Open Technologies for Collaboration

The main thing is that Jitsi requires more bandwidth out of every participants connection for a stable call making it not usable for large calls with many participants and varying quality of internet connections. This may improve in the future. Extinction Rebellion faced similar issues apparently (there’s a whole talk about their infrastructure if you want to geek out).

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For those who are interested. It is about 38 mins into the video Kaspar linked to where he talks about JitSi vs Zoom.

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Oh yeah, sorry, should have mentioned it’s more of a passing remark than anything. Interesting talk nonetheless.

Have y’all looked at https://www.org.meet.coop/ ?

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Have y’all looked at https://www.org.meet.coop/ ?

Wow! I know about BigBlueButton as an open source replacement for Zoom and friends, but didn’t know there’s a hosted service, not to mention a co-operative, that one could sign up for. +1 indeed. @bhaugen: Have you tried it? How well does it work? Any eyewitness accounts?

Even if we can’t make this work in time for the meeting on 14 July, I suggest we look into @bhaugen’s suggestion “very strongly…” Given the resources now available via the new grant, surely we can implement a more ethical solution than Zoom!

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@jarancio and I discussed the possibility of a GOSH Open Hour. For an informal way for the community to catch-up and video chat, but without the fixed agenda. Maybe this would be a good way to trial some other video platforms and see how they perform. But I think we need to do a lot of testing before we run a critical meeting on another platform.

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I’m a member of a group that is talking to them and will most likely start to use their hosted version, but I have tried a couple of other hosted BigBlueButton sites and they worked pretty well.
I mean, any of the hosted video meeting apps can have bandwidth and other difficulties, and I am sure BBB will not be immune. I don’t have enuf experience to say where it ranks among the contenders.

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Aftermath comment from https://forum.meet.coop/t/open-2020-planning/30

Big Blue Button performed well at Open 2020. 60+ participants and the server seemed to run fine.

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A number of us (@pablocremades @kaspar @hpy @bhaugen) derailed the GOSH community call thread to talk about meeting platforms. @jcm80 has rightly suggested we start a new thread.

I think the TL;DR is:
Zoom is proprietary and many members of the community would ideally like to find a way to avoid it. JitSi and BigBlueButton are possible alternatives but we need to ensure that they are stable for large calls where not all participants can guarantee fast internet. For community calls there are very important discussions to be had, and the pragmatic approach is to use a tool we know is stable. Maybe we can have some less important calls on BigBlueButton to try it out.

Maybe we can use this thread to talk about both open meeting tools, but also other alternatives to proprietary services for collaboration. I know @hpy already maintains a list of such services. The one thing that I think we need to consider carefully is how viable these alternatives are. I feel some level of pragmatism is required, open tools will always be preferred, but if we can’t use them effectively to work towards the core GOSH goals we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

We’ve evaluated Jitsi in the past (public instances and self-hosted) and we can say that it didn’t hold up for large calls. I don’t think we need to spend time evaluating it further unless we hear some news that they have released significant improvements.

Happy to give BigBlueButton a go, but it’s very hard to evaluate anything for large calls without taking up a lot of people’s time, by definition.

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I get the sense there is broad agreement (from any corners of the open universe) around Jitsi, and I’m wondering if we can’t hop on that bandwagon in suggesting or building use cases around.

Does any have insights into the Jitsi dev community that we could connect to? We’re a tiny fish in that big sea, but just curious.

If you have a look on their forum there are threads about performance and the discussion seems to hinge on upgrading from VP8 to VP9. There is also a GitHub issue about VP8/9. I don’t understand any of this well enough to do more than sign up to their forum and announce we also have seen issues.

I mentioned meet.coop and their hosted Big Blue Button service in that other thread, and said that Open2020 had been able to handle a fairly large number of people.

Here’s a more critical report. https://www.loomio.org/d/knxKE1pL/next-generation-room-services-and-stewarding-of-digital-tools-infrastructure

If you can’t access that, ask for admission and I or somebody will let you in.

But here’s the TL;DR version:

meet.coop is working hard on formulating its service offering in the light of hands-on piloting, and is constrained as a start-up by (human and financial) resource shortages, small-coop economics, practicalities of coop-to-coop federation and shortcomings in the available software (eg the front-end for administering bundles of rooms). Thus, the service at first will be of an early-adopter Alpha-release nature, and users will need to be ready to go through a bit of a learning process in how the coop membership works, and how the service evolves and becomes richer.

…the current server provision (Koumbit coop, Montreal) is good, so long as lots of users don’t go crazy with big rooms and lots of cameras on. As revenue comes in, load balancing across multiple servers is part of the roadmap. All good.

The BBB tech itself works, no problem, the challenges are more about the large-scale administration of the front end, as a user-facing platform and a paid-for service. A BBB room works fine (depending on browsers being used and of course broadband connections) and quite large numbers can participate (with cameras off, preferably). If an organisation just wants a virtual space to meet in - especially, in smallish teams - a BBB room will do the job (in a slightly different way than Zoom/jitsi but the learning curve isn’t too great). At this stage, with regard to meet.coop (there are other providers of BBB access too) the issue is more about wanting to contribute to the coop project per se, and engaging the challenge of putting core infrastructure in the commons, rather than in corporate hands. Being a commons-cooperative federated venture is a big part of the proposition.

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Looks like Jitsi has some more advanced Discourse forum integration.

Someone also requested BigBlueButton support there but it’s not been implemented yet.

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Sorry, BigBlueButton integration is available as another plugin actually!

(Zoom too: Zoom Webinars Plugin - plugin - Discourse Meta)

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I’ve installed the Jitsi integration to try out. I also installed the BBB one but we need an endpoint to use for it.

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Where are you?

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Thank you @julianstirling for starting this thread and @jcm80 for suggesting it.

Generally speaking, I agree with this sentiment.

That said, I believe it is important for us to be cognizant of why we prefer “open” tools. Without this understanding, it becomes too easy to fall for the perceived convenience of proprietary tools and not face the tangible injustices they bring.

In my view, the benefit of open source software (or hardware, for that matter) is not about warm and fuzzy feelings or better collaboration, as nice as they are. The true value of open source is its underpinning fundamental freedoms, specifically the four freedoms as stated in the Free Software Definition (and that’s why I prefer the term free software (as in freedom/libre, not price) instead of “open source” which misses the point).

These freedoms are not abstract. Since we’re talking about Zoom, its creators have leveraged the proprietary nature of this tool to create vendor lock-in and the network effect (e.g. because Zoom is closed-source, you can’t create a tool to interoperate with its network), both of which coerces people to use it since “everyone else is using it.” Once everyone is locked-in, Zoom has free reign to engage in extensive abusive behaviour. It would take at least a doctoral thesis to provide an adequate treatment of those abuses, but we know that Zoom bragged about exploiting cheap labour in their initial public offering (IPO), built into their black box a mass surveillance apparatus, and has actively aided at least one totalitarian regime in identifying and banning human rights activists. Zoom is just one example illustrating how proprietary technology creates an unhealthy power dynamic that makes it easy to abuse users. From what I can tell, this is wholly antithetical to the GOSH Manifesto and Roadmap.

Using a proprietary tool such as (but not limited to!) Zoom would validate, enable, and perpetuate the injustices that come with it. And since Zoom is a collaboration tool, we would be imposing those injustices onto everyone who joins a meeting.

I am in a position - and live a life - of privilege. I have the luxury to afford using a proprietary tool without fear of being identified and have armed police break down my door for harbouring the wrong thoughts. I have the privilege of being able to say: “I need to be pragmatic.” It is easy for me to not think about people whose real, lived experiences are adversely impacted by proprietary technology. It is easy for me to ignore freedom when it doesn’t hurt, even when it does hurt for others. However, with privilege comes a responsibility to act.

Again, I think we should be clear on why we prefer “open tools.” If we realise that this preference is motivated by an acknowledgement of the (often unconscious) privilege that many of us have and a need for inclusivity that proprietary technology cannot provide (and indeed, works against), then we can act constructively and avoid using “pragmatism” as an excuse to ignore the problem.

What does this mean in practice?

Many of us experienced better performance when using Zoom for video conferencing, myself included. But rather than simply surrendering, I believe the privilege that many of us have and the values expressed in the GOSH Manifesto compels us to proactively seek out an ethical replacement. This doesn’t have to mean developing a new Zoom-clone from scratch. To that end, here are a few initial/rough thoughts that I humbly submit for your consideration:

  1. In the short term, we might be forced to use Zoom on occasion. However, in these cases we need to explicitly acknowledge that not only is this choice “not ideal”, it is a failure to act on the values we hold.
  2. Think carefully about when we really need a large video conference. Productive discussions can happen in this forum, in smaller meetings that Jitsi Meet (or other free software tools) can accommodate, or in audio-only meetings that do not require high bandwidth. If we set up a venue allowing realtime chats such as a Matrix server (e.g. Riot.im which, by the way, is apparently being renamed), IRC, Zulip, Mattermost, etc., then some meetings can happen in “text mode.”
  3. Proactively cultivate a practical, free (as in freedom) replacement for Zoom. I do not have comprehensive familiarity with all potential solutions, but 8x8 (which implements Jitsi Meet) as suggested by @julianstirling and The Online Meeting Co-operative (which implements BigBlueButton) suggested by @bhaugen sound to my ignorant ears as promising first steps to explore.
  4. For example, we can reach out to The Online Meeting Co-operative and see if they will let us test a few meetings on their server. They could be dedicated tests or as part of the GOSH Open Hour (suggested by @julianstirling and @jarancio earlier). When I said “proactive”, that means even if the test doesn’t go well with laggy video, dropped calls, etc., we provide that feedback to the Co-operative to help them improve the service. The adventurous among us could even try to help with development.

Some of these ideas, especially 3. and 4., might require some money to pay for a hosted instance. I think it would be money well-spent. The amazing new grant that will soon become available to GOSH includes funds earmarked for technical infrastructure. Using a small part of that money on advancing digital inclusivity and digital justice (e.g. by paying for a supported instance of BigBlueButton or Jitsi Meet) goes a long way towards realising the values of the GOSH Manifesto.

Whew, I wasn’t planning on such a long post, sorry for the rant and - if you’ve read this far - for your valuable time. I hope I’m just preaching to the choir!

P.S. I observe that the discussion in the thread revolves around call platforms for meetings. If so, then I think the thread should be renamed to reflect that and have discussion on other solutions spun off into another thread.

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compels us to proactively develop an ethical replacement.

I agree with the sentiment, but we are the Gathering for Open Science Hardware not the Gathering for Open Communication Channels. While many in this community would share the goals of the fictional GOCC, we don’t have the resources to put into that.

To make OSH ubiquitous by 2025 we need to

  • Develop lots of scientific hardware
  • Write best practices guidance for others
  • Develop/improve documentation tools
  • Run open hardware events
  • Run journals
  • It would be good to engage with FreeCAD / OpenSCAD to improve CAD tooling

I not see developing a Zoom/Slack alternative being within scope for this community, but I do agree that we should feed back to the communities that are developing these alternatives.

The thing that frustrates me is the incompatible protocols. Between chat and video the tech world has provided:
Teams/slack/mattermost/IRC/WhatsApp/Matrix/Telegram/FacebookMesseger/Skype/GoogleHangouts/GoogleMeet/JitSiMeet/Zoom/Gitter/BigBlueButton/FaceTime
Some of these are open, some have “bridges” to others. But I am not sure why “we” (everyone in the world not GOSH) accept incompatibility for chat and video,

If someone wants to send me an email I give them my email address and they can use it, no one says “Oh sorry I use Gmail can you make a Gmail account”? Same for phones, they may be are expensive, but a phone will call any other phone. So why do I need 15 chat apps and 5 video call apps!? This will never be solved with a new program however open it is, we need the big players to be forced to agree on a protocol or we will forever be juggling tens of apps. I know this is the goal of the Matrix protocol I just hope they get enough traction to bring the big players in line.

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Thank you @julianstirling, sorry I don’t mean to put you on the spot!

You’ve so eloquently described a major problem that’s always bugged me, thank you! I will paraphrase this when I explain the problem to other people :slightly_smiling_face:. Proprietary software almost always exacerbates this problem while free software is a necessary (though admittedly not always sufficient) part of the cure.

Sorry if I was not clear with that sentence. When I said “develop an ethical replacement”, I meant it in a broad sense, and not developing - from scratch - yet another Zoom/Slack clone! That would reinvent wheels and I would vote against such an effort. What I meant was that we should put in a genuine, dedicated effort to identify and make use of an ethical replacement, or at least do what we can to help bring such a replacement to fruition. This is in contrast to simply saying “Zoom is not ideal but it’s practical” and not thinking about it anymore. That would be unethical given the privilege many of us have. The solutions could be - but not limited to - some of the practical steps I suggested in the previous post. I will reword the offending sentence to be more clear, thank you for pointing it out.

we don’t have the resources to put into that.

Perhaps we do. Like I said, there is dedicated funding in the upcoming grant that could, at the very least, be used to pay for dedicated instances of free software solutions such as (and again, not limited to) BigBlueButton or Jitsi Meet. This will help those who develop the tools, provide us with a potentially viable replacement for proprietary software like Zoom, and empirically demonstrate our commitment to GOSH principles.

For example, let’s say we pay for a few months of a hosted BigBlueButton instance. During this time, we try to hold (initially non-mission-critical) meetings and test it thoroughly. If it works, great: We can fully replace Zoom. If it doesn’t work, that’s great, too. We can provide constructive feedback to the host of the instance and developers, while the money we paid will aid in improving the free replacement. This way we can say: “We really tried, and while this solution doesn’t work for us right now, we’ve helped it improve. Let’s revisit this in 6- or 12-months and see it will work better for us then.” This is what I meant by being proactive. We individually have privileges, and collectively GOSH, with its high profile and new funding, has the privilege and responsibility to act.

By the way, collaboration tools such as the ones discussed in this thread are very much an integral part of open source hardware development. Just as we should move away from proprietary CAD tools, we should make a concerted effort to avoid proprietary communications/collaboration tools. Even if we don’t care about freedom (though we should!), this is another reason to put in the effort.

In short, I believe we need to check our privilege and attempt more ethical solutions before giving up.

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