A fully free network would itself be a commons only in a very abstract sense, in the same way that the planet is a commons. In the sense that Elinor Ostrom uses the word commons (a shared resource with a shared governance structure), a free network would actually be a federation of commons, each operating at one or more network layers. To illustrate, here are some commons (existing and potential) operating at different layers, taken from a comment I posted to the Commons Transition group on Loomio.

device (hardware and software of the computers used to access networks)

  • free digital (or “open source”) hardware design projects (where the design patterns for computer hardware are released under a license allowing it to be freely used, modified, and redisitributed)
  • customer-owned and/or worker-owned hardware manufacture and distribution cooperatives
  • projects developing and distributing free code software that runs on end user devices (eg the projects that maintain the various software components used in GNU/Linux distributions)

standards (defining how computers will interact productively across networks)

connections (cables, wireless access points, and routers, allowing data to flow from computer to computer across the networks):

  • community mesh networks (P2P wireless between PCs or mobiles)
  • community access wireless networks (collectively-owned wireless tower)
  • open wireless (voluntary sharing of private wireless networks by customers with uncapped upstream internet connections)
  • customer-owned and/or worker-owned ISP cooperatives (collectively-owned cable and router infrastructure, at any scale from neighbourhood to country to world)

hosting (servers providing access to databases over the networks):

  • projects developing and distributing free code software that runs services (whether on end user computers or dedicated server hardware)
  • P2P networks (eg BitTorrent clients, trackers, and search engines, or BitCoin and other blockchains)
  • home of office servers (consumer grade PCs running free code server packages, or combinations of them eg FreedoxBox, FreedomBone, YunoHost)
  • server colocation (or “colos”, small data centres run collectively by a group of server operators who provide and maintain their own hardware, eg RiseUp.net and MayFirst/ PeopleLink have their servers in a colo)
  • customer-owned and/or worker-owned ISP cooperatives (collectively-owned datacentres leasing the use of “bare metal” servers, virtual servers, or use of shared servers)

My point in laying all this out is that we don’t need to start from scratch, and certainly not from the top down. Many projects are already underway, and can already be used, joined, supported, cross-promoted, and partnered with.

Federating into more ambitious new meta-projects adds a ’social coordination’ layer to the stack. Various organisations have attempted to work at this layer, but there are no guarantees of success at this layer either. The ground behind is littered with the corpses of ambitious pioneers like the Free Network Foundation, and the various failed attempts at an open hardware organisation. But there are also many successful social layer projects, from early pioneers like the Free Sosftware Foundation/ GNU Project and Open Source Initiative, to more recent organisations like the P2P Foundation/ Commons Transition, Open Source Hardware Association, Collaborative Technology Alliance, and Tech Co-op Network (North America).

Filed April 30th, 2017 under Uncategorized

For a few years now, there has been a copyright statement at the top of the front page of the Disintermedia wiki. It stated that the contents of the wiki, and this blog, are under a CreativeCommons-Attribution-Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) license, but it never said which version. The latest version of the CC license suite is 4.0, which folded the jurisdictional licenses for each country into a single set of international licenses, so I’ve added that to the copyright statement. Inspired by recent research into free code software licensing, I’ve decided to add an “or later” clause, so that content from this project can be used under future versions of the CC licenses whether or not I ever get around to making a specific statement to that effect.

The only downside is that if changes are made to future versions of the CC-BY-SA licenses that I don’t agree with, I can’t stop people using Disintermedia content under that version. By giving the “or later” permission, I’m saying that I’m confident the stewardship of the CC license suite is in good hands, and long may it remain that way.

Filed April 30th, 2017 under Uncategorized

A friend recently send me a link to a Huff Post article entitled ‘How to Decolonize the Permaculture Movement‘ by Tobias Roberts, who was born in the USA, but now lives on the land in the Central American country of El Salvador, with his Salvadoran wife.

