PeerTube is a revolutionary new video hosting system created by a developer known as Chocobozzz.  Supported and funded by Framasoft, a French organization working on a project to  “de-Googlify the Internet“, PeerTube (as the name suggests) has been created as a potential replacement for YouTube and you can watch the intro video here, streamed from a PeerTube site. Excited software freedom geeks have been testing experimental versions of PeerTube for a couple of years now, and there are dozens of groups and individuals running PeerTube sites (or “instances”). In October of 2018, Framasoft proudly announced the release of PeerTube 1.0.

Finally, the wait is over, and PeerTube is ready for average users to dive in. But what what makes PeerTube different from existing independent video sites like EngageMedia or BitChute? First, a little background.

Since it first became possible to embed video files in websites, it’s always been risky to host your own videos on your own website. The reason is that even short video files are much, much bigger than text or image files, or even audio files. If your video goes viral, and you have hundreds or thousands of users trying to stream or download the video at once, you end up having to pay huge fees for the bandwidth that uses on your server, or even having your website break down completely because of the traffic jam.

For years, this has created a paradox where creators who publish their own video, or small, community-hosted video sites, get nowhere if none of their videos get attention, and get punished if any of the videos they host get too popular. Either way, they lose. This is why, with the exception of a few determined anti-corporate activists and free code hackers, most people host their video on a handful of giant, corporate-controlled hosts like YouTube and Vimeo.

What makes PeerTube sites different from other independent video sites like EngageMedia or BitChute is not the type of video they host, nor their moderation policies, but the way they all interconnect (or “federate”) with each other. Using new technologies like WebTorrent and ActivityPub (more on them later), PeerTube sites automatically combine their hosting power to form a federated, video-hosting network. Working together, they can compete with corporate video-hosting platforms like YouTube, something no independent site, and certainly no independent video producer, can afford to do alone.

Today, I started a project of reaching out to independent video producers to make sure they know about PeerTube and the fediverse it’s a part of, encourage them to make use of these tools, and offer support to help them do so. Here’s a generic version of the text I wrote, in case it’s useful to anyone wanting to do something similar.

“Great to see work you’re doing in independent film-making.

I note that your contact page links to a number of corporate-controlled media platforms (FarceBook, TheirsTube etc). Have you heard about the ‘fediverse’, the federated replacements for these centralized platforms, using free code (or “open source”) software? For example, there are a number of inter-connected micro-blogging networks that offer a replacement for the birdsite, including GNU Social, Mastodon, Pleroma, and Misskey, and users on any of the thousands of independent sites running any of these software packages can all communicate with one another, not just the users on their site (or “instance”).

Even more relevant to your work, is PeerTube, a network of video-hosting sites that are similarly inter-connected with each other. PeerTube sites use WebTorrent to allow users watching videos to help serve them to other viewers, reducing the bandwith load on the host if a video goes viral, and making it viable for organizations to host their own video directly. PeerTube sites also use inter-connect with the rest of the fediverse, allowing users to follow PeerTube channels, watch embedded videos, and comment on them, all from within their social media client.

If you need any help figuring out how these technologies could help you organize, promote, and distribute your work, please feel free to get in touch.”

Filed November 27th, 2018 under independent media, free software

At the end of last month, Mozilla Hacks announced a new series of “DWeb” posts on decentralized software projects, which aim to redistribute the power to host and share information on the web, and on the internet in general. Obviously it’s of great interest to Disintermedia, and this blog’s 2 readers. So far, there are articles on Scuttlebutt/ SSB, WebTorrent, and Beaker Browser (see the list at the end of the DWeb announcement article). Thanks to the fedizen - a citizen of the “fediverse” of federated social networks -  who brought this to my attention, sorry I can’t remember who it was right now.

I’m back in the studio, and intending to resume normal transmission next week. This will start with a run-down of the talks and workshops I attended at Open 2018 in London.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, there was a wave of radical community servers, many of which fed into (or grew out of), the Indymedia network. Most of those veterans have sadly vanished from the web, and RiseUp, Framasoft, Comunes (OurProject), and CoActivate, are among the few still standing. As awareness grows of tech corporations like Microsoft, Apple, Google, FarceBook, and Amazon, putting their users in a digital cage, it’s great to see a whole new wave of cooperative groups coming together to replace these Web 2.0 prison canteens with ‘digital cafes’, like CommonsCloud, Disroot, and Social.coop, which I’m starting to get involved with.

