Free as in freedom - setting up our infrastructure


Hi everyone!

In the aftermath of the #futurespotters workshop in Bucharest this weekend,@TCT,@Bezdomny@Noemi and myself have started looking into different free software options for uploading various documentation materials from two very intensive days  (see original invitation here).

So far we’ve been using a mix of google drive, youtube, vimeo, flickr and hackpads. Not only is this very messy, it’s also not aligned with the values of free software advocates in our community, which include the founders. We have known for some time now that we need safe ways to store, access, edit and share documentation from community events. After CCC last year some of us started exploring candidate stacks in the Community Crypto group. What has been missing is sysadmin support to reliably set up, maintain and manage our tools.

Which is why we are so happy to announce that Fundația Ceata, a Romanian Free Software & Free Culture group founded in June 2008 by @TCT, is partnering with Edgeryders.

The shared mission? Help members of this community and others to liberate ourselves by replacing the proprietary tools we use with free software alternatives and finding ways to drive support to the free software community as a natural part of our work with clients, other partners etc.

Starting with setting up an alternative to google drive for secure storage of files and collaborative editing of documents.

Exploring our option - Centralised vs. Distributed

Centralised is more versatile because having a single point of contact allows people to do things like collaborate on shared files. Think of it as renting space in one computer managed by either a person or organisation. The options we are exploring are: Owncloud and Rollapp.

Distributed is more collaborative and resilient because your files are broken up into smaller chunks, encrypted and spread throughout a network of thousands of computers with spare storage space. Think of it like renting a little space on people’s hard drives. The options we are exploring are: Tahoe-Lafs, MaidSafe (not released yet), Symform and BitTorrent Sync

https://www.youtube.com/embed/-T_uV2giecI

With BitTorrent Sync we can set things up so that everyone who is signed up on edgeryders (and signed in) we can set up a secure network so that only people in the community are accessing our files. And maybe even offer secure file hosting for community members concerned about their privacy and risk of loosing ones materials should any of the proprietary services we all use go down.

What do you think, any other options we should check out?

We’ll ensure that any software we decide to use is free and we will audit it. So now’s your chance to propose something you are interested in but unsure about.

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git+markdown

A combination of git and markdown is an interesting option.

  • markdown is easy to learn
  • git is the best revision control system
  • git repositories are just "directories". You can use online services, such as github/bitbucket, or your own home baked ftp server or shared directory (e.g. dropbox).
  • it does not depend on a particular infrastructure (on the contrary of OwnCloud)
  • Github has a nice markdown editor for muggles.
  • easy to integrate with encryption and fancy distributed protocols.
  • easy to integrate with custom useful scripts (e.g. word counters, validity/syntax checkers, tools to help other to reproduce your results).

This is not the best solution for videos and big binary files. But it should work for textual documentation.

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Isnt the threshold a bit too high for most?

Unless it’s as easy to use as the existing commercial alternatives, if not better, then people will default back into using google drive. And Im afraid we simply do not have the manpower to try to get people to use anything less than perfectly smooth

If we cannot expect developers to stay away from Apple products, commercial software as service or e.g. Fb, I don’t think it is realistic to expect muggles to learn markdown…Maybe you suggestions for a solution that fullfills both requirements?

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I do not have an answer. For sure this approach could look scary for most. Maybe we could try with some very small documenting task and see if it makes sense and if it is smooth without wasting more than a day.

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Non-technical people need WYSIWYG

As a fellow hacker I am happy too with Git distributed version control system and Markdown wiki syntax.

However, non-technical people need WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors and the Edgeryders network needs to store big binary data too, as you already noted.

Github and Bitbucket are services with user interfaces which run nonfree (proprietary) JavaScript code. IMO, Making Git users dependent of those defeats the purpose of decentralized systems (which should run on different servers, controlled by their users). However, there are free software replacements for those proprietary Git repository software, which one can install on her server: GitLab Community Edition (Expat license, Ruby lang) and Gogs (Expat license, Go lang) are the most popular now.

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I agree on everything.

Github and bitbucket are the easiest solution and are not locking solutions (with the exception of their issue tracking system and inline comments, of course).

EDIT

Non tech people could use graphical markdown editors and graphical git clients.

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Framasoft

I’ll throw in Framasoft. I only ever used their hackpad, but it looks nice in general since it seems like a productivity centered suite, where one would hope things work well with each other. I don’t know though.

And I’d expect with some things language/documentation may also be an issue - though probably not a showstopper. Perhaps a feature?

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Framasoft’s MyPads to create private pads not ready yet

It’s important that we can share private, password-protected pads (just had this use case after “Spot the future” event in Bucharest last week).

Framasoft has crowdfunded their project MyPads which will do just that. However, it’s not ready yet. I really appreciate Framasoft’s work.

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MoPad

Mozillas MoPads can be password protected if you set up a ‘team site’.

Just noticed that they are supposed to be for Mozilla related work only.  :open_mouth: wooops did not notice that before when I’ve used them - was planning to set up another ‘team site’ for a project I’m working on…

Having a quick look at etherpad.orgs list of instances I see that Mozillas pads are out of date but that the German Pirate Party have a instance with ‘teams site’ that is up to date.

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Parallel track - user demands wishlist

I think it is a good and pragmatic approach to make a collection (as in brainstorming) of programs that look like they may be useful and do what we need, in the way we want (or come acceptably close to that). I’d want to encourage people to list programs that may also have a shortcoming here or there, as it may help to find a version that is similar but better. Just make sure you are critical and point out the major shortcomings from your perspective.

