Community Call: The role and value of open source in context of the Covid-19 Crisis


Community Call: The role and value of open source in the context of the Covid-19 Crisis

Right now the digital lifelines are much more “visible” to most people than usual. At the same time, they are rushing into any subscription that promises “business as usual” without reading or considering what they subscribe to in addition to what they intend. Without considering that they have to learn how to use a tool, not just which tool to use.

There are many important topics for us to discuss now regarding open source and FOSS in light of the current crisis.

Please join us for our community call on:

The role and value of open source in the context of the Covid-19 Crisis

Every second Tuesday, 18:00 to 19:00 CEST:

28th April
12th May
26th May

Comment below to be put on the rsvp list.
Afterwards, you can join via this link:

ping @erik_lonroth, @matthias, @Emile, …(please, ping who you think would be interested :))

"info": "Right now the digital lifelines are much more 'visible' to most people than usual. At the same time, they are rushing into any subscription that promises 'business as usual' without reading or considering what they subscribe to in addition to what they intend. Without considering that they have to learn how to use a tool, not just which tool to use."

I will join for sure. @MariaEuler

Where it definitely seems to work is in the explosion of community projects to provide assistance. In here, it doesnt seem to matter whether the tech is open source or not, as long as the content is.

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Not sure if/how I can attend, and while this post will not introduce anything with the birds eye perspective, I share a tiny personal story (advertisement included).

My wife is a yoga-teacher and cannot do her business as usual where we live right now. When that became clear (no assemblies allowed and clients prefering to stay at home), she immediately sketched a plan to move her courses online for the time being, giving live sessions and allowing people to watch the videos with full (~1h) sequences afterwards if they buy the access.

After looking for free and open source e-learning and conferencing/live-teaching platforms (like moodle), we decided that we will be faster if I develop one from scratch. So I got my Ruby on Rails skills warmed up and developed and the installation at (German).
The software is released under the AGPLv3+ , but for the actual live-sessions my wife uses zoom - unfortunately live video conferences are hard to get for Free (as in Freedom), because they also rely on infrastructure, not only on performant code.

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mm check out - maybe useful?

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I don’t think so. There is some technical restrictions around browser-based video-conferencing. I also host an internal (living in a 100-head intentional community) jitsi-installation. It works fine for people with reasonably young hardware and relatively good internet-connectivity, but I would not rely my business on. Besides, the typical customers in “my” business case are not very well connected (internet-wise, very rural former East-Germany) and typically not the youngest ones with few interest in technology like new laptop, browsers, tablets, … . But many of them have big television screens :slight_smile: .

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It’s nice we were just discussing finding a Yoga for children teacher who maybe could a service of some sessions for community members who are at home with kids if there are enough people who want it.

I am a bit lost about the connection with the TV screen -is it broadcast on a TV channel or something?

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I was just trying to set the image of a “cultural stage”: I believe older people are more likely to have good TV- then general computing hardware.

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I maintain a nextcloud deployment which is a full fledged community / office platform complete open source.

I could help you get stared setting it up and use ot. Goes for ederyders too @nadia @hugi @matthias


this would be so great. We need to get off gafa

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That’s how to do crisis response right :blush: Glad you two could pull this off so quickly. It’s what I have seen them do in Nepal after the earthquakes much better than Europeans in the pandemic: recognizing what tools and opportunities are there, and using these in a pragmatic manner. In Europe, I get the impression that most of us just don’t know how to respond …

As for the tech questions:

Hmm. It’s true that you won’t get a decent video conferencing system for any meaning of free. The widget in however is not free, either: it’s using the paid plan of, a good video conferencing API. We haven’t tested it to capacity yet, but they claim “Participants in room: 200”.

As far as I’ve heard from @owen, it does not rely on WebRTC when there are more than a handful users in a room. And then – if they provide a backbone server just like Zoom – I don’t really see an a priori reason why video conferencing in a browser is impossible to get right? Browsers can play video alright, and if that’s what they get served from the backbone server (as one combined video, perhaps), it should just work … . But yea, we didn’t test that much. You’d have to try.