I want to clarify that this article frustrates me immensely, not because the author is playing the wrong tune, but because he hits all the wrong notes. I agree that any movement emerging from a colonial society like Australia, and spreading to colonial societies like the USA and New Zealand, does need to periodically check itself for Eurocentric assumptions, and make a real effort to address them. Permaculture may have emerged as a radical rejection of “conventional” agriculture, and the ecocidal colonization culture it is part of, but that doesn’t automatically prevent colonialist assumptions from creeping into it over time. But Tobias doesn’t address what I consider the real priorities of decolonization, which revolve around figuring out how to support the regeneration of the indigenous cultures in the countries we live in, and assimilate ourselves into their system of ethics and principles, as discussed by Ani Mikaere (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou) in her 2014  Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture. Instead, his article sets up a series of boringly common misconceptions about what permaculture is, and uses them to support a line of strawmen

Strawman #1: Permaculture is a network of patronising educational charities whose goal is to change the practice of small farmers in the Global South. “The solution, however, is not to criticize these farmers, but rather to humbly seek to understand their situation.”

The main focus of permaculture education, as I understand it, is to shift the practices of folks in the Global North, so our appallingly ignorant resource use and pollution doesn’t wreck the biosphere. This benefits everyone, including indigenous communities, and the small farmers who actually feed the majority of the world’s people. It does extend to standing up to the corporate food supply chains that want to own and control every bit of land, labour, and income involved in farming, especially when they attack the traditional and novel organic practices involved in subsistence living and small farming in the Global South as “inefficient”. If this is interpreted as criticism of those who have bought into (or more usually been forced to accept) the “green revolution” snake oil sold by agents of the corporate supply chains, it’s probably because the astroturf groups who apologize for those supply chains spin it that way. I’ve seen a lot of vitriol directed at investor-driven “agribusiness” in the North, like the intensive diary farming ruining water quality in Aotearoa, but never at people on the land in the South.

Strawman #2: “Don’t Make Permaculture Courses Your Primary Source of Income”

I don’t think Tobias has ever run a PDC, or even run the numbers before making this criticism. Most of the money paid by students for a residential PDC goes into covering the direct costs of running them, including three healthy meals a day for each student (”beans and tortillas” are no cheaper than hummus when they’re both made on-site), and maybe subsidizing some of the outgoings of the properties that host them. Very little is left over to actually pay the teachers, who work fulltime for 21 days. Permaculturists I know make a living from a wide range of marginal income sources, including selling surplus produce, designing and consulting, running landscaping and garden maintenance services, writing books, and so on, as well as doing everything they can to reduce their cash costs by applying permaculture design to their own homes and gardens.

Strawman #3: People using and sharing regenerative land-use techniques that may resemble or have been inspired by traditional sustainable practices is “appropriation of knowledge… the same thing that mega- pharmaceutical companies and agricultural corporations have been doing for years through the patenting of medicines and seeds that have been stolen from the shared ecological wisdom of indigenous and peasant cultures throughout the world.”

No. It’s not, and I’m getting thoroughly sick of people lazily claiming that it is. Anthropologists like Michael F. Brown, author of the book ‘Who Owns Native Culture‘ would beg to differ.

According to the online edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘Appropriation’ (in the sense of “cultural appropriation”), means to “take exclusive possession of” or to “annex”, or to some degree, to “to take or make use of without authority or right”. People running their own experiments with techniques for growing food (or anything else), and freely sharing their results, is not taking exclusive possession, quite the opposite (especially when those results are shared under a free culture license like CreativeCommons). It’s not appropriation, it’s citizen science. As for “authority or right”, if we all have to wait for planning permission from the appropriately mandated cultural property bureaucrats before making any transition towards more regenerative practices in our own backyards, we’re really screwed.



Strawman #4: Permaculture = food forests, but we have to “avoid the tendency to offer those systems as the “only” way to grow food in an ecological and sustainable manner”

Permaculture is a design system by which humans can become good stewards of regenerated ecosystems. Permaculture design can be applied to any scale from a verandah to a sheep station, and to producing any kind of crop or product. Food forests are a good technique for some bioregions, like most of Aotearoa, where the land naturally wants to be rainforest and we waste a lot of energy knocking it back into unsustainable grasslands. It’s good for Zone 3 and Zone 4 areas where you want to get something started and not have to manage it too intensively. But Fukuoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ has been a mainstay in permie bookshelves for decades, and permaculture design is just as applicable to regenerative grain and grazing systems (for example using mixed herbal ley), as in the broadacre permaculture work of Darren Doherty.

