Post Open Services

Exit skype loyalty

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Why Doesn’t Skype Include Stronger Protections Against Eavesdropping?

At the EFF blog Seth Schoen speculates that Microsoft could be under continuous secret court orders which could possibly be interpreted to not allow it to add privacy protecting features to Skype. Maybe, but this can’t explain why Skype did not protect users prior to acquisition by Microsoft.

Schoen’s post closes with (emphasis in original):

That’s certainly not the case today, legally or technically—today, different kinds of calls offer drastically different levels of privacy and security. On some mobile networks, calls aren’t encrypted at all and hence are even broadcast over the air. Some Internet calls are encrypted in a way that protects users against some kinds of interception and not others. Some calls are encrypted with tools that include privacy and security features that Skype is lacking. Users deserve to understand exactly how the communications technologies they use do or don’t protect them. If Microsoft has reasons to think this situation is going to change, we need to know what those reasons are.

I’ll throw out some definite reasons users aren’t getting the protection and information deserved (secret court orders may be additional reasons):

  • Features have costs (engineering, UX, support); why should a developer bother with any feature when:
  • Few users have expressed demand for such features through either exit or voice;
  • Advocates who believe users deserve protection and information have failed to adequately increase actual user and policy demand for such;
  • Advocates and would-be providers of tools giving users what they deserve have failed to adequately deliver (especially to market! few users know about these tools) such.

In short Skype has not protected users or informed them about lack of protection because they face near zero threat (regulatory or competitive product) which would interest them in doing so.

EFF is doing as well and as much as any entity at generally informing users who probably already care a little bit (they’re reached by the EFF’s messages) and a whole lot more deserving of support. Keep that voice up but please always include exit instructions. Name “tools that include privacy and security features”; I see a screenshot of Pidgin in the EFF post, give them some love! Or better, Jitsi, the most feasible complete Skype replacement for all platforms. Otherwise your good efforts will be swamped by Skype user loyaltynetwork effect lockin.

Related argument: Realize Document Freedom Day; on topic: Free, open, secure and convenient communications: Can we finally replace Skype, Viber, Twitter and Facebook?

Life in the possibly bright future of the federated social indieweb

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

After about five years (2.5 year update) it’s hard not to be disappointed in the state of the federated social web. Legacy silos have only increased their dominance, abetting mass spying, and interop among federated social web experiments looks bleak (link on different topic, but analogous).

In hindsight it was disappointing 5 years ago that blogs and related (semweb 1.0?) technologies hadn’t formed the basis of the federated social web (my pet theory is that the failure is in part due to the separation of blog post/comment writing and feed reading).

Another way of looking at it is that despite negligible resources focused on the problem, much progress has been made in figuring out how to do the federated social web over the past five years. Essentially nothing recognizable as a social web application federated five years ago. There are now lots of experiments, and two of the pioneers have learned enough to determine a rewrite was necessary — Friendica→Red and the occasion for this post, StatusNet→

Right now is a good time to try out a federated social web service (hosted elsewhere, or run your own instance) again, or for the first time:

My opinion, at the moment: has the brightest future, Diaspora appears the most featureful (inclusive of looking nice) to users, and Friendica is the best at federating with other systems. Also see a comparison of software and protocols for distributed social networking and the Federated Social Web W3C community group.

The Indie Web movement is complementary, and in small part might be seen as taking blog technologies and culture forward. When I eventually rebuild a personal site, or a new site for an organization, indieweb tools and practices will be my first point of reference. Their Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere and Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate (to your) Own Site concepts are powerful and practical, and I think what a lot of people want to start with from federated social web software.

*Running StatusNet as I write, to be converted to over the next hours. The future of StatusNet is to be at GNU social.

List of Wikimania 2013 Submissions of Interest

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Unlikely I’ll attend Wikimania 2013 in Hong Kong (I did last year in DC). In lieu of marking myself as an interested attendee of proposed sessions, my list of 32 particularly interesting-to-me proposals follows. I chose by opening the proposal page for each of the 331 submissions that looked interesting at first glance (about 50) and weeded out some of those.

I suspect many of these proposals might be interesting reading for anyone generally curious about possible futures of Wikipedia and related, similar, and complementary projects, but not following any of these things closely.

A “kill hollyweb” plan

Friday, May 3rd, 2013
May 3 is the Day Against DRM (Digital Restrictions Management). Please sign the petition against DRM in the HTML5 standard. Then come back and read this post.

Recently I wrote in Why DRM in HTML5 and what to do about it:

Long term, the only way the DRM threat is going to be put to rest is for free cultural works to become culturally relevant.

