” OS like GNU/Linux). Speak Freely was well ahead of its time, considering that at the time I was trialling it, development had only just begun on Jabber, which later formed the basis for XMPP, the IETF open standard for text chat.

On Jan 15, 2004, John Walker, the lead programmer of the project made an ‘End of Life Announcement‘, and although he deposited source code of the last versions he released on SourceForge, along with documentation, no new versions have been released. The announcement made reference to the problem that people sharing a broadband connection through a router using NAT (Network Address Translation) could not make use Speak Freely without various tricky hacks, none of which could be sure to continue working as router software developed. Walker’s increasing concern with the consumerization of the internet, particularly bemoaning the way internet users were being reduced from peers to clients by the proliferation of NAT, was explained in more detail in a paper called The Digital Imprimatur, published in 2003 by the journal Knowledge, Technology, and Policy.

Walker’s concerns about the demonization of peer-to-peer systems seems to have been borne out by the constant legal and media attacks on software and websites supporting the BitTorrent protocol, as documented by news sites like TorrentFreak. Even more concerning, despite Speak Freely providing proof-of-concept for peer-to-peer voice calls over the internet, with free code to demonstrate, no open source project has yet emerged to challenge the hegemony of proprietary giant Skype, which was recently bought by Microsoft.

With various projects underway to provide free telephony using open standards like WebRTC (as explained on FreeYourSpeech.org), and free code projects like GNU Telephony and YATE (Yet Another Telephony Engine), it remains to be seen whether any of these will produce a worthy peer-to-peer successor to SpeakFreely. Disintermedia is tracking progress on online conferencing tools using free code and open standards, in a project called Core Us.

Filed June 29th, 2013 under Uncategorized

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