Strawman #5: A PDC is the only way permaculture design is taught, and is seen as the only correct way to do so, “the best way to ‘teach’ small Guatemalan farmers had nothing to do with courses, workshops, agricultural schools, or the like. Rather, they simply brought small farmers from neighboring communities together to tour the farms and lands that each one worked.”

A lot of the people attracted to permaculture are the same people turned off by the eurocentric “Education(TM)” system, and a lot of the ‘teaching’ the movement does is through site visits and permablitzes, where people learn by observing and doing, and conversing about what they’ve seen and done, not by listening to lectures. People can read about permaculture for free on the internet, or in public libraries (or using the free internet in public libraries). If they can learn to apply permaculture design by reading books and websites and trying stuff out at home, or by going WWOOFing on permaculture properties, that’s great! Permaculture is a design system we practice and share, not a commodity we sell.

For some people, attending a PDC gives them hands-on experience, supported by people who’ve learned from years of their own mistakes, and can therefore help their students understand their own mistakes more quickly. But the main purpose of running a PDC is to teach people how to design for their actual circumstances, as opposed to just blindly slapping together a patchwork of techniques they’ve seen elsewhere, with no idea how they’re supposed to work or fit together into a functional system. Ultimately, running PDC courses is a means to an end, which is to increase the number of people confidently applying ecological principles and regenerative techniques to the way we manage resources and provide for our needs. 

The PDC was created at a time when access to any advanced practical knowledge in the Global North depended on access to a multi-year course in a university or polytechnic. The PDC model was designed to provide a thorough grounding in the application of permaculture ethics and principles to a wide range of practical needs, in a short amount of time, at an entry cost that remains a fraction of many tertiary courses of much lower value to the student and the biosphere. The idea that anyone who completes a PDC is qualified to teach a PDC was, and is, a radically democratizing approach to education, and has resulted in PDC courses taught in a huge variety of locally customized ways.

I do feel obliged to admit that while I’m intimately familiar with the permaculture movement in Aotearoa, I have only a vague idea what it’s like elsewhere. Perhaps on Turtle Island (North America) there is a permaculture movement that matches Tobias’ descriptions, one that uses permaculture as a marketing pitch for expensive lifestyle commodities, as he claims in an earlier article, and one that I would be as disgusted by as he is. Perhaps, but since he never gives any specific examples of the claims he makes, I suspect he and his informants have simply mistaken greenwashing for permaculture. I suggest having a skim through Tazia Gaisford’s thesis on permaculture and anarchism as an alternative to “development” for another perspective.

Filed April 25th, 2017 under transition initiatives

In August 2010, a year before Occupy kicked off, I posted the following comments on an article posted to the open newsire of Aotearoa Indymedia. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

“Sometimes people seem to get confused about the difference between a website (or email list) and a group or organisation. It doesn’t help that the poorly defined word ‘network’ often gets used interchangably to refer to any and all of these things. A website is not the same thing as an organisation for the same reason a building is not the same thing as an organisation. It is a private space which can be used by a particular group or organisation, or like Indymedia (at least in theory), a neutral space that can be used by anyone who feels attracted to it.

Unlike a building though, which requires organising a large number of people to build in the first place, a website can be built by one person. So it’s becoming more and more common for people to see the need to build a broader campaign around something, and set up a networking website/ forum/ email list/ FaeceBook group, and see who they can attract. To me this is just the online equivalent of calling a public meeting or open conference, and seeing who comes, and what ongoing relationships and results come out of it. This is what Simon has done, at the request of his group in Tamaki Makaurau, in creating Solidarity.org.nz [sadly not archived anywhere that I know of - Stypey, 2017].

