I’m going to be taking the rest of the month off, and since Disintermedia remains a one-man-band, that means it will be dormant until then. When I return, I need to give some serious thought to the future of the project.

When I originally registered the domain name, I was intending to build an organization of kiwis interested in tech politics. That didn’t work out, so it’s ended up being a tech politics blog and research wiki written and curated by lonely old me. The team behind CoActivate have been fantastic hosts for more than a decade, but mucking about with my used Androids has revealed just how far behind the times the platform is falling. CoActivate projects are hard to read on a mobile device, and pretty much impossible to edit or interact with, so unless and until we can bring the platform up to date, continuing to host Disintermedia means being unavailable to the majority of potential readers.

The other major change that’s happened over the last few years is that I’ve got more and more involved in the development of the fediverse, The growing federated social media network that includes projects like Mastodon and PeerTube. The fediverse also includes a number of federated blogging tools like Plume, write.as, and WriteFreely, which allow people to follow blogs and comment on them from within their preferred social media app. A good example is We Distribute, a blog about federated networks, which uses the Pterotype plug-in for Wordpress, Without an update to the software under the hood of CoActivate, the only way I can make Disintermedia blog posts available on the fediverse is posting links using my Mastodon account, hosted by the NZOSS.

I’ve thought a lot about moving to self-hosting a blog, wiki, and other services for Disintermedia (perhaps email and Jabber too). Maybe using a self-hosting tools like YUNOhost or FreedomBone. I know it would involve some serious upskilling, and probably some headaches and unexpected outages, “best laid plans of mice and men” and all that. On the other hand, it would also give me a lot more practical knowledge about the software I research and blog about and allow me to make more informed suggestions about what software to use for the needs to different communities.

Another thing I’ve seriously considered is just closing the doors. Maybe merging the work I do with Disintermedia into a larger organisation, like the Free Software Foundation, or the Peer-to-Peer Foundation. Or even completely rethinking how I’m using all the unpaid time I put into Disintermedia and the movements I research and write about under this umbrella. If anyone has any feedback or suggestions on these possibilities, and I’d really appreciate you sharing them

Filed August 8th, 2019 under open social networks, News

This is just a note to inform my three readers, and any other visitors that pop by, that I will be offline until the end of February, 2019. Until then, there will be no new blog posts, and I will not be answering any email, or interacting on any other platforms like the fediverse or Loomio. Basically, the plan is to unplug the router, and not plug in back in until I’m ready to go back online.

The most important reason for this is just to give myself a break from the net, and spend some time doing other things like going for walks and reading books. But I also intend to use this time to get some work done on the Email Ate My Life book project, which has been languishing on the backburner for far too long. I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing some kind of podcast, and I’m seriously thinking about podcasting draft versions of some parts of the book, as a way of both dipping my toe into the waters of podcasting, and getting some feedback to help me with the final spit and polish on the book text. Watch this space.

If anyone reading this happens to be a publishing agent or boutique publisher who could help get a book published about one geek’s experience of a year without the net, or if you know one who might be, please get in touch (after February). 

Filed January 22nd, 2019 under News

My apologies to my three readers, and to the hard working organizers from The Open Coop, for not getting around to a write-up on Open 2018 yet. One positive outcome from that event is that attendees who are working on ‘Open App Ecosystems’ of various kinds were able to compare notes, and as a result, there has been a wave of new members and activity on the OAE Loomio group. Open 2018 was a fantastic event, and I encourage anyone interested in potential collaborations between the software freedom movement and the cooperative movement to attend in 2019.

I will soon be heading to Hong Kong for another platform cooperativism conference, ‘Sowing the Seeds‘, taking place from 28-29 September at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). This event is a collaboration between a number of cooperatives from around Asia, and the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, based at The New School at NYU (New York University). I’m also hoping to attend the cooperative hackathon taking place over two days before the conference (watch this space!).

A number of the speakers and participants at this conference were contributors to ‘Ours to Hack and Own‘, a book of essays that attempt to map out the transition from data farms that benefit corporations and investors, to digital cafes that benefits their members and workers. It’s a great book, and while I encourage you to buy a copy if you can afford to, I’m aware of at least one place you can download a gratis digital copy (see our Notable Books library).