I’ve complained many a time that rearguard clicktivism against bad policy is not a winning strategy — especially when such campaigns don’t also promote free-as-in-freedom software and cultural works — because as I put it one of those times:

In a world in which most software and culture are free as in freedom there would be no constituency for attacking the Internet (apart from dictatorships and militarized law enforcement of supposed democracies)

But I’m at fault too for not laying out a specific plan for making some free works culturally relevant, let alone carrying out such a plan.

OK, here’s one plan I recently mentioned offhandedly:

‘free-as-in-freedom ~netflix’
  • crowdfund minimum number of subscriptions needed to begin
  • subscriptions used to really nicely package/stream and promote free as in freedom video
  • start with 1 feature-length video selection each month (perhaps even quarter during a beta phase)
  • mix of contemporary (of which there isn’t much yet) and older public domain movies
  • limited, promoted releases concentrate subscription audience: focused increase of cultural relevance, one work at a time
  • given enough subscriptions, start funding new free videos
  • obviously videos would be DRM-free, in free formats, all software used free software, and all ancillary material also free-as-in-freedom

Good idea? Run with it, or if you’d like to subscribe or otherwise help create it in any way, fill out this 3 question survey. Bad idea, but still care? Let me know via the survey. Or mail or contact user mlinksva on some other usual channel.

“Kill Hollyweb” is in part a reference to the Y Combinator Request For Startups 9: Kill Hollywood. The plan above isn’t really a Kill Hollywood plan as it isn’t about replacing movies with some other form of entertainment.

Products that embody openness the most powerful way to shape the policy conversation

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Aza Raskin writing about Mozilla:

Developing products that embody openness is the most powerful way to shape the policy conversation. Back those products with hundreds of millions of users and you have a game-changing social movement.

I completely agree, at least when “product” and “policy” are construed broadly — both include, e.g., marketing and adoption/use/joining of products, communities, ethics, ideas, etc. Raskin’s phrasing also (understandably, as he’s working for Mozilla) emphasizes central organizations as the actor (which backs products with users, rather than users adopting the product, and participating in its development) more than I’d like, but that’s nuance.

This is why I complain about rearguard clicktivism against bad policy that totally fails to leverage the communication opportunity to also promote good policy and especially products that embody good policy, and even campaigns for good policy concepts that fail to also promote products which embody the promoted policy.

To summarize, there’s product competition and policy competition, and I think the former is hugely undersold as potently changing the latter. (There’s also beating-of-the-bounds, perhaps with filesharing and wikileaks as examples, which has product and policy competition aspects, but seems a distinct kind of action; which ought to be brought into closer conversation with the formal sector.)

The main point of Raskin’s post is that Mozilla is a second-mover, taking proven product segments and developing products for them which embody openness, and that it could do that in more segments, various web applications in particular. I look forward to more Mozilla services.

A lot of what Wikipedia and Public Library of Science have done very successfully could also be considered “second mover”, injecting freedom into existing categories — sometimes leading to exploding the a category with something qualitatively and quantitatively huger.

I admit that the phrase I pulled from Raskin’s post merely confirms (and this by authority!) a strongly held bias of mine. How to test? Failing that, what are the best arguments against?

Realize Document Freedom Day

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Open formats and open standards are excellent causes, but without free/open source software implementations and widespread adoption thereof, the causes are uphill battles, at best. So I’m appalled that the Document Freedom Day (which is today, March 27) website information and suggested actions are merely conceptual.

Let’s fix that, here’s the deal. Download, try, become an expert:

LibreOffice. If in 2013 you’re still using Microsoft Office, you’re either in an organization/industry with extreme lock-in through custom business automation or similar that is built exclusively on Microsoft tools, or you’re actively contributing to the destruction of freedom and equality in the world. If you’ve never tried LibreOffice, or if you’ve tried one of its predecessors (OpenOffice) more than a year ago, try LibreOffice (again) now. It’s excellent, including at reading and writing non-free document formats, a necessity for adoption. But most of the value in software is not inherent, rather in many people using and knowing the software. Network effects rule, and you can make a huge difference! If you can’t be bothered, make up for it with a large donation to The Document Foundation, LibreOffice’s nonprofit organization.

As the DFD website explains, document freedom isn’t just about word processor and spreadsheet documents, or even just about storage formats, but any format used to store or transmit data. Thus I put Jitsi as the second most important application to use in order to realize document freedom. It implements open standards such as XMPP and SIP to provide all of the functionality of Skype, which is completely proprietary in its formats and implementation, willing to work with oppressive governments, and increasingly castigated as bloatware or even malware by people who don’t care much about freedom. Jitsi recently released 2.0. If in the unlikely event you’ve tried it before, it’s definitely worth another look.

Probably everyone knows about Firefox, but not everyone uses it, and it does have the best support for open formats of the top browsers. Also, Firefox has progressed very nicely the last years.