A digital cafe (or ‘Open App Ecosystem‘) is a community of users and hackers providing themselves and each other with web services like social media (social networking, open publishing, or both), and sharing the costs. Since they’re doing many of the same things, rather than reinventing the wheel by writing all their software from scratch, they use a range of free code software developed by other groups. Sometimes they donate towards the financial costs of the peer production project that develops the software they use, and in other cases they have the skills and the time to contribute back to the project.

Social.coop began as group of members who set up a cooperative to share the costs of a site running Mastodon, a federated microblog server. Social.coop users can interact not only with each other, and with users on other sites running Mastodon (”instances”), but they can also interact with users on any site connected to a larger “fediverse” of federated social apps. The software makes these interactions across the fediverse possible by using common standards for exchanging data between social sites, initially using an older standard called OStatus. More recently a new standard called ActivityPub was published by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the body that maintains the official standards for HTML, and everything else about how the web works under the hood. ActivityPub was the final output of W3C’s Social Working Group, which has now been replaced by the SocialCG (Social Web Incubator Community Group).

Social.coop depends on the work of all these other organizations in different ways, to keep their digital cafe running. But what’s the nature of the relationship between a cooperative running a digital cafe, and the groups maintaining the software they use? Does their sustainability depend more on making sure the project developing Mastodon has good governance? Or working on ensuring the reliability of their own servers, tweaking the software to serve member’s specific needs better, and perhaps adding new services, to help attract more members who can help reduce the costs per member?

You can’t have a cafe without a reliable electric and gas supply to the kitchen (the “back-end” of the server that users don’t see), and good mood lighting so people can feel relaxed but still see what they’re doing (UI or “User Interface“). But you don’t build a successful cooperative cafe by focusing on the internal politics of the energy utility, or the lamp shop. You focus on building your membership / customer base (users), and your collective capacity to provide them with good coffee, good service, and good food (UX or “User eXperience“).

If your energy supply becomes unreliable, you switch providers. If a coop-owned energy supplier emerges, great, switch to that. #ForkOffTogether could be that, and if people want to pitch that to them, go for it. But we can’t say for certain exactly which software they’re going to fork yet. Pleroma and Hubzilla are already options for ActivityPub server. Of these two existing, ready-to-use ActivityPub servers, I would say Hubzilla’s community probably has the closest overlap of values with social.coop. IMHO both their back-ends perform better than Mastodon’s Ruby-on-Rails engine, but other options continue to emerge (like Pylodon).

It’s the same with the lamp shop (UI). At present social.coop happens to be buying energy and lamps as a bundled package from Mastodon. But we’re not stuck with either, and we don’t have to get them from the same supplier at all. There are already a bunch of other lamp shops around, whose lamps can plug into the same power sockets (server-to-client API) that Mastodon uses. These include Pinafore (which I’m using these days and loving), and Halcyon, which is modeled directly on the look and feel of the birdsite, so fediverse sites who use that will have the minimum transition pain for refugees from there. Other lamp shops will emerge, and some of the existing shops whose lamps use different power sockets (eg Qvitter) might become compatible in the future. Hopefully, in a year or two, everyone will be using the same power sockets and plug standard (ActivityPub server-to-client API), so all lamps will work with all electric suppliers.

In a digital cafe, the energy supply is the maintenance crew’s problem (tech working group). As long as the lights stay on, the rest of the members don’t have to care about how they’re powered. The lamp situation, on the other hand, is something the members/ customers have to put up with while they drink their coffee. Decisions about which UI options social.coop offers need to be made by the membership, within the range of options that can technically work right now. Keep in mind that members can also get takeaway coffee (using a portal like pinafore.social to connect to their current instance), so they do have lighting options beyond what the tech group can set up and maintain right now.

The most important thing, the thing that *isn’t* a distraction, ever, is the coffee, the service, and the food. If we don’t get the UX right, it doesn’t matter how health or unhealthy the workplace is down at the energy company or the lamp shop, because we won’t keep the digital doors open long enough for their long term survival to matter. I love to geek out on organizational structures too. I get it. If that’s your thing, by all means go help the #ForkOffTogether folks become a cooperative energy supplier that social.coop can buy from (if they’re reliable suppliers). I totally endorse that.

Clear as mud? I may have over-extended the cafe metaphor somewhat, and as the old saying goes, no metaphor bears close examination. Feel free to hit me up about what I mean by this or that on the fediverse.

Filed June 12th, 2018 under open social networks, free software

In 2016, I included a graph from Layer 3 Networking blog, in a rant about the tendency to put on weight over time that I’ve seen in even the most lightweight GNU-Linux DE (Desktop Environment). The blog piece I took that graph from gave a detailed run-down of the lightweight DE ecosystem, as it stood in 2013, which still serves as the most thorough introduction I’ve found on the subject.