It’s a privilege to be able to attend these events, and learn more about the fantastic work being done by cooperative organizers and free code hackers around the world. At the same time, it’s taking some effort to get my head around this new social movement, and how it relates to the pre-existing economic democracy and digital freedom movements that I’ve been involved in for decades. Expect to see more writing on this blog about both the organization and technical aspects of platform cooperatives over the next year or so. It may be that some of this writing will provide the ending I’ve been looking for to complete the story I want to tell in ‘Email At My Life‘. Again, watch this space!

Filed September 23rd, 2018 under News, open source

According to a piece on left-leaning kiwi blog site The Daily Blog, there’s more bad news looming for basic democratic rights. Both the Australian and New Zealand governments are considering passing new laws that would force people to hand over the keys to their encrypted communications. NZ already has some stupidly strict laws on “exporting” anything encryption-related from the country, and even publishing articles about it in academic journals requires special permission. A coalition of digital liberties groups, including InternetNZ and the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, has been defending the right to encrypt since at least 2016. A time when the debate over the technology was heating up around the world, thanks to the work of groups like Access Now. Back then, the Obama administration were saying that the US federal government would not be doing anything that weakened the digital security provided by encryption.

The problem is, encrypted communication is such an obscure thing for most people, and so far from their everyday concerns about paying the rent, keep dinner on the table, keeping the shop open, or whatever. There’s a risk that too many people will only understand why this matters too late, and start trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. So here’s a simple way to explain it.

You have a lock box in your house. In it, you might keep some cash for emergencies. You might keep important documents like your passport when you’re not travelling, or copies of your will, or a copy of your research on your family history. You might keep something harmless but embarrassing, like some saucy Polaroid photos you took with your lover, or something weird and sentimental, like a lace doily, or half a doughnut. It’s nobody else’s business what’s in that box. You have a fundamental right to keep it private. It’s a right that’s asserted in a bunch of other human rights conventions, including Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

You don’t want anyone to see what’s in your lock box, but let’s say law enforcement officers want the key to it, because they believe it contains evidence of a crime. Traditionally, in democratic countries, the officers have to appear before a neutral third-party (like a judge) and the onus is on them to convince that person that they have a very good reason to be allowed to violate your privacy, not on you to prove that they don’t (”nothing to hide …”).

If they get permission - in the form of a judicial warrant - it only applies in this specific case, to you, to the private property they’re asking the judge for access to, in this case your lock box, and for a specific period of time. They can’t get a warrant to search anyone’s lock box. They can’t get a warrant to search anything you choose to keep private. They can’t get a warrant to violate your privacy any time they like from now on. A warrant is a temporary, specific exemption to the laws that normally protect your privacy. If law enforcement officers can just ask you for the key to your lock box, and threaten to arrest you and charge with obstruction if you say no, that’s “arbitrary interference” in your “privacy, home or correspondence”, and Article 12 says that’s something governments that respect human rights protect their people from.

An encryption key is like a digital version of the key to your lock box. Like your email or social media passphrase, it protects things you have reasons to want to keep private. In a tiny minority of cases, that might be communications about committing a crime. But in the majority of cases, they will be things you want to keep private because they are embarrassing (dick pics), or personal (love letters), or financially sensitive (online banking), or its your professional duty  (a doctor’s database of their patients’ medical records). Things that are harmless. Things that could even be harmful to people if their privacy is violated, like medical insurance companies getting access to people’s medical records, and charging higher premiums to people with unusual health problems, even though the whole point of insurance is to collect money off lots of people, so it can be paid out to those who need it.

The problem with the laws being discussed about encryption is not that they let law enforcement violate a specific person’s privacy, in specific ways, when they have good reason to think they will find evidence of a crime. The law already allows them to apply for a warrant for that. The problem is, these laws would let them search through anything that anyone chose to encrypt, any time they like. It would let them do so in secret, with no effective way for the public to hold them accountable for how they use those powers.

This is how policing works in a police state, not a democracy. Please contact your political representatives and urge them to do everything in their power to protect our privacy, by protecting our right to encrypt.

Filed September 7th, 2018 under News, security

Update 2018-11-29: Rich Bartlett wrote an excellent piece on his experiences with trying to get paid for contributing to the commons. Rich is an activist, writer, and hacker, associated with Enspiral, Loomio, and The Hum.