What I’d want to see above that is:

Can we find out what the requirements e.g. in terms of user interface, etc. are where we operate - and especially where we just so cannot operate anymore because some feature or software suite is not up to requirements?

So in principle a wishlist + reasoning (and don’t be afraid to leave the box here).

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Already attempted for the platform. Failed.

We gathered user stories, and then a task which was never completed was to boil them down into user demands.

As is often the case, not enough developers were willing to commit time towards addressing them. So this time I would like to take the approach that we begin with what those of us who drive/are most heavily involved in the futurespotters project need and @TCT can/is willing to set up for us.

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Best is to find free software replacements for services you use

I think if you list all services you are currently using (some are listed in @Nadia’s blog post), Ceata.org can help find and install free software that does most of what you need.

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Don’t forget Ecobytes!

Great news! It would also be a good idea to check back with @gandhiano and Ecobytes. If memory serves, after 31C3 Edgeryders sponsored a couple of Ecobytes memberships as a small perk to members of our community. Of course the problems are the same, for all people like… well, us, so there’s definitely benefits from tackling the solutions together.

Maybe we should work towards hosting a harmonious hackathon towards building our own infrastructure, with Fundatia Ceata and Ecobytes? Maybe we should involve @lasindias too?

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Perhaps also reach out to

Posteo? They are commercial and all, but they seem to be relatively serious about walking the talk. They’d probably also have some good pointers to other options, being in the market for some time. I don’t assume they themselves won’t want to do much ground-breaking, as they seem to be focused on email.

VPS (better PS), instead of shared-hosting

Taking a look at Ecobytes, I believe they offer shared-hosting. Ceata can work with them on adding certain free server software Edgeryders needs (like ownCloud Server) which is maybe needed by other users too, but for us to be able to experiment and be flexible, IMO Edgeryders should have at least a virtual machine, if not a physical, real server. Ceata has its own server from the very beginning.

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Thanks! Here’s how I understand it…

Thanks for your insights and kindness, @TCT, very good to meet you. My name is Alberto, a long-time edgeryder.

So: we do have a virtual machine with dedicated cores, but not with Ecobytes – we are hosted by a German company called EuroHosting or something like that. We only met Ecobytes later: @Matthias has decided that a migration was not worth the investment. Perhaps we will take the chance of the next major overhaul of the website to migrate.

As an “advanced Muggle” (don’t develop, can code a little for data manipulation purposes, but not afraid of learning to use tools), I would like to throw in my point of view in this super-interesting discussion, and see what you guys think – that means also @Darren, @mstn and @trythis.

There are two types of extended functionalities: those that are linked to a cultural change (normally the relationship is not one-way: they require cultural change, but at the same time they induce it too), and those that don’t. A markdown editor does not require cultural change, as long as it can be added to WYSIWYG as an extra option; so each person can use the editor she prefers. Getting people to really use wikis, or issue tracking functionalities, or crypto, that’s another story. The power of those tools are in people using them together and at the same time; even within a small community like ours, their value increases superlinearly with the number of users. No point using encrypted mail if none of your friends can receive an encrypted message!

I propose that any tool being rolled out within Edgeryders – if it is connected with cultural change – should come with an explicit effort to (1) explain to the community why they should care about the tool and (2) campaign tirelessly for adoption, over a sustained period of time. By “explicit” here I mean this: that one or more people take personal responsibility for leading the effort.

When @msanti, @danohu and I, at 31C3, fell in love with the Community Crypto idea, the deal was this: they (the geeks) would offer technical support to any edgeryder wanting to embrace it. I would write the instructable, act as alpha tester (if I can do it, anyone can!) and promote community crypto corners at all Edgeryders events. I would be the adoption champion.

That project is stagnating because we could not get Mailpile to work with the edgeryders.eu SMTP server, despite much banging our heads on the wall and pleading with the Mailpile development team (I recently saw that the blog seems to be active again, so maybe there is more hope now). But I stand for the approach: I would hate to waste precious developer time to roll out tools that no one uses… what does everyone think?

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Agree

I’d agree with all that Alberto.

Of course some people may love their propriety (often, but not always) shinier alternative tools and still like to use them.  Hopefully by making new tools visible on the ER platform, using them for collaborative work and rolling out an education/promotion effort (online and IRL is nice)  we may be able to create more of a ‘culture’ around use of FLOSS tools.

I’ve notice unMonastery has similar goals, and would imagine there would support / collaboration from the Ecobytes collective (?)

I think it would be nice if the ER website revamp could be an opportunity for ER to shift servers over and join the development of Ecobytes.

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Shifting servers

Emphatically agree, @Darren. We are within spitting distance of actually starting the much-vaunted revamping – even though last word, as always, goes to @Matthias, since he is the one that ends up having to do the work. We can hire someone, of course, but still it would be Matt doing much of the task writing. But yes, if we do that it would be the perfect opportunity to set up a dev server directly with Ecobytes, while activity goes on with the present incarnation of the site and the present server. When we are ready to go, we move to production, redirect and we are in business.

Ceata can try to help with Mailpile

Thank you for the warm welcome, @Alberto. Ceata can try to help you fix your Mailpile instance(s). And @Noemi is interested in joining Ceata for a crypto event.

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Yess!!

Gosh this would be lovely, getting ourselves off the google mail and being able to offer community members @edgeryders.eu addresses running on mailpile.

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