Being 5 years old now, the graph can’t be treated as a true indication of how much RAM more recent versions of these DEs might use. But it does offer an idea of just how many different free code DEs are out there, some screenshots of what some of the lighter ones look like installed, and roughly how much RAM a wide range of them use relative to each other. It also gives the exact methods used to make the RAM use comparisons between DEs, which is important to whether their results are a fair comparison, and another reason I still consider this a useful guide despite being five years old.

Obviously, being 2013 data, some of the DEs mentioned are now superseded or defunct (eg E17, Unity), or merged (LXDE and Razor-QT are now LXQT), and other newer ones aren’t mentioned (Artemis, Moksha, Pantheon, Yunity, Zorin etc). Based on the numbers from the graph there, I’d say in 2013 you could break DEs down into 3 categories (RAM use numbers assume a freshly booted system running no extra user apps):

  • Small (0-20MB): TinyWM, 9wm, miwm, wm2, dwm, Ratpoison, olvwm, TWM, xmonad/mobar, JWM, i3, Blackbox, Sawfish, IceWM, PekWM, Openbox, Window Maker, awesome, FVWM, Fluxbox, Mutter
  • Medium (20-100MB): E17, LXDE, KWin, Mate, Trinity, XFCE, Cinnamon
  • Bloated (>100MB): Razor-QT, GNOME 3, Unity, KDE

The DEs I describe as bloated are clearly targeted at providing every imaginable widget and performance boost, for users with fairly new hardware, or middle-aged hardware that’s been upgraded or is unusually powerful. Unless you are a business with deep pockets, or someone else who upgrades your computer every couple of years so you can always run the newest software, I suggest avoiding the bloated category. That is, if you don’t want to end up switching to a lighter DE in a couple of years, as the hardware requirements of the bloated DEs continue to creep up towards the latest hardware.

Cinammon, a fork of GNOME 2 developed for the Mint distro, offers everything the average user needs from a desktop experience, while using significantly less RAM than older and more common DEs like KDE Plasma or GNOME 3. Mate, Mint’s lightweight DE, uses even less RAM, while still providing a familiar point-and-click desktop, with the bells and whistles familiar to Windows users who have used any version of Windows from 95 to 7. I’m typing this on an Acer Aspire One that’s nearly 10 years old, and the Mate desktop in the about-to-be-released Trisquel 8 runs fine, although I have improved the performance by doubling the RAM to 2GB and, more importantly, replacing the internal drive with an SSD (Solid State Drive). I can’t emphasize enough what a big difference the SSD makes.

If you still want to be using your computer in ten years time, especially if you bought a netbook or some other unusually under-powered PC like I did, I strongly recommend getting familiar with the pros and cons of the DEs in the small category. If I just want to play a game, I use Openbox, and I really notice how much better the heavier games run without all the extra desktop bells and whistles taking up resources. I intend to get into a habit of logging into Openbox whenever I plan to work on a long piece of writing, or anything else that doesn’t really require flipping back and forth between apps.

In summary, I can’t tell you which DE is right for you, and just to confuse you even more, the same DE can use a different amount of resources depending on which GNU-Linux distro you’re running it on, and even whether or not it’s the default DE for that distro. But it’s definitely worth doing some reading, and choosing one that not only does what you want right now, but will keep doing it for as long as you don’t want to have to switch to keep your computer usable.

Filed April 16th, 2018 under free software, open source

Today I spent a bit of time updating the Disintermedia page on free code OS for desktop use. I reorganised the content a bit so it’s easier to browse, and moved a few discontinued distros into the appropriate box in the summary table. There are a few distros I’ve tried since I last updated that page, like LMDE and PureOS, and a few more I’d like to test drive, like the new version of Heads (Dyne’s answer to Tails). So keep an eye out for more updates, hopefully soon.

Trisquel 8 is nearly ready for release, so I’ll be testing that this week. Watch this space for the cliff notes. For now, my everyday OS is still Trisquel 7 (based on Ubuntu 14.04), running on Bishop, a small laptop that’s almost a decade old. It’s working fine, now that I’ve maxed out the RAM (now 2GB, wow!), and replaced the internal disc with an SSD (Solid State Drive). To be honest, the SSD made much more difference to the performance, and it doesn’t hurt that I’ve almost doubled the storage space too (from 140GB to 240GB), even though I bought a smaller, cheaper SSD. If you are trying to keep an old laptop in use, I highly recommend getting yourself an SSD over buying more RAM.