——–

A couple of years back, I decided to see if I could actually get funded by the communities who I created Disintermedia to inform and support. I started gathering information about different ways people could pay me over the internet, and adding it to a page called Help Disintermedia, which was initially created to publicly thank services like CoActivate that help us in non-monetary ways. First, I experimented with setting up the software to receive BitCoins, and put up a wallet address (is that right?), and over the next year that was followed by a link to a Patreon page, and then a Liberapay page. These “micro-patronage” sites allow people to give small, regular amounts, and in theory, like newspaper subscriptions, many people’s small payments can add up. I’m embarrassed to admit that so far, these efforts have been a dismal failure.

For a start, the BitCoin address I published was: 19KER7hfqXhZnHnnJ3VcGRr2w3i1v6e44e

But I have no idea now where this directs BitCoins to, or if anyone actually donated any, how to retrieve them. I just haven’t had the time to do all the reading required to fully understand how to use BitCoin; how to back up my wallet, how to accept payments to the same wallet from multiple devices, whether I can do this using the same address, so many questions! The same is even more true for other crypto-tokens (FairCoin, FreiCoin, SolarCoin, NameCoin, FileCoin etc). If you can help me get to grips with any of this, especially if you are keen to donate to Disintermedia  please feel free to contact me.

I’m also considering figuring out how to use Brave, Minds, SteemIt, Earn.io, and a bunch of other new systems that claim to offer ways of paying creators who contribute to the weaving of the free web. But seriously, figuring out which of these are honest, and viable, is a high-stakes research project in and of itself. With real money involved, there’s no kind of software more attractive to bad actors, idealistic incompetents, and venture capitalists. They all take time to set up and learn to use well, and you can’t get any benefit out of them without giving them real personal details and banking information. On top of that, there’s a risk involved in implicitly endorsing them if they end up being dodgy.

I’ve thought about experimenting with the newly relaunched Flattr 2.0, since unlike most micro-patronage sites, it’s pretty set-and-forget. Creators can get paid through it without needing to constantly self-promote (”click here to subscribe!”). There have been some hard questions asked about the privacy implications of the Flattr browser extension, but the developers do sound like they take privacy seriously, and it’s encouraging that all their apps are free code (not sure about the javascript on the site itself though). Another critical question is about how much money creators can realistically get out in payments. Even if they took 50% of whatever Flattr payout I got, that’s still potentially more than I’d get by not using it at all, but the new fees scheme for Flattr does seem to take a lot of bites out of my sandwich before I get to eat it.

Really, if the developers of any of these community funding platforms really think they are viable, they should be eating their own dogfood, and funding themselves using their own platform. Gratipay did this (RIP), and Liberapay still do, which is why I tried them first. Any platform skimming their users’ donations with fees, or heaven forbid, sucking up to venture capitalists, isn’t showing much confidence in their own funding platform. After all, you don’t see GitHub developing the code for GitHub on another code forge (they might have a backup there but that’s different).

For example, Ko-fi fund themselves using their own platform, instead of taking fees. I can’t find any source code though, and their use of a proprietary mail missile called SendGrid to send out emails isn’t encouraging. Ko-fi is designed to give the original Flattr model another go; buttons creators can stick on their web page, that users can click to “buy me a coffee”.

A Flattr developer posting on HackerNews claimed that model failed, because:

  • a) people using the web don’t want to click buttons (?!?)
  • b) publishers didn’t want another private company’s branded buttons all over their site

None of this seems to affect PaylPal / Stripe or social media buttons. I suspect it was more like:

  • a) people are used to having to enter their credit card details (or deal with PayPal shudder) when they click a donate button, which is a painful and scary user experience
  • b) when Flattr launched you couldn’t get paid anything without first setting up a monthly contribution to Flattr so most people didn’t bother (that’s why I didn’t), and nobody wanted buttons all over their site promoting a thing that smelt like a pointless ponzi scheme
  • c) Flattr funded themselves by skimming off 10% every time credit moved across their platform, and as mentioned above, Flattr 2.0 has even more ways to charge everyone.

