Bangkok, Thailand, February 2005 by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / BY

As of yesterday (2013-07-10) identi.ca is running pump.io. Congratulations to Evan. Try out pump.io on another site run by Evan (identi.ca isn’t accepting new registrations) or install on your own. Report issues, send pull requests.

I created a replacement autonomous microblog group on another public StatusNet server, at least until pump.io supports groups and feeds.

There are several trend-ish things that are topical here, highlighted as differences between StatusNet and pump.io:

Software license

StatusNet was licensed AGPL (strongest copyleft), pump.io Apache 2.0 (modern permissive) under the rationale that pump.io needs to gain the widest possible adoption, in competition with legacy silos. The Franklin Street Statement encourages developers to:

Use the GNU Affero GPL, a license designed specifically for network service software, to ensure that users of services have the ability to examine the source or implement their own service.

But, considering network effects, this is not strategic for some kinds of software, as the FSF’s guide to choosing a license has long said:

The second [case where copyleft is not appropriate] is projects that implement free standards that are competing against proprietary standards, such as Ogg Vorbis (which competes against MP3 audio) and WebM (which competes against MPEG-4 video). For these projects, widespread use of the code is vital for advancing the cause of free software, and does more good than a copyleft on the project’s code would do.

In these special situations where copyleft is not appropriate, we recommend the Apache License 2.0. This is a permissive, non-protective software license that has terms to prevent contributors and distributors from suing for patent infringement. This doesn’t make the software immune to threats from patents, but it does prevent patent holders from setting up a “bait and switch” where they release the software under free terms, but require recipients to agree to royalties or other nonfree terms in a patent license.

Will anyone write applications on top of pump.io, or that implement its API, licensed AGPL? GNU MediaGolin, an AGPL’d media sharing web application, is rumored to have someone working on the latter.

There are probably two “trends” of note here. First, among the people explicitly thinking of free-as-in-freedom network services, there’s probably a greater appreciation of the challenge of network effects than there was several years ago. Or as I’ve been saying the last couple, “the greatest threat [to freedom] is obscurity, not proprietary versions” (cf “the greatest threat to artists is obscurity, not piracy”, when “we” are giving unsolicited advice to legacy culture industries).

Second, and much more widely noted, is the preference of (supposedly young, but I’m doubtful) web developers for permissive licenses. If true, this would make a permissive license all the more necessary to establish a standard, and hopefully contribute to non-obscurity among developers.

Content license

All posts on identi.ca while it was running StatusNet were released under CC-BY. There is no default license for posts on identi.ca now, ie “all restrictions remain”. The rationale for this is that pump.io supports messages limited to groups (identi.ca only supported public, and one-recipient direct messages, though the latter weren’t regularly used), and a public license would not be appropriate for private messages. I say the two are orthogonal, and it is too bad to see them conflated, but admittedly it is very easy to do, maybe easier than explaining the difference. The Franklin Street Statement avoids the issue with:

Data available to all users of the service should be available under terms approved for Free Cultural Works or Open Knowledge.

Arguably this does not facilitate taking all one’s interactions with one. But “social” may be a field in which we should act as if knowing about copyright is already like knowing about East German passports, ie ignore all copyright and related restrictions (while adhering to orthogonal privacy norms and regulations).

Development hosting

StatusNet used the hosted version gitorious, which is free software, pump.io uses the hosted (only?) version of github, which is not. In this case, developers are users, and the Franklin Street Statement says:

When deciding whether to use a network service, look for services that follow the guidelines listed above, so that, when necessary, they still have the freedom to modify or replicate the service without losing their own data.

This highlights

  1. the power of network effects even when the “protocol” (git) is distributed,
  2. longstanding complaints about the UX of FLOSS,
  3. paucity of completely distributed end user applications (again think of git as a “protocol” here); in theory bugs should live in git, and there are experiments along those lines, but for now people love github’s centralized issue tracker, and there are many analogues to this situation, and
  4. paucity of competitive free software services (which at this point may require a significant organization to provide, in tension with the next point).

Your own computer

Before the above quote about what kind of services to look for, the Franklin Street Statement says not to use services:

Consider carefully whether to use software on someone else’s computer at all. Where it is possible, they should use Free Software equivalents that run on their own computer. Services may have substantial benefits, but they represent a loss of control for users and introduce several problems of freedom.

It also says:

Develop software that can replace centralized services and data storage with distributed software and data deployment, giving control back to users.

pump.io is pushing both of these, relative to StatusNet:

  1. Federation works differently, and better, in my limited experience so far
  2. Evan is doing his part to prevent a dominant instance of pump.io (not allowing new registrations on identi.ca, and providing several alternatives)
  3. pump.io is leaner in multiple respects, making it more feasible to deploy and manage on a tiny server
  4. Evan is apparently looking to promote lots of tiny pump.io installations with a crowdfunded hardware project

I think services running on other people’s computers are going to be extremely important for a long time, but anything that makes it more feasible for many more people to control their own hardware directly is good.

The Beginning

Of a bright future? I’m excited about pump.io, and hope you are too. Try it out — and check out other federated social web efforts.

9 thoughts on “pumped

  1. Børge / forteller


    “Evan is apparently looking to promote lots of tiny pump.io installations with a crowdfunded hardware project”

    Does this mean Evan wants to compete with FreedomBox Foundation? I hope it means he wants to help them. If it is what it sounds like to me that it is.

  2. vvillenave

    Seeing Identica going… well, whichever way it’s going, is somehow disturbing (or !disturbing, as we used to write). I’m still on the fence (even more so as I’m still waiting “one moment please” for my new Identica password), but I had grown so fond