SustainOSS and the FOSS tools that are used

I just found SustainOSS by recommendation on the Fediverse and all the stuff you do is great, and very inspiring.

But while I was browsing some of your workgroup-creaed resources what struck me is, what I also encountered at Mozilla Foundation a lot, namely the use of proprietary software at many places. Software sometimes provided by Big Tech giants that monopolize the internet and are big contributors to - what I call - the harms of technology, like Google. Note, I am initiator and facilitator of Humane Tech Community.

I would think that that by itself should go against everything that SustainOSS stands for. As you are probably well aware of: great FOSS alternatives exist!

Being a big FOSS and Fediverse advocate myself I know that using open tools makes it much more likely / easier to get more contributors involved in your working group. It is a true form of authentic participation, where the passion of the community aligns seamlessly with the organization of said community.

Some alternative tools:

  • Etherpad (replace Google Docs?)
  • Just The Docs (Jekyll / Github Pages, replace Readthedocs?)
  • … etcetera

Social media channel alternatives / additions:

  • Fediverse (e.g. fosstodon.org or floss.social)
  • Matrix (replace Slack?)
  • RSS feeds

There’s probably much more to discuss, but I’ll leave it with this now. Note, I also maintain GitHub - humanetech-community/awesome-humane-tech: Promoting Solutions that Improve Wellbeing, Freedom and Society with links to more FOSS alternatives websites.

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Arnold, very cool to hear about Humanetech and your community - I’m keen to take part (I already have a lot of involvement in humane tech - see Democratising Higher Education with OERs & FOSS | OERu Technology Blog)…

I also totally agree with the motivation for your post. I agree it’s disheartening to see so many seemingly well-intentioned pro-open organisations who talk big about open source but then don’t use it, making them very “fauxpen”. Talk about a shot to the foot - you’re spot on about losing out on their most valuable contributors. I’ve also written about it - https://davelane.nz/notslack (by the way, Etherpad’s great, and I’ve used it a lot… but far more functional is NextCloud + CollaboraOffice or NextCloud + OnlyOffice. I run several instances of each if you want to have a look/play).

Ultimately, we need to deprecate “big tech” in our communities. They’re structurally incompatible with open, humane motivations (https://davelane.nz/megacorps). They are all fundamentally built on proprietary software and require the ability to control and exert influence over all open communities. They have many means for doing this, particularly framing discussion in those communities and controlling the platforms (Slack, Github, LinkedIn, etc.)

We need to deprecate proprietary software altogether - it implicitly creates a power imbalance that cannot be reconciled, and almost inevitably leads to exploitation (of users and developer communities) and unethical behaviour in general (https://davelane.nz/proprietary).

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Dave, friend from the Fediverse :hugs: So nice to see you here!

I am familiar with all these tools indeed. And oftentimes they work delightfully better than their proprietary competitors. Like e.g. Etherpad is wonderful if you follow an all-Markdown approach throughout your community (only use other doc formats where it makes sense).

A lot of these FOSS tool adoptions are almost no-brainers, because they are so easy to set up and offer everything that is needed.

Exactly! It is really, really worrying how much Big Tech has increased their grip on the entire technology landscape, especially since the Corona outbreak started. I wouldn’t be suprised if also Zoom or Microsoft Teams were used instead of:

I think Matrix is also doing interesting things to become an even better alternative to slack. Need to dive into that. Will check out your links, thank you!

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Good to hear from you. Yes, those technologies are all good - I run a couple BBB servers (and a couple Jitsi ones, although BBB has largely become our standard tool), including one funded by UNESCO to help educators in developing countries figure out how to move their universities/educational institutions to online learning. The costs of proprietary technology makes it totally outside the realm of possibilty, but with FOSS, it’s all possible - it just requires some help to develop knowledge, which replicates freely and humanely, and doesn’t have a per-seat cost. It doesn’t get much more humane than offering educational opportunities without strings attached* to folks who can’t find/afford higher education. The value of helping people reach their educational potential is incalculable (especially for women in the developing world!).

I’m excited about Matrix (now called “Element” by many), too, as I’m always a huge fan of open standards (Matrix is to messaging what ActivityPub is to rich social media content)… I’ve been running (self-hosting) a bunch of Rocket.Chat instances for several years, and must say, after having used Slack fairly extensively (with gritted teeth) in order to participate in a few open/fauxpen communities around specific FOSS technologies, I think Rocket.Chat is objectively a far better solution (and quite a lot more mature than Element for now).

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That is great! Two links to pass (first one I co-maintain and we need to flesh it out still):

https://open.edx.org/

Matrix and Element should not be confused. The former develops the communication protocol and the latter is client software that uses it. Some people prefer other clients than Element with slightly different feature sets.

I am moderator / well-being team member at SocialHub the community that develops ActivityPub / Fediverse technology standards. Great stuff going on here in terms of innovation. I must stress that the AP standard goes much further than social media, and can be applied to many other domains. I wrote about that distinction here:

Also I co-maintain a full list of current open-source, federated software applications under development:

In this list there are even more alternative softwares to use for SustainOSS, e.g. if you want to do Event planning (avoid Meetup dotcom).

(You probably saw me posting that link on fedi a couple of times :slight_smile: )

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That’s all very cool - many thanks for further insight and the links… that’s my reading for later this evening sorted :slight_smile: Let me know if you run into any trouble with BBB - I’ve had the opportunity to do a LOT of work on it :smiley: Go well, Arnold!

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BBB is the standard tool for the W3C Social Web Incubator Community Group and was used to host the ActivityPub Conference 2020 (videos are all on the ConfTube PeerTube instance). We had not a single hitch with that software :smiley:

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It is nice to read that people have time to maintain their own FOSS installations. The reality, however, is that most of us don’t have access to funds provided by UNESCO or other “economic hack” organizations to dedicate their time to maintaining public infrastructure.

It is nice to have funding, and the amount you need depends on your community organization and size. I host a number of open tools & platforms, all FOSS, and it costs me a few dollars. Something that should be easy to collect via some small donations e.g. on OpenCollective.com. Besides that other FOSS tools are offered as SaaS, either for free or with a free plan, and still respect privacy (and do not bombard you with ads).

You should not make the transition all at once, but gradually. I’d advise to make it a policy to first look if there are any FOSS alternatives that might be useful, and only as second-best choice fallback to something proprietary.

I speak from experience that many people in the Free Software Community (where imho you probably find those most likely to contribute to initiatives such as SustainOSS) all this proprietary use of software is seen as very problematic, and frowned upon.

PS. Maintenance-wise many of these tools are a breeze to set up as well. But you can select on that, based on the technical experience level of the once that will maintain them.

Take for instance Just The Docs → Clone repository, turn on Github Pages… and you’re almost done (do some styling, link to custom domain, commit some markdown content). Slides? → use RevealJS or similar… same story. And they are web-ready everywhere.

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To be fair, Anatoli, yes, I’m fortunate to have a very compatible role for this sort of thing… but the UNESCO funding (~$5k/year for cloud hosting services) applies to only one of the two BBB instances I set up and maintain, and none of the 40+ other FOSS web services I’ve set up and maintain on my own behalf, and on behalf of a bunch of other organisations for which I volunteer. Any FOSS-specific community should be able to muster the expertise to do this sort of thing… to me, it adds significant credibility to such a community…

To be totally honest, in my experience, hosting for FOSS services is a fairly trivial cost for any community. The cost of adopting proprietary technologies (which, of course, might be “free” of cost today… but might not be tomorrow) can be a huge (existentially threatening) cost in terms of future $ when your data’s held hostage by a service provider who suddenly needs to “monetise” in order to please their VCs, or in terms of selling out your community members’ private data… Things to keep in mind.