Filed April 9th, 2018 under free software, open source

Every now and then, I contact the developers of an interactive website I’ve stumbled across to ask them where I can find their source code, and under what free code license(s). I’m usually asking because their software is clearly using some free code components imported from other projects, so I believe they have a moral obligation to return the favour, even if they’re not legally obliged to.

Their reply emails often focus on how likely it is that anyone would want to re-use their source code, and how that might affect their project. That’s understandable, but I’m asking for reasons I consider to be much more important. Here’s how I responded to one such email, doing my best to explain my concerns clearly, but also to write in a way that wouldn’t come across as pushy or unfriendly.

Whether or not anyone would want to re-use your code is an interesting question, but it’s not my primary concern here. What programs you choose to run on your computing set-up, and whether they respect your freedoms, is none of my business. But when I allow programs to run on my system, I want to know that those programs respect my freedoms.

Since I can’t even log into your site without allowing it to run JavaScript programs on my system, I want to know that the source code of those programs is publicly available, under a free code license. If that’s not the case, for all I know I could be exposing myself to the next FarceBook, and I’m not willing to do that, nor to recommend a site to others if that’s the case. This situation is discussed in more detail in as essay called ‘The JavaScript Trap‘.

As a bonus, when source code is publicly available, it can be audited for security flaws and other bugs by the tech community (many eyes make bugs shallow and all that), patches submitted to improve it, and so on. And yes, it’s possible that someone else might benefit from not reinventing the wheel, by re-using some of your code, just as you’ve done with other people’s code. But that just means helpful bug reports and patches are more likely, which saves you work, and improves your software. It’s a win-win.

If you decide that you’re up for this, I highly recommend joining the Open App Ecosystem group on Loomio. There are people involved from a number of different free code web apps, and it’s good place to chat about how to make inter-operation work smoothly (common protocols, standards etc). For example, Loomio itself is a decision-making app, and I can definitely see some potential benefits in being able to embed [name of project] elements in Loomio discussion threads.

As you can see, I don’t shy away from making a case for software freedom as a principle. But I also make sure I talk about the potential benefits for them, and invite them to become involved in the open source community, within which free code is nurtured. When we share, we create abundance, and being welcomed into communities that enact that principle is one of the best ways to encourage people to start doing the same.

Filed April 4th, 2018 under free software, open source

Mailing lists and web forums are both text media, supporting branching conversations. The only difference is the method of delivery and reply (email vs. web). As mailing list/ forum software continues to be developed, the distinction between the two is breaking down, because it makes sense to use a package that allows people to participate through either email or web interfaces, as they prefer.

Many modern mailing list server packages (like GroupServer) support forum-style subcription management, message searching, and direct replies. Many modern web forum server packages (like Discourse) allow for email delivery and replies. Loomio enables text discussions through both web and email, as well as decision-making using a variety of poll types (so more suited for teams than casual, open-ended discussions).

In response to a proposal on the Trisquel forums, I was thinking it would make sense to have a unified set of software freedom forums, on one website, with a range of topic-based forums, and help forums for specific projects (like libre distros, user applications, server packages, and so on). The question is, how would we assemble a critical mass of people who have time to admin, moderate, and participate? How would we make decisions about where to host? Which software to use? What to call it?

Then I thought, maybe if we want to get really ambitious, we could try to create a federated set of forums. Could ActivityPub, Zot, or another federation standard(s), be used to federate multiple forum packages on multiple hosts so that people can read, join, and post to a Trisquel Users forum from any one of those hosts? Could this help to solve the problems of community fragmentation (different groups silo’d on different hosts), without trying to herd everyone onto one host?

For now, the Trisquel forum admins have solved the problem of general software freedom discussions being held in the forum intended for helping Trisquel users having problems with installing or using the distro, by setting up a new General Free Software Talk forum on their boards. All welcome, don’t feed the trolls (we have the Troll Lounge for that ;)

Filed March 17th, 2018 under open social networks, free software

I was please to see a discussion on ‘P2P food system as a major environmental and social solution?‘ started by Robert LaRocque on the Loomio group of the CommonsTransition group. There are *so* many great resources on the transition back to a decentralized, sustainable food supply, thanks especially to folks like the biodynamics and organics movements, the permaculture and slow food movements that grew out of their compost heaps, and the transition movement that grew out of permaculture.

Firstly, check out the Localizing Food Project, spearheaded by one of my permaculture teachers, Robina McCurdy of Earthcare Education Aotearoa. Robina travelled the length of this country connecting with local food projects, and is producing a series of crowdfunded documentary films covering different aspects of them. The latest one is ‘Edible Paradise - Growing the Food Forest Revolution‘.

Secondly, have a browse through Appropedia, a crowdsourced mediawiki site for appropriate technology, PracticalPlants and Plants for a Future. which are the same thing but for articles about plants. There’s also OpenSourceEcology, a development project for appropriate tech based at FactorE Farms. Also WikiHouse, it’s not about food, but like OpenSourceEcology it does demonstrate the way the crowdsourcing and human-centred design principles behind wikis and free code software can be applied to creating new stuff on the physical layer.

Thirdly, it was great to see from the responses in the comments that there are Open Food Network folk participating in the group too. I had a great conversation about the OFN vision when I met OFN co-founder Serenity Hill at the first Open Source//Open Society. The P2P food network/ app idea is already being tried by folks like OFN, and here in Aotearoa, BuckyBox (now fully free code), and OOOBY (Out of Our Own Backyards), see OOOBY founder Pete Russell’s TEDx talk on ‘Hacking the supply chain‘ (sadly I believe OOOBY’s platform remains proprietary). I’m collecting notes about food coop and box scheme software on the Aotearoa Permaculture Network wiki.

Finally, a bit of shameless self-promotion, I wrote a paper for the FreeCulture2010 conference called ‘Free to Know or Free to Own? Convergence of Free and Slow Culture in Global Relocalisation‘. It looks at the parallels and points of overlap between the original ecology movement and what I sometimes call ‘digital ecology’, the worlds of free code, online commons, and green tech.

Filed November 15th, 2017 under free culture, free software, documentary

As a street scientist, I think a lot about making things reproducible, and for the same reason, identifying the limits to that. Carefully reproducing a resource model (I prefer this term to “business model”) allows us to distinguish models that work as social design patterns, from what one-offs that depends on unique local/ personal factors. Also, having resource models that are clearly documented and reproducible helps us scale up successful experiments through multiplication, rather than centralized growth.

The Enspiral Handbook is an example of documenting a resource model. Having documents like this available helps people distinguish a commons-based coworking space from a venture capital controlled “startup incubator”. This is particularly important for helping groups of people trying to create commons-based coworking spaces (reproduction through multiplication), giving them tactics and strategy they can use to avoid becoming an outsourced adjunct of the “startup” system. Established coworking projects like Enspiral can also benefit from studying each others’ documentation in the same way.

Another kind of resource model I’d like see become more reproducible is hosting organisations like RiseUp, OpenMailBox, and Disroot, the digital equivalent of the bricks-and-mortar coworking spaces. We need more of these organisations, so viable, community-based replacements for The Stacks can be available to more people who aren’t ready to learn self-hosting (some people may never be ready for UserOps). Documentation of exactly what software they use from kernel up to server applications (and whether that sits on bare metal or a VM or shared hosting) would cut down the testing time required to get a new hosting org up and running. Another way of achieving a similar thing could be distributions of GNU-Linux optimized for community hosting, something like scaled up version of self-hosting distros like FreedomBox, FreedomBone, or YUNOHost.

Filed October 8th, 2017 under transition initiatives, free software

This is a generic version of an email I recently sent to a not-for-profit organisation that runs a web-based platform for community exchange. Feel free to use it as a model for encouraging other not-for-profits to use and promote free code software.

————————————–

Greetings

I recently received an email from GratisService.org [insert here the name of a not-for-profit running a gratis, web-based service] asking for a monetary donation. I really value the GratisService.org service, and I’ve [description of how I used the service] through your website on many occasions. However, as a point of principle, when a not-for-profit’s primary activities are software-based, I only donate to them if they respect the software freedom of the people who use their services.

There are two elements to this:

1) using only free code (or “open source”) software to provide the service

2) providing a page linked from the front page of the website, listing the various free code packages used to provide the service, including code developed by other groups, and code developed by the group providing the service.

I’ve looked around GratisService.org a few times, but there’s no indication of what software it uses. Adding such a page (eg as a technical FAQ) would satisfy point 2). I’m guessing that most of the software you use to run the service is free code. In order to satisfy point 1), if you have proprietary dependencies I’d be happy to help you find free code replacements for them, and if you have internally developed code that hasn’t been released as free code under a software freedom license yet, I’d be happy to help you do that.

This guide provides more detailed information about these issues: https://copyleft.org/guide/comprehensive-gpl-guidech2.html

In the meantime, keep up the good work.

Warm regards

Danyl Strype

Filed June 17th, 2017 under free software
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