In theory such a website is a neutral space, and whoever participates determines it’s tone and character. But as we’ve seen with Indy, this is not actually true in practice. At the end of the day, someone has admin access to the guts of the thing, and there is an implicit heirarchy in any website that begins with those people (admins), is delegated to whoever does the day to day troubleshooting and editing at the CMS level (moderators), who effectively excercise censorship and banning powers over participants.

So what we have is a class heirarchy within the website:

admin = ruling class

moderator = middle class

participant = working class

This is why it matters who sets up and maintains websites, which website gets used for organising, whose computers are hosting them etc and why people raise the sorts of concerns being raised by Anonymous1. I wish I had a simple solution to this problem. I don’t. I am hoping that the new generation of peer-to-peer social networking clients like Diaspora (http://www.joindiaspora.com/) might offer us a truly decentralised way to network, where no one person or group has to hold power over the root of the system. In the meantime, I would recommend directing people to existing activist networking sites like CoActivate.org, and We.RiseUp.net, rather than any one person or group setting up a space and expecting everyone else to find it neutral.

I hope we can keep in mind that what matters most is not which websites we are posting campaign and action ideas on, but what groups we are working with face-to-face in our own regions, and what actions we are putting our own time into. If websites and emails lists like Indy, Solidarity.org.nz, or DiscussionBeyondResistence - or even Facebook and Twitter for that matter - are a useful extension to that, great! Otherwise, just don’t use them. If you don’t like the person running this or that website, just don’t go there.

“Get off the internet, I’ll see you in the streets” - Le Tigre”

Filed April 8th, 2017 under open social networks, independent media

I’ve been scouring the web for music under CreativeCommons recently for the Common Sounds project, and I can’t help but notice that a lot of the independent sites out there are looking like refugees from the early 2000s.I’ve suggested that some of these folks check out GNU FM (licensed under GNU AGPLv3 or later) the software that’s used under the hood of the Libre.FM site, which is not pretty (sorry guys, but it’s not), but does provide a web media player using entirely free code. But it occurred to me after thinking about it a bit, that a tarted up instance of GNU MediaGoblin (also licensed under GNU AGPLv3 or later) might be more appropriate to their needs than GNU FM. It’s not pretty either, but it handles uploads, gallery displays, and playing of media files of all types using only free code.

One of the problems for these folks is that these days …

One does not simply ... code up some html and css and ftp it onto a webserver 

The bleeding edge of web development has moved a lot in the last decade or so, with HTML5 rendering browser plug-ins like Adobe Flash and Microsoft Sliverlight pretty much obsolete, mobile-friendly design influencing the style of websites (eg the ‘three vertical lines’ menu button), and a browser security arms race driven by software attack tools like the Great Cannon of China (no kidding, this is a thing) which have overwritten the concept of cyberwarfare from science fiction into reality.

Hobby websites set up for music distribution in more innocent times - and even some professional ones - are struggling to keep up. There is a confusing plethora of free code CMS (Content Management Systems) and web frameworks, written in a dizzying variety of different kinds of languages, and a person wanting to modernize their website has to somehow figure out which set of tools is right for the type and scale of site they want to run, and learn how to use them on the fly. No pressure :)

But I guess most of them know they will need to do some upgrade work sooner or later, to prevent their sites becomes unusable by modern browsers. For example, Mozilla Firefox and most of the other browser makers are gradually phasing out support for Adobe Flash because of its fundamentally broken security, not the mention all the spyware Adobe intentionally built-in (see my post on Adobe building the EME module for Mozilla Firefox). They have also flagged that at some point HTTPS will become basically compulsory, and a lot of the browser functions that allow things like streaming media or file downloads will not be possible from sites that don’t have an up-to-date and properly configured HTTPS certificate. The good news there is you can now get gratis (at no charge) HTTPS certificates from Let’s Encrypt. My friends who admin webservers tell me there’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve grasped their automated certificate issuing system, it’s pretty much set and forget.