The interesting aspect would of course be that you can embed the video conferencing widget into your open source website. A single paid component that can be exchanged if needed is quite a different dependency than a fat proprietary tool that people have to install. Zoom under Linux is ~300 MiB, which I consider an insult.


Some links and afterthoughts about what I discussed during today’s call:

  • Terms of Service; Didn’t Read - the service and web extension I was talking about, it rates the EULAs and gives you a human-readable overview of the issues with it;
  • Tristan Harris interviewed by Sam Harris: What is technology doing to us, interesting (long) conversations about “the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having an ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret” and more;
  • Roger McNamee, also on Sam Harris’ podcast: " The Trouble with Facebook" conversation about persuasive tech again, and business models choices that are causing serious damages.

Between both conversations, what was very interesting to me was the overarching narrative of big silicon valley’s platforms and services we pretty much all use (because they do provide a lot of value) endangering us as individuals and damaging society because of their business models.

Hence the poignancy of raising awareness, and bringing forward alternative models and products based on FLOSS philosophy/tech, in times where tectonic shifts are likely coming to shake us. Open source solution could (should?) see a further jump into the mainstream these days, but it needs to presented in a digestible form for the uninitiated (make the damage more evident?), and valid alternatives need to exist (thinking of Signal VS WhatsApp here, for instance).

A practical example: with our little map-making business, I could talk endlessly about how more beautiful, and useful, is a map based on open-data that everyone can contribute to, and learn the ins and outs of mapping; but ultimately most people only care about having good maps to go hiking, and since Google maps is shit in the wilderness because there is no incentive for them to map those areas, our approach provide a better solution to their problem. That’s what causes adoption of OSM-based maps for basically all hiking apps, not the philosophy behind it. Unfortunately.

I am aware you probably all know this already, and even likely have better shaped opinions and ideas about it all, but I just thought to share my thoughts anyway. I guess I like to take a very wide perspective on this topic, even though I am also practicing it in the day-to-day choices of our work, which is just a small, tiny, contribution to the broader conversation.

I don’t know if this will be useful, but I hope it will!

PS: The podcasts are not full unless you contribute by subscribing, but there is plenty already to go with the shorter versions.

Notes from the “The dangerous rush into subscriptions vs the value of incompleteness” Call

Here are some hooks and notes to start the discussion with :

Right now the digital livelines are much more “visible” to most people than usual. At the same time, they are rushing into any subscription that promises “business as usual” without reading or considering what they subscribe to in addition to what they intend. Without considering that they have to learn how to use a tool, not just which tool to use.

  • How can we make people aware of/ teach the value of incompleteness?
  • People have to learn how to use a tool instead of what to use. No tool solves your problems, you solve your problems by using tools correctly and by completing them with your own abilities.
  • Be aware of the dangers of a subscription society that has no control over their lifelines
  • Open Source is made to be in control. It is not made for subscription models. What is the character of a subscriber? Discuss
  • …Do we need to teach different things/values in schools? To teach people to be creators instead of subscribers? How?
  • What are digital/social conventions/behaviour norms people need to learn and how do we teach them?

Check in:


Engineer from Italy now in Armenia is an entrepreneur developing topographic maps. Experience with tech startups.


  • Wants to find alternative and new ways of doing things that are independent
  • Wants to find a way of making a living using/contribution/in open source/alternative approaches.


Lives in a community in northern germany doing a lot of it stuff. Uses mostly open source software. He is an empowered user, able to use and contribute.


Mixed. Big chances but also risks in acceleration.

Point for workshop:

  • Platform and content are two things. Having education in the hand of capitalistic run companies. It is very problematic to give up infrastructure and content off to commercial sources.



Educontent, but you pay with advertisement and your information.

Other examples: platforms from companies.

This has always been the case a bit, but it increases. Companies will make the content more addictive. Competition is interesting for quality, but if it is about education, it should be in public hands at all costs, not motivated by biggest profit.


