suggestions/request for fsfe

Paul Boddie paul at
Wed Jan 15 17:04:18 UTC 2020

On Friday 10. January 2020 15.50.47 V F wrote:
> Agree a lot with PB and apologies in advance.

No apologies necessary! :-)

> > I suggest you join forces with some friends/your local hacker space to set
> > up your own pihole instance. Sadly privacy means hard work but its worth
> > it ;)
> This is the reason why I asked if a non-profit regional or global
> organisation can do it -to avoid conflict of interest. And there are
> more people to take care of servers. Doing it in a locally mean -
> friends/people keep moving - changing life always means things are
> left to die. Of course, ideally, a company should do so that it lasts
> longer - but then profit motives come along and ruin any
> honesty/transparency.

Although local Free Software advocacy and support groups are useful, I think 
that too much emphasis is placed on them. Back in the 1990s when "Linux" was a 
new thing, people would be curious about it and seek help from others in their 
area, particularly because meeting others with the installation disks was more 
efficient than waiting hours or days to download something. There was some 
basic sense of community in wanting to try out something that was almost an 
"underground" alternative to the mainstream, aided by people who knew Unix and 
were seizing the opportunity to install something Unix-like on their own 

But running services and providing support in a scalable way is a lot to ask 
of a local group. There are hacker-/maker- spaces that merely try and offer 
facilities to people, and it is interesting to see how much money just 
disappears on infrastructure. I looked at the financial reports for one here 
in Oslo, and as one would expect in a city with expensive real estate and an 
economy tuned to inflating such costs, it was probably two-thirds to three-
quarters of the membership revenues that were being spent on the lease!

Such things can be done more economically if there isn't a need for permanent 
facilities - that is, there isn't a load of equipment that needs to be stored 
somewhere, and if a physical space can be rented or borrowed periodically - 
but even if all we are talking about is a bunch of people and some virtual 
server accounts, there are significant personnel costs. To do such things 
properly, things really have to be done less informally, which means that a 
stable entity has to be created, money has to be involved, and so on.

Thinking about such issues, I have come to the conclusion that the FSFE and 
other organisations should promote and assist providers of services who 
genuinely participate in Free Software development without compromising the 
basic rights of their customers. It is most likely that such providers will 
only want paying customers, which might seem as if it excludes those who 
cannot afford to pay, but I think that people should be paying fair prices for 
other people's work. Indeed, living wages and decent working conditions should 
be a component in what Free Software organisations stand for.

With such a range of "ethical", but perhaps paid-for, providers available, if 
some people want access to a service and cannot afford to pay for it then some 
kind of sponsorship might be appropriate, and if the existing providers are 
all seen to be too expensive then the Free Software basis of the solutions 
should at least allow for people to try and do things themselves.

This might sound like the situation we have now, but what we currently lack is 
the community and structures in place to grow the provision of Free Software 
services and a shared interest in keeping such services strong. (Instead, 
behind the scenes, there have been people playing the zero-sum game, 
badmouthing their Free Software "competition", guarding their niches, and 
letting proprietary providers take most of the market share.)


> > Also, it is the goal of the FSFE to educate people about technology and
> > the best way people learn is by doing. It is far better when people learn
> > to use technology to protect themselves and their friends independently
> > then if they'd just make use of some provider without understanding
> > what's going on. In the end they'd end up having to trust yet another
> > party (the FSFE in this case).
> Sure you can teach or bring awareness. But seriously:
> May be this *educate* strategy did not work (well  - at least)
> May be this decade (or end of last decade) needs a rethink of
> strategy. As people change, new generation view consumption of
> information differently. Otherwise, don't you think the *same* old
> strategy will bite the dust? Even if you educate people they will use
> netflix or amazon. Thinking 2000s type is not viable anymore, at least
> I feel.

People only have so many hours in their day. If I think about all the 
different things that I could be doing to make my own technological existence 
more sustainable and manageable, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by it all. 
Where does one even begin? And if I start with one topic, there are so many 
others that I cannot pursue, and so I have to hope that others will also see 
the benefit in pursuing them and have the time and inclination to do so.

> 1. An artist/taxi driver/chef/biologist cannot install pi-hole, tried
> it. People are afraid/reluctant to muck with electronics.
> 2. Even in my local fsfe chapter none of the individuals have pi-hole
> (Reasons: Ahh.. sd-card failed, no micro-usb charger, sorry iPhone
> user blah..)
> 3. People that are vulnerable are the ones that need *easy/simple*
> help - not complicate their lives.
> 4. People have no time
> 5. Any change in peoples's behavior must be done as easy as possible
> 6. Take for example, fair trade (I mean the concept not trademark) -
> they do not say buy your 'wool' and DIY. Just establish something and
> bring it to customer in a quick way. May be you can charge a few EUR
> to use the DNS or whatever.
> 7. If some thing like FSFE absolve oneself from responsibility then I
> ask what or who would do these stuff?

I agree with these observations. Initiatives like Fairtrade are pertinent 
because they let people feel as if they are achieving something. Of course, 
trust is also a factor, but we have to be sensible about what can 
realistically be achieved if we decide to not trust anybody to do anything.

It is interesting to consider the specific case of pi-hole appliances again 
for a moment. Presumably, many people already have appliances in their homes 
to give them Internet connectivity. Indeed, I recall that the FSFE pursued 
action to ensure that customers of Internet providers would have the freedom 
to choose their appliances. But even if people were to exercise such choice, 
there is the matter of how they might do so, and so we return to "actionable" 

I may have mentioned FreedomBox before, or I may have intended to do so. This 
is an interesting case in itself, partly because it is likely to overlap with 
the functionality provided by pi-hole, and partly because it was envisaged as 
a remedy for people's reliance on proprietary social media platforms, offering 
alternative technologies. Such plug computer solutions were intended to 
facilitate some level of "unhosted" communication, permitting server-based 
solutions without deploying them in datacentres.

What seems to have happened with FreedomBox, from what I have heard from some, 
is that it has become something else that has to be administered, that its 
users have to care about what it is doing, that it becomes another distraction 
with "apps" and things to point at and click on. Unlike the router provided 
with an Internet service, which is plugged in and just does its job.

I think we are being let down with technology. It is either something that 
demands little of us but still worries us (because maybe our routers are 
insecure), or it is something that is designed to be shiny and attention 
seeking, wanting a significant but undeserved part of our lives. There is no 
glamour in designing things well that just work and keep out of the way.

> Are there plans to reevaluate strategies/plans since FSFE founding in
> 2001? Can it be same forever?

I also ask the same question!

> > But as I noted in my previous message, having a broad and coherent
> > strategy means providing "actionable" solutions, and if a solution such as
> > pi-hole isn't practical then organisations like the FSFE should be looking
> > to facilitate improvements in order to strengthen and deliver that
> > strategy.
> 100 % agree
> Having 'actionable' solutions is paramount if one needs to provide it
> for 'end-user'.  Honestly, the pages of 'print' material that every
> time I find our chapter distributes and later I find 'most' of them
> going to 'bin' in the corner of the street as the 'public' skims over
> the FOSS booklet and dumps it like a 'religious' pamphlet. Instead,
> build a virtual server may be more eco-friendly. Sorry.

I appreciate this insight into the "reach" of advocacy material because, for 
the most part, what we tend to hear is that a great time was had by people 
handing out literature, but we don't hear too much from those people who took 
it away to read (or throw away).

> > Saying "Free Software is great" and then "you're on your own" is not a
> > credible strategy.
> This 'attitude from foss fans' especially makes one sound like a snob
> - absolutely counter productive (and people run to iOS/macOS).  Please
> take some inspiration from F-Droid or newpipe or
> SmartYouTubeTV/nitter. Sure, newpipe promotes/uses proprietary
> services - but average human cannot be '100 % pure' living with webm.
> Of course code development of newpipe is done in github (purists get
> crazy again).

Several approaches are needed, and we have to accept that we live in an 
imperfect world and that sometimes things just need to get done. At the same 
time, we should not perpetuate the imperfections or injustices of the world, 
either. So, to take the above as some kind of example, we should encourage the 
use of free media formats, but we should also recognise that people may need 
to access content in other formats. We should work to move the world away from 
non-free formats, however.

This extends into other areas. We should insist on properly documented, 
genuinely open hardware so that we can support it completely with Free 
Software, instead of having to deploy opaque binaries from a vendor who might 
be incompetent in their software development and whose binaries might put us 
at risk in some way. Certainly, we should try and assist people whose hardware 
is not completely open, but we should not endorse or indulge vendors who don't 
want to change their ways but who want us to legitimise their products.

> Apologies once again if this was rude. Again this is not pointed at
> FSFE or so. Overall I mean any overall FOSS type communities - us as a
> whole including myself (who is new to this world).

As I may have said, I think Free Software organisations have to take a stand 
on more than just Free Software adoption, because such adoption tends to have 
limited significance in isolation: usually, recognising the value of Free 
Software tends to happen when other motivations are operating. So, such 
organisations have to recognise motivations such as privacy, transparency, 
democracy, and so on.


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