I don’t want to discourage anyone in any way from self-hosting, but musicians and DJs do have a few other options for uploading music and mixes under CreativeCommons licenses. For example, you could host the audio files on a site like Archive.org, and make a simple HTML/CSS homepage that links to the files on the remote host. This is the sort of thing a prettied up instance of GNU FM could be good for. You do have the option of uploading your music and mixes to a platform like SoundCloud or MixCloud, and linking to your account there from your homepage. There’s a good article on LiveSchool.net describing exactly how each of these platforms work, and laying out the pros and cons of hosting DJ mixes on each of them.

I’m still convinced though, despite the many open source corpses littering the road towards it (eg the various zombie products of the defunct Participatory Culture Foundation), that the best way to distribute CreativeCommons music (and other larger media files like films and games) is a P2P system like BitTorrent. I can imagine artists putting magnet links to their songs or albums on their homepages, webseeds on the webserver hosting that page (or some other server), and a Commons Tracker website that provides a search hub for music fans. I like this concept because it distributes the technical and financial cost of the storage and bandwidth that makes that media file distribution happen, so people sharing the media are giving something back in exchange for free non-commercial access to new cultural work. Figuring out how to strap this together is the goal of our proposed MediaFlood project.

I am writing this in solidarity with the crew of the TheDailyBlog*, a left-leaning blog site that publishes new writing about politics in Aotearoa (NZ). I’ve just discovered they have been subject to attempts at political censorship by the quazi-governmental speech police at the offices of NetSafe. I salute the firm stand taken by editor Bomber Bradbury, and NetSafe would get a similar reply if they contacted me about censoring Disintermedia:

“Netsafe demanded that I respond within 48 hours as to whether or not I would comply with their requests for censorship, so let me respond publicly to Netsafe.

You can censor The Daily Blog the day you take the keyboard from my cold dead hands. The content you have asked to be censored is not defamatory and allowing secret censorship of political blogs is the most dangerous and disturbing part of your powers.

This blog ain’t for turning”

NetSafe also sent an email about its desire to police TDB comments to The Standard, a centre-left NZ politics blog, broadly aligned with the NZ Labour Party. True, their editors have expressed open contempt for TDB and Bradbury in the past, and vice-versa, but they obviously can’t help NetSafe with their enquiries. Editor LPrent went to some trouble to explain, in detail, with references to the relevant piece of law, exactly how badly NetSafe failed to properly do the job the NZ state pays it millions of dollars a year to do. The incompetence of these digital keystone cops is truly breath-taking, and this high farce on the high seas of the internet would be hilarious, if their job wasn’t to undermine freedom of speech online.

The powers NetSafe is trying (and failing) to exercise are delegated to them under legislation passed by the NZ Parliament in 2015. As I said in a somewhat polemical blog piece at the time:

“Parliament called it the Harmful Digital Communications Bill, a valiant attempt at a euphemistic title which would not be out of place in novel by George Orwell, but which turns out to be accurate enough, as it is a Harmful Bill about Digital Communications. However, I prefer to use another title which more accurately describes it’s effects; the Harmful Digital Censorship Bill.”

In that piece, I used some pretty strong language to describe the MPs who voted for and against this underhanded, anti-democratic piece of legislation. I said I would republish them once the Act had come into effect, as an act of civil disobedience against it. Now that it has, clearly vindicating the criticisms made by myself and many other commentators across the political spectrum, I am furious about this staggeringly stupid piece of law-making all over again. So I say again…

The five Members of Parliament who took a principled stand and voted against this terrifyingly bad piece of legislation are heroes; Gareth Hughes of the Greens, Russel Norman of the Greens, Julie Anne Genter of the Greens, Steffan Browning of the Greens, and David Seymour of ACT

The MPs who voted for this bill, all MPs from National, Labour, and NZ First, the solo MPs from United Future, and the Māori Party, and the remaining Green MPs including its leaders Metiria Turei and James Shaw, are traitors to democracy, and mealy-mouthed apologists for fascism. I agree utterly with Idiot/Savant of NoRightTurn, fuck you all. You are sad sacks of shit, and I hope you all hang yourselves in your garden sheds if this new law is not repealed.