I’ve set up a Ko-Fi account, just to try it out. Is it really going to help to add yet another layer of management between me, PayPal, the bank, and the person trying to give me money? I’m sceptical about whether it was worth the time, or the indignity of having to deal with PayPal or some other toll collector on the information superhighway (again, shudder). Frankly, I’m not convinced that Ko-Fi is an improvement on just having a button for PayPal or Stripe, although it is nice to not have their garish corporate branding all over an activist website. But hey, prove me wrong, buy me a coffee!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

I suspect that for the contribute button thing to really take off, it needs to become a neutral web standard, so the buttons are all over the web, they always look the same, and its a standard icon on them, not one company’s logo. The person clicking them can set up a payment system that gets activated when they click the contribute button, and website creators can decide which payment gateway processes the money when they get clicked. I’m hoping GNU Taler takes off, and we can eventually use that. If anyone reading this is involved in a credit union, or cooperatively owned bank, who might be willing to get involved in a pilot scheme, I encourage you to contact the Taler team.

For now, if anyone can recommend any other sites for collecting one-off donations for struggling web writers, that would be much appreciated. If you want to donate, and you don’t mind the banking system knowing it, please contact me, and I can give you bank account details privately.

————————————

Update 2018-10-01: it just occurred to me that I could be missing out on potential donations by deleting emails from PayPal (which I presume to be spam), and emails offering me money (which I presume to be variants on 419 fraud). If you’ve ever tried to donate to Disintermedia, please reach out via the fediverse (where scam messages haven’t appeared yet), and let me know, so we can figure out if the money left your account, and where it went. 

Filed April 19th, 2018 under free culture, independent media, News, open source

Dear friends, and anyone else who happens to read this blog,

For as long as I can remember I have weathered the storms of chronic depression and anxiety. In the last couple of weeks, I have been forced to admit to myself that I’m currently experiencing a severe bout of depression, one that’s been going on for at least a few months. I’m hopeful that realizing just how serious it is means I’ve turned a corner, but I have no idea how long it will take to get well, which is incredibly frustrating.

The symptoms include the obvious; general despair, lack of enthusiasm for life and work, loss of enjoyment, bursting into tears without reason, difficulty communicating, withdrawal from social interaction, and occasionally, suicidal thoughts. But I am also suffering a number of not-so-obvious symptoms, including constant fatigue, mental confusion and unreliable memory, loss of focus and attention span, and difficulty making and carrying out plans. Perhaps most frustrating of all, I’m struggling to write. Just getting this blog piece completed has taken me about a week from planning to posting. I’m definitely not in any condition to get work done reliably at this time.

If I have been doing work for a project you’re involved in, or we’ve discussed starting to work together, I need to let you know that I won’t be able to continue with that work in the foreseeable future. I’m really sorry about this, but I’ve resisted making this call for too long, to the point where my underpowered involvement is doing more harm than good in some cases. Please don’t take my departure as a withdrawal of support for any cause or project, nor as a criticism of any person involved in them. This is about me doing what I need to do to get well.

If my recent correspondence has been uncharacteristically grim or argumentative, I apologise to anyone this has affected. Because I wasn’t aware just how bad my depression was and is, I’ve continued to participate in far more online conversations than I can really handle, and the usefulness of my contributions has been questionable at best. I will be unsubscribing from all email lists and, as much as possible, avoiding Loomio or any other online communication channel other than essential email.

In the coming weeks and months I will focus my remaining energy on following a wellness plan that includes re-establishing healthy daily routines, regular counselling sessions, and spending more time with people in face-to-face activities that aren’t about work (paid or unpaid). If you are in Ōtepoti/ Dunedin, please feel free to get in touch about meeting up for a cuppa and a chat, and let me know about things going on in town. Wherever you are in the world, I’d love to hear from you by phone or email.

Finally, I also hope do some writing about my experience of depression. I will post these on my new personal blog on DreamWidth, if and when I feel up to it. I’m also determined to get back into doing little bits of work on the first draft of ‘Email Ate My Life‘, which I hope will help me rebuild my confidence in my ability to get work done. Watch this space.

————————————————————- 

EDIT 10/08/2016: Huge thanks for all the heartfelt messages of understanding and support I’ve received since I made this announcement. In contrast, I did get one email from some random who had this to say:

“sort your selfish shit out CITY BOY.

there are bigger welcoming aspects out there…

..still working with networks

and learning as well

or kill ya self

If you’d like to tell this person what you think of this as a response to a person being open and honest about a mental health challenge, you can email them at: sond at ihug.co.nz

Filed August 3rd, 2016 under News

For some time now, there has been a copyright statement at the top of the index page for the Disintermedia wiki. The last time I amended it, the license I chose was CC-BY-SA 3.0 (NZ). Since then, version 4.0 of the CreativeCommons license suite has been released, and I’ve upgraded the default license for Disintermedia content to CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Despite a number of radical proposals being made during the consultation process, Version 4 of CC keeps the same framework and terminology we’ve become familiar with (Attribution, Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives, Share-Alike etc), with a number of improvements. Most of those relate to the wording in the lawyer-friendly text that most of us don’t read, and only affect risk-averse institutions that employ lawyers. Bbut there is one major change that is of interest to all CC users; the abolition of localized “ports” of the licenses, like the Aotearoa/ NZ versions I’ve been using since they were released.

Country-specific versions of CC never really made much sense considering the cross-border nature of the internet. They were created to hack around the fact that the original CC license were written with USA copyright law in mind, which works differently to the copyright law in other countries. Since then, there has been a lot of work done to harmonize copyright law across jurisdictions (with both positive and negative implications). Also, the “porting” of the CC licenses to other jurisdictions has improved the understanding by CC lawyers of the differences between the various copyright regimes. The combination of these two things allowed the version 4.0 licenses to be drafted using language that is legally robust, regardless of what country they’re enforced in.

Filed April 25th, 2016 under free culture, News

DropBox is a useful tool. It’s handy to have your files automatically copied to an “off-site backup” - a copy that’s not in your building - stored on another computer, or what people sometimes call “in the cloud”. It’s also handy to be able to synchronize your files across a number of devices, for example your office desktop, your work laptop, your home computer, and your mobile. The problem is, the software that runs on the DropBox servers is proprietary, which means users are totally dependent on the company continuing to operate to keep getting the service, and dependent on the goodwill of the company to keep any private data stored in their DropBox account private. There are a number of free code alternatives to DropBox, such as ownCloud (AGPLv3), which you can run on your own server, or use one of a number of hosting organisations like OpenMailBox.org.

A few years ago I set up a DropBox account to upload some essential data (photos of kids ;)) from my friend’s laptop, while I helped her fix it. Just recently, I got an email from DropBox asking if I still wanted to keep the account. Other than that one situation, I don’t remember having ever used my DropBox account, and I am using ownCloud with OpenMailBox, so I decided I don’t. I downloaded a copy of my friend’s photos, just in case, and used the account deletion link in the email. The deletion page asked me why I was leaving, so I explained that I want to use and support services that run free code software on their servers. It felt every bit as satisfying as when I suspended my FarceBook account, and almost as satisfying as when I closed my WestPac account and told them it was because they invest in uranium mining in Australia.

Filed March 22nd, 2016 under News

I just read in a report by TheDailyBlog that the New Zealand government intends to host the signing of the Low Wage Treaty (or “Free Trade Agreement” in Newspeak) on February 4 this year. What kind of civil disobedience could be effective against something as abstract as the TPP? What about:

  • a week-long boycott of all imported products/ all products sold by transnational corporations (bonus effect of sharing knowledge about where our products come from, who profits from them, and what the alternatives are)?
  • a mass public share-in where people give each other copies of movies, music, software etc whose copyright is owned by corporations, or alternatives to them (eg GNU/Linux as an alternative to Windows)?
  • teach-ins about natural health and healing practices which don’t require buying anything (in protest against drug patents and the way they hike up the price of health care)?
  • collaborative sprints to create freely shareable text books and other learning materials not held hostage by ARR (All Rights Reserved) copyright (in protest against the way ARR copyright learning materials hike up the cost of education and stop teachers freely building on each others work)?
  • other ideas?
Filed January 13th, 2016 under News

Thanks to organisers Enspiral, Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation and Commons Transition is coming out to Aotearoa, in late November 2015, to speak about ‘P2P Design, Open Source Collaboration, & the Sharing Economy’. Michel will give six talks, in five cities, covering both Te Wai Pounamu, and Te Ika a Maui. Full tour details, including flyers that can be downloaded and printed out, are available on the Enspiral website.

Filed November 6th, 2015 under free culture, Makers, free software, News
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