For what it’s worth, I maintain a blog with detailed how-tos to help other communities make better use of tools that respect the freedoms (and wallets) of community members: https://tech.oeru.org

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I think you might summarize that your goal should be to “Sustain your FOSS community” :hugs:

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Over the last 10 years I’ve been a member of various communities in Belarus, for which we maintained our own infrastructure. What I see is that a lot of infrastructure maintenance is done only by two or three people, and once they got families to feed and join corporate ranks, their ability to support things starts to deteriorate, and eventually the whole thing goes down.

It’s always a danger Anatoli, but I’m an exception to that rule (age 50+, family with 2 kids, sold my 100% FOSS company of 14 years, now working full time for a charitable educational foundation) - a thriving community will aim to have succession planning for that sort of thing… And I supposed it all depends on the richness and depth of the communities we create. I assure you that, if I’m able to do what I do, given my constraints, I have no doubt there’re thousands of others who can do the same or better. To my mind, the best way to create those communities is to have consistent and clear principles… and avoid undermining them by using proprietary tools when we really don’t have to.

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I wish we can scale your example.

Back to the topic. I guess nobody objects against self-hosted alternatives if there are people willing to take over the maintenance and having some backup and the mechanism of passing the baton. The missing part right now is a collection of links showing where SustainOSS is using non open source technology. As far as I know Discourse is FOSS, and I can don’t remember where Slack or Read The Docs are used, even if RTD is open source while GitHub isn’t.

What I would like to ultimately see, though, are metrics about time and expertise needed to maintain those hosted solutions. People need to know what it takes to maintain community infrastructure to be able to support people behind it.

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Agreed. This information would not only be valuable for SustainOSS, but anyone else that sustains open source projects. Note that especially what you mention is a niche that many other projects / curated lists do not provide details on. I don’t know much about work methods here, but this might be part of Working Group activity.

Hi Anatoli - I made another post on this thread providing more details on the services I support and the sort of time requirements it entails (and expertise) but it’s been flagged as “spam” because it has a lot of links in it… (as someone who runs several Discourse instances and acts as moderator in them, I suspect they’ve got the settings of this one wound a bit tight).

I also note the irony that, as a forum whose name suggests they’re after “sustaining open source software” and making it sustainable… there’s a surprising reluctance to even talk about actually using open source software. Several of my posts in this forum in which I try, in good faith, to explain why we should do so have been flagged… and I can’t see how they contravene the “guidelines” to which I’ve kindly been pointed. I’m thinking that perhaps it’d be better to find a community that actually likes, values, and uses open source software. Still haven’t had any contact from a moderator to explain what’s objectionable about my posts…

Too bad. I note that moderators on the forum have now blacklisted my personal blog… So much for rational, open discussion, eh. Very disappointing. @abitrolly - if you’re interested in seeing it, I’ve posted a response to your question on my personal blog - my name+.nz

And, with that, I’m giving up on “SustainOSS” - this is their forum, and they can police it how they like… but seems its governance priorities are seriously conflicted. I anticipate that this post will also be removed… Good luck folks.

10 links should be no problem, but you can raise the question here.

I think that anybody who received at least two replies from existing members is no a new user anymore. Maybe that’s the rule that could be added.

It may happen that flags are not supervised and the default action is to hide anything flagged. When I got into this situation I opened a question at Need human help with Community Guildelines

There are people with different backgrounds there, including those who use non-open source software and those daily jobs are unrelated to software development at all. Maybe they came here, because they’ve discovered the sustainability problem from other sources, such as Nadia’s report, and would like to help with the cause that nobody from us can solve on our own.

I would say that the job of moderator for any forum that brings diversity is not just to hide or unhide posts, but also to contact people who flagged to resolve the underlying conflict that the person experiences while flagging things. Text messages are imperfect medium. Some people may interpret critics as a personal attacks and flag posts, some may feel like the post is too heavy on them and they would rather spend their time on another forum. I am just telling that it is better not to jump to assumptions and ask and wait to clarify each case.