  • Beyond education. The livelines are so visible right now. So now we are all using so many services that are free, but essentially selling people’s information. It would maybe be good to inform more in the general public about that even so many here already know that.


There was a point in my life where open source did not matter for me. I came into it through a socialistic point of view, but I think an individualistic one would have been possible to. Many others certainly have not entered from a socialistic one.

Open source has very little to do with the economy.

I came to learn that there is a different scale in our society which is more important right now:

Authoritarian vs freedom.

It is a scale that is far more relevant today.

I am trying to compile that now into why I think it is so important what we talk about now.

It is a means of locking in knowledge. It matters to our society.

Big companies centralise a lot of knowledge in terms of software, while not contributing in the same amount as they are profiting.

If you subscribe to knowledge, you are not a participant, but a consumer in society. If you forget of the left and right-wing perspective but rather focus on the authoritarian vs freedom scale.


The scale of authoritarian vs freedom is also relevant in the corona response interventions.


Yes, right now it is a big argument to move into the direction of tracking. China is quite far there already but the west is also moving there, maybe we are having other discussions, but it is moving in the same direction.


If you want to be an empowered user, that is good, but many people do not aspiere to be empowered users, but rather want things to work, want to use things that work, such as dropbox. It works, I use it.

Open source is often a community of makers, thinking about how they could make new things for makers. But that is not all the communities.


If you approach popen source from a utilitarian perspective you could buy it. Therefore I think education is so important. The process itself, to learn something has important properties.

What would we promote in school?

Should we promote them to buy a well working tool or rather something they need to finish themselves.

How do we teach the “value of incompleteness”

If you teach students to just buy a product, you devalue the process.


Putting themselves in the imaginary company that provides this services to schools:

This company should include lessons for the teachers and pupils on how the things work (which you can only really show when using Open Source).


Where do you draw the line? Which tool is the “primary value”. I think the primary value is the process of learning. The results are secondary.


And what should teachers answer children when they ask: why should we learn this when we can just buy a program that does it?


Why would you learn anything that you can learn on wikipedia? Again it is the learning process!

What I tell my children: we have fun when learning. For example with countries. I think it is necessary to make the effort to learn even if they do not remember. Remembering the country’s names and the “outcomes” are just a .


One answer is: this way you can found your own company! You do not have to work for google, you can make your own google.


Are we talking just about tech education or all of it? For history it is not important to know the software the tool runs on but the background.

If I want to connect to my family I can use whatsapp or signal. If I don’t care I will just use what app and it works, if I care I will maybe use signal.


If you use your sources in history, how are you being critical towards your source. So the value of learning the process of learning and critical thinking is still relevant.


We agree. But I think it is important to be clear that it is not just about it and being able to build your own software. It is relevant to other fields as well and we need to make this clear!

People using things only see how good something works, not how transparent it is.


Right now people plunge into proprotory platforms to keep work and school running.

There will be a time to do that more after the crisis.

General consensus:

NOW: How to convene to different communities/fields?

How can we find ways of communicating this to other communities and fields. Right now many people meet online that are not usually meeting. So I think we should push for this interdisciplinary conversation now.


Every community has its own challenges. Even Edgeryders as a very techy community does not have all types of online meeting platforms.

Most communities are not primarily interested in the tech part, but into what they want to be doing. The danger in many communities is that they do not weigh in the dangers of not using open source.


This is why I thought it so interesting when Matthias made this initiative to get people “off google and amazon” by offering alternatives. This way you could get people off while still functioning.

I think this approach is relevant in this day and age.

“You can have this and it costs you this” or you can have this and it costs you your date> I found this approach very interesting. If you can go to a company and can bring them step by step into a new system you can explain it step by step while also keeping it running. Same with operating systems.


You are touching on some very important points: It is easy to look at anything that you are doing and to find a tool that is doing it for you. Today we usually have subscription models. PEople sign up and it can get dangerous. It is awesome that it can be so easy, however, some of these subscriptions are doing things with you that you do not want to happen and it fosters the idea that subscriptions take care of things for you. Down the line things might happen. For examples: you are stuck with your dropbox, even if you can not pay for it anymore because you are dependent on it.