Praise for Document Freedom Day

DFD has missed an opportunity to promote the realization of document freedom, but that would be good in addition to, not in place of their existing messages. Direct use of free software that implements open standards is incredibly powerful, but not the only way to make progress, and despite my mini-rant above The free software movement attaches too much political significance to personal practice. People should demand their governments and other institutions adopt open standards and free software, even if people cannot do so as individuals, just as people should generally demand adoption of good policy even if they cannot personally live wholly as if good policy were already in place.

DFD does a reasonable job of raising awareness of good policy. I strongly encourage doing a bit to realize document freedom today, but sharing a link to on your social networks helps too. Just a little bit, but what can you expect from clicktivism?

I expect pro-free/open clicktivism to promote the realization of freedom!

I have similar complaints about Defective By Design campaigns. Speaking of which, their No DRM in HTML5 campaign is highly pertinent to DFD!

Putatively “open” advocates and organizations sending around .docx files and such, above mini-rant applies especially to you.

April (a French free software organization) has some nice posters explaining open formats.

Open Knowledge Foundation

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

I used to privately poke fun at the Open Knowledge Foundation for what seemed like a never-ending stream of half-baked projects (and domains, websites, lists, etc). I was wrong.

(I have also criticized OKF’s creation of a database-specific copyleft license, but recognize its existence is mostly Creative Commons’ fault, just as I criticize some of Creative Commons’ licenses but recognize that their existence is mostly due to a lack of vision on the part of free software activists.)

Some of those projects have become truly impressive (e.g. the Public Domain Review and CKAN, the latter being a “data portal” deployed by numerous governments in direct competition with proprietary “solutions”; hopefully my local government will eventually adopt the instance OpenOakland has set up). Some projects once deemed important seem relatively stagnant, but were way ahead of their time, if only because the non-software free/open universe painfully lags software (e.g. KnowledgeForge). I haven’t kept track of most OKF projects, but whichever ones haven’t succeeded wildly don’t seem to have caused overall problems.

Also, in the past couple years, OKF has sprouted local groups around the world.

Why has the OKF succeeded, despite what seemed to me for a time chaotic behavior?

  • It knows what it is doing. Not necessarily in terms of having a solid plan for every project it starts, but in the more fundamental sense of knowing what it is trying to accomplish, grounded by its own definition of what open knowledge is (unsurprisingly it is derived from the Open Source Definition). I’ve been on the advisory council for that definition for most of its existence, and this year I’m its chair. I wrote a post for the OKF blog today reiterating the foundational nature of the definition and its importance to the success of OKF and the many “open” movements in various fields.
  • It has been a lean organization, structured to be able to easily expand and contract in terms of paid workers, allowing it to pursue on-mission projects rather than be dominated by permanent institutional fundraising.
  • It seems to have mostly brought already committed open activists/doers into the organization and its projects.
  • The network (eg local groups) seems to have grown fairly organically, rather than from a top-down vision to create an umbrella that all would attach themselves toview with great skepticism.

OKF is far from perfect (in particular I think it is too detached from free/open source software, to the detriment of open data and reducing my confidence it will continue to say on a fully Open course — through action and recruitment — one of their more ironic practices at this moment is the Google map at the top of their local groups page [Update: already fixed, see comments]). But it is an excellent organization, at this point probably the single best connection to all things Open, irrespective of field or geography.

Check them out online, join or start a local group, and if you’re interested in the minutiae of of whether particular licenses for intended-to-be-open culture/data/education/government/research works are actually open, help me out with OKF’s project.

Video hosting longevity experiment

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Some friends have been working on a to-be-federated media hosting web application called MediaGoblin. They’re running a crowdfunding campaign to pay for more developer time. Please join me in feeding the developers.

For irony and goading (noted and fixed before I could get this post up), an appreciation (but not implementation) of POSSE (probably complementary to federation, but a different take on not entirely the same problem), and a test of hosting (which includes identifiers) permanence, I uploaded their campaign video various places. I’ve ordered below by my guess at longevity, from high to low (* next to those I did not upload).

Internet Archive.


BitTorrent magnet link, pirate bay listing.

Commented out FSF static hosting found in source of the campaign page.*

MediaGoblin instance at*

My MediaGoblin instance.

CDN hosted files found in source of the campaign page.*

Exit tweet loyalty

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Someday I will read Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970) and comment on pertinence to things I write about here (cf my almost due for 8 year refutation notes on The Logic of Collective Action (1965)), but I have long found the concept intuitive.

The Declaration of Twitter Independence has been quickly ridiculed. In addition to its over the top language, one way to think about why is that it seems an almost certainly futile and maybe inappropriate (Twitter won’t listen, and perhaps shouldn’t; Twitter can do whatever they want with their services) attempt at voice, accompanied with a halfhearted at best exit plan (“explore alternate platforms, giving precedence to those who do support such [muddled] principles [until Twitter adopts a more developer friendly policy]”).

“Doing it right” per the crowd I’m most familiar with (including me) is almost all exit: start developing your apps for StatusNet/OStatus and other federated and open source social web software/protocols; any voice should demand support for federation, ie facilitate exit. Twitter apologists would say Twitter is doing the right thing for the Twitter ecosystem, the complainers should deal. Twitter loyal oppositionists would say Twitter is doing its greatness a disservice with its policies and should change. I’m not sure what people who care but are in neither the federated nor Twitter apologist/loyalist camps might think, but I’d like to know.

The Declaration doesn’t lend itself to a charitable reading, I think it is worth giving it one. Regarding its futile and perhaps inappropriate attempt at voice: it is OK for customers to complain; smart companies often even listen and adjust; Twitter is now a large organization, parts of it very smart; worth a try. Regarding exit, they don’t want to, and there isn’t anyplace completely obvious for them to go, much as I’d like that to be StatusNet/OStatus; “explore alternate platforms” and wanting no limits on how data can be used and shared, and data available in standard formats all support exit, with the right amount of tentativeness. Although that charitable reading is possible, the Declaration could’ve been written much more strongly regarding all of the points discussed above. Low probability that I’ll fork it to do so.

Collaborative Futures mentions exit, voice, and loyalty in the context of free collaboration projects. It appears from the history that I didn’t write that bit, though it covers a pet concept and uses a pet phrase (configurations). That chapter is way too short, but I’m pleased in retrospect with its nuance, or rather, with the charitable readings I’m able to give it.

When I eventually return to this topic, I will probably complain that software freedom and nearby advocates are overly focused on exit, with lots of untapped potential for the movements in voice and loyalty, possibly the same for political libertarians, and that it difficult to keep in mind more than two of exit, voice, and loyalty, and the frequency of their pairings.

In the meantime a post last year by Xavier Marquez on Exit, Voice, and Legitimacy: Responses to Domination in Political Thought seems pretty reasonable to me.

Question Software Freedom Day‽

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

If software freedom is important, it must be attacked, lest it die from the unremitting bludgeoning of obscurity and triviality. While necessary, I don’t particularly mean trivial attacks on overblown cleverness, offensive advocates, terminological nitpicking, obscurantism, fragmentation, poor marketing, lack of success, lack of diversity, and more. Those are all welcome, but mostly (excepting the first, my own gratuitously obscure, nitpicking and probably offensive partial rant against subversive heroic one-wayism) need corrective action such as Software Freedom Day and particularly regarding the last, OpenHatch.

I mostly mean attacking the broad ethical, moral, political, and utilitarian assumptions, claims, and predictions of software freedom. This may mean starting with delineating such claims, which are very closely coupled, righteous expressions notwithstanding. So far, software freedom has been wholly ignored by ethicists, moral philosophers, political theorists and activists, economists and other social scientists. Software freedom people who happen to also be one of the aforementioned constitute a rounding error.

But you don’t have to be an academic, activist, software developer, or even a computer user to have some understanding of and begin to critique software freedom, any more than one needs to be an academic, activist, businessperson, or voter to have some understanding of and begin to critique the theory and practice of business, democracy, and other such institutional and other social arrangements.

Computation does and will ever moreso underlay and sometimes dominate our arrangements. Should freedom be a part of such arrangements? Does “software freedom” as roughly promoted by the rounding error above bear any relation to the freedom (and other desirables; perhaps start with equality and security) you want, or wish to express alignment with?

If you want to read, a place to start are the seminal Philosophy of the GNU Project essays, many ripe for beginning criticism (as are many classic texts; consider the handful of well known works of the handful of philosophers of popular repute; the failure of humanity to move on is deeply troubling).

If you want to listen and maybe watch, presentations this year from Cory Doctorow (about, mp3) and Karen Sandler (short, long).

Law of headlines ending in a question mark is self-refuting in multiple ways. The interrobang ending signifies an excited fallibility, if the headline can possibly be interpreted charitably given the insufferable preaching that follows, this sentence included.

Try some free software that is new to you today. You ought to have LibreOffice installed even if you rarely use it in order to import and export formats whatever else you may be using probably can’t. I finally got around to starting a MediaGoblin instance (not much to see yet).

If you’re into software freedom insiderism, listen to MediaGoblin lead developer Chris Webber on the most recent Free as in Freedom podcast. I did not roll my eyes, except at the tangential mention of my ranting on topics like the above in a previous episode.