I apologise to the reader for my unusual gutter language, but *not* to those MPs, who thoroughly deserve it, and worse. Nobody has to read anything on my blog, any more than they have to read anything on theDailyBlog, the Standard, Indymedia, WhaleOil, or any other blog site. If they choose to do so, they can say anything they want to on their own blog in reply. That’s how freedom of speech works. You may not agree with this, but if you claim to believe in freedom or democracy, then you damn well better fight to the death for my right to say it.

Finally, for the sake of anyone who works for NetSafe who might find themselves unmoved by these statements of basic principle, be aware that I will republishing this piece on a range of different websites, none of them hosted in Aotearoa, nor subject to the whims of the NZ state and its censorship laws. I am the author and publisher of my blog pieces, and if you have a problem with their contents, you can talk to me.

* For the sake of full disclosure: I’ve had a few guest blogs published on TDB. But I believe I’d be saying the same thing if NetSafe went after any political blog, regardless of its ideological leanings, in fact I’ve made a number of comments on TDB defending the free speech of that rumour-mongering pit of McCarthyist foulness, Whale Oil.

Filed April 6th, 2017 under independent media

Update 6/04/2017: I got a charming response from the General Manager of the Greens, Sarah Helm: 

“The Green Party takes ethical purchasing in all areas considerations seriously. While we aren’t currently use an open source CRM, we did purposefully make this part of our selection considerations. We review our software on a regular basis - and expect to do this again after the election.”

 why_would_political_parties_who_dont_serve_corpora.jpg

—–

Tēnā koutou

I want to let you know that I have removed myself from all the NZ Greens mailing lists I’ve been added to as a result of signing petitions organised by the Greens. I do this in protest at the Greens replacing your use of free code CiviCRM software supported by a local company, with the NationBuilder (NB) platform, which is hosted in the USA by a US-owned company, using proprietary software. Despite being asked to, NB has no intention of releasing its source code, which is ethically equivalent to a commercial food company refusing to release the ingredient lists for its products.

Like any organisation, the Greens have a duty of care when you are holding data belonging to your members and supporters. Outsourcing the storage and processing of that data, without giving any warning or opportunity to opt-out, is an abject failure to carry out that duty of care. Particularly when it involves a dubious organisation like NB that is funded by a number of questionable Silicon Valley venture capitalists (more details on request).

This is also a hypocritical move, considering the pubic statements regularly made by the Greens asking kiwis to “Buy NZ Made”, and support “open source” (what I call free code), and demanding information storage by governments departments and commercial companies respect people’s privacy, and the human rights encoded in Gareth Hughes’ ‘Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill‘.

I understand that outsourcing decision-making about software and servers to another organisation makes your job easier, and I’m not opposed to this in principle. I understand that NationBuilder offers features that CiviCRM does not currently provide. But I cannot support the decision to outsource an essential part of the Greens campaign platform to an organisation that struck a deal with the US Republican party in 2012, and prides itself in being “the mercenary software that powered Trump and Brexit”, according to DigitalTrends.com.

A number of open source communities have formed to address the challenges of providing a user-friendly, free code platform that allows organisations like the Greens to access a similar digital organising toolkit, without selling your soul to Silicon Valley capitalists. I encourage you to look into the work of:

  • Drutopia: based on Drupal CMS, (GPLv2 or later)
  • CommunityBuilder:  based on Joomla CMS (GNU GPLv2)
  • BackDropCMS (GPLv2 or later):  Drupal CMS fork
  • A detailed list of free software packages that can provide some or all of the functions of NationBuilder can be found on the P2P Foundation wiki.

Many of the members of the NZ Open Source Society are experienced technologists, who have set up software for use by both non-profit and for-profit organisations, both large and small. Consulting them would be a good first step towards finding a local business that can help you evaluate the available free code software, choose the right combination of software for what the Greens need, and set it up on a server for you in a user-friendly fashion.

Naku noa

Danyl Strype

Filed April 4th, 2017 under free software, open source

Update (20108-02-07): a lot has happened in the year and a half since I wrote this post, and I’ve learned a lot more about all the various projects I mentioned in it. Since a lot of people have linked to it, I feel obliged to do a major 2.0 update to make sure the piece is as accurate as I can make it at this time. Watch this space. In the meantime, TalkPlus.org has a good article on Mike Macgirvin’s branch of the federation family; Friendica/ DFRN, Hubzilla/ Zot, Zap, and Osada (now sadly defunct). Still looking for a good history of the Diaspora project, the other major branch of the family.

———

Back in the glass age, a guy called Evan wrote some free code in PHP to run a vaguely Twitter-ish site called Identi.ca. The software was called Laconica, and then it was called StatusNet. It was able to federate with other vaguely Twitter-ish sites running the same software using the OpenMicroBlogging standard (a mash-up of existing protocols including OAuth, OAuth Discovery, YADIS, and XMPP), which was replaced by the OStatus standard (a bouquet of existing protocols including Atom, Activity Streams, PubSubHubbub, Salmon, and the delightfully named Webfinger), both of which Evan was also pretty involved in developing. A bunch of other sites/ softwares had a go at supporting OStatus (there’s a list on its Wikipedia page), hoping that one day they could all get along.

A few years later, glass was being replaced by aluminium. Evan got bored with trying to fix a bunch of baked in architectural limitations in StatusNet (or maybe PHP itself, I’m guessing, I don’t know his reasons) and started working on a new piece of vaguely Google+-ish software called pump.io, written in Javascript. Evan announced that Identi.ca would be switching from StatusNet to pump.io, which it did in 2013. Pump.io federates using a new pump.io protocol (which still uses Activity Streams, but with JSON and a “REST inbox API“, whatever that means).

This is good news for potential interoperability, since a bunch of other sites and softwares are already using Activity Streams (including any that support OStatus), and Activity Streams is being standardized under a license from the Open Web Foundation by the Social Web Working Group (SocialWG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). As it happens, Evan was also involved in starting the W3C SocialWG (which took over the standards work of the OpenSocial Foundation in 2014, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…).

Meanwhile,  Mikael Nordfeldth was hacking away on a fork of StatusNet called Free Social (or “Free & Social”), which debuted in late 2012 on on the FreeSocial.org website he was running for the Piratpartiet. According to OpenHub, Nordfeldth set out with a plan “to make the codebase smaller, leaner, neater and more modular”. Also in the aluminium age, as GNU Social founder Matt Lee tells it in his interview with the FSF LCL (Free Software Foundation Licensing and Compliance Lab):

“GNU social was created as a companion to my earlier project, GNU FM, which we created to build the social music platform, Libre.fm. After only a few short months, Libre.fm had over 20,000 users and I realized I didn’t want to be another social media silo like MySpace or Facebook, so I came up with this vague idea called GNU social. A few prototypes were built, and eventually we started making GNU social as a series of plugins for Evan Prodromou’s StatusNet project, with some help from Ian Denhardt, Craig Andrews and Steven DuBois.”

You could think of all this as Fediverse 0.1, the gestation that was happening as it slumbered in the world wide womb, waiting to be born.

“Later”, continues Matt, “StatusNet, GNU social and Free Social… would merge into a single project called GNU social.”

After this was announced in 2013, lots of people who had still been running StatusNet sites, and getting concerned about the lack of active development as Evan worked in pump.io, started migrating to the first release of GNU Social, and other folks started setting up new GNU Social servers. Some of them continued to or started to federate using OStatus. Users who had been missing StatusNet since Identi.ca switched to pump.io (including yours truly) started finding and joining GNU Social servers. The Fediverse 1.0 is born.

This part of the history happened a few years ago, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right, but I welcome corrections in the comments. For the next part, I’m kind of winging it on the basis of what appears to have happened more recently, so apologies for any misunderstandings and again, please feel free to set me straight.

The growing GNU Social Fediverse then sets out to try and make friends with some of the other kids in the federated social networking neighbourhood; particularly established players like Pump.io, Diaspora*, Friendica (formerly Mistpark), and Hubzilla (formerly Red Matrix), but also up and coming projects like Tent, the Matrix, and the skinny jeans wearing rebels of the IndieWeb). Some want to use their own brand spanking new protocol(s) (pump.io, Tent, and the Matrix, what is the Matrix? Still working that out). Some don’t really want to federate at all because it threatens to breaks their privacy model (Hubzilla), and others had already threatened in 2012 to take their ball and go home, to work on their reinvented decentralized authentication (the Zot protocol, which ended up being used as the federation protocol for Hubzilla). To be honest, I’m still left wondering why the hell they didn’t all just use XMPP but I’m not a developer so…

Despite all that, GNU Social does manage to make some friends, and there is talk of a grand Federation (this link lists active Diaspora*, Friendica, and Hubzilla nodes). Some success appears to be made in allowing users to communicate between some of these projects, mostly using some variant on the OStatus cluster of protocols, which seem to be the lowest common denominator. The Diaspora* protocol uses similar bunch of protocols to OStatus, but it uses them differently, including adding support for private massages. Sean Tilley of the Diaspora* crew sums up the resulting blends:

“Friendica, Diaspora, Hubzilla all talk to each other through Diaspora. Friendica can also speak OStatus. Hubzilla and Diaspora currently cannot.”

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, another cluster of free code developers are also working on communication and collaboration software. Some of them create the Valueflows project to work towards a standard for them all to interoperate, and a larger federation of projects groups form the Collaborative Technology Alliance to do the same. Working on standards is complex work, but not nearly as hard as getting everyone to agree on what standard to use.

Back in the Fediverse, a few developers get bored with trying to hack around a bunch of baked in architectural limitations in GNU Social (or maybe PHP itself, I’m guessing, I don’t know their reasons), and develop a bunch of add-ons or replacements for the GNU Social server software (formerly StatusNet, remember?), in a few different languages. Qvitter, started by Hannes in 2013, is a Javascript layer used on the Quitter sites to give a more Twitter-ish user experience. In 2016, Maiyannah Bishop forks GNU Social to start the PostActiv project, which is not GNU Social but still part of the Fediverse, and Eugen Rochko starts working on Mastodon in Ruby on Rails, which is not even a GNU Social fork but is still part of the Fediverse and uses the same GNU AGPL software license. With a cluster of different server-side packages available for those who want to set up their own node in the OStatus-powered federated network that started with StatusNet/ GNU Social, this is the point where I feel I can say the Fediverse has turned 2.0.

So to sum up, there’s been a lot of different things under a lot of different names. Some of the things still exist and some of them don’t. Some of the things are organisations, some of them are networks or sub-networks. Some of them are websites, some of them are software, standards, or protocols. Some of the things are a smaller part of bigger things, or a collection of smaller things, and some of the things can connect to some of the other things, but not all the other things. The Fediverse / Federation aims to eventually unite all the things that still exist into one glorious meta-thing.

Confused yet? I know I am. The branding is a spaghetti junction, as it too often the case with free code projects and their organic and messy (r)evolution. But thanks heaps to all the hard working people whose dedication, much of it unpaid, has brought us all the things. We’ll all figure it out as we go along. Long live the Federation (in the utopian Star Trek sense of the word, rather than the dystopian Blake’s 7 sense).

Update (2017-04-17): Thanks to Federation pioneer and Friendica/ Hubzilla developer Mike Macgirvin for sharing his thoughts in his unique and inimitable way, I’m planning a separate ‘brief history’ post covering his branch of the family. Thanks also to Sean Tilley of Diaspora* for answering politely each time I asked the same questions clarifying the status of federation efforts between Diaspora and the other apps (my tribal name is Memory Like Goldfish ;).

Update (2017-04–04): Thanks to fellow GNU Social user Claes Wallin for offering some corrections and clarifications. I’ve tried to correct this piece to reflect these. 

Update 2017-05-03: Here’s another ‘Brief History’ of the Fediverse that fills in some gaps in mine, and comes from a different political angle.

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