We need to speak about the meanings of entering into a subscription.


Here it could be good to explain different models to people. There are different models. In social media it seems to work with some alternatives where you can explain the upsides of using protocols not products (like email).


I gave this lecture in front of young people asking them which subscription I could just shut down X,Y,Z subscriptions. I Asked facebook, icloud, etc, including your bank account. They had not been aware that some of those things were subscriptions.

Maria: SUB-ED, like SEX-ED, sex is good when done with informed consent and precaus=tions, same with subscription?

Webinar idea:

SUB-ED webinar.


Examples in the introduction: paypal, skype etc. one needs to make the research to show people who people are giving their information to.

You can jumpstart with something very practical.


Try to ask also: what if you were denied subscription? How would that effect you? You can not even perceive that that could happen.

  • What if you were denied a cell phone account
  • What if you were denied a bank account
  • What if…

We can discuss china as a society who have gone quite far inthis development with their social credit system.


It is a good example, but at the same time one needs to be very careful there. There are some very positive reports were people argue from the other side that it actually improves their lives.

You can disagree with that, but you can not deny their perspective.


This is where we come back to the scale of authoritarian vs freedom. It is not really about technology. It is about the context of how things are used. Even if the intentions are good, and I think we are headed in a similar direction, but I do not want to live in such a society. And that is why I think it has to be a discussion about values.


I agree that ist is absolutely relevant, but it is more far from the problem we now want to tackle. Therefore I would not put the chinar social credit example into that webinar topic/discussion at this point, even if we want to have that conversation in the long run.

Felix: list of paypal data connections: Searching a visualization of that that I have seen a year or so ago, was a very nice graph showing the connections. Got it I think:

Wrapping up:

Maria: Next steps?


In regard to the webinar, if you leaf it to people to read the text it will not happen. THere is a tool I remembered that did something where it evaluated subscription agreements on if they are good for you or for the companies. (will add later)

(general feedback by all and discussion, including the question if to focus on online webinars instead of in-person workshops for the time being (corona)))

These calls will take place now every Tuesday evening 18:00. They are on a regular basis. Maria will send out a reminder 2-1 days ahead. Nobody is required to come, it is an offer. We can use these calls for open conversations or develop something like the “Submission-education” webinar as needed.

Webinars like for a wider reach with more preparation will be announced 2-3 weeks ahead on top of that and prepared well ahead.

GOAL for now:

Develop a “submission education” webinar in 3 weeks time.


18:15:28 Von Edgeryders Community :

18:18:36 Von Erik : Elo

18:18:53 Von Edgeryders Community :

18:20:27 Von FelixWSL :

18:25:49 Von Edgeryders Community an Alessandro Mambelli(Privat) : thank you for your point allesandro. I am trying to sum it up in the notes, feel free to adjust to it if you want

18:57:24 Von Erik :

19:02:25 Von Alessandro Mambelli : A good podcast about Tristan Harris:

19:02:57 Von Alessandro Mambelli : This TED Talk

19:03:43 Von Alessandro Mambelli : This is what he does (possibly among other things)

19:26:38 Von FelixWSL : +

@nadia How would we approach this best?

Yep, I have some nextcloud-admin-hours under my belt, too. Feel free to reach out.


Interesting. I’d be happy to hear about the experiences made in another thread. I did indeed write my claim based on the assumption that it is standard “vanilla” WebRTC without transcoding, muxing and stuff.

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Zoom is being sued right now for secretly giving people’s personal info away to Facebook. Talk is increasing out there as to why one should continue with so dishonest a service.

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hey, do you guys really want to call it submission education? You might get a lot of people who think they are going to a talk involving ropes and stuff :smile:


What do you think could be a good, minimally disruptive way to do this that also cares for confidentiality of some of the stuff we have in there with e.g our personal addresses/id data? Any suggestions @erik_lonroth @felix.wolfsteller @matthias?

:wink: just the working Titel for now as a joke to liken it to sex-education where you also learn about consent, precautions and setting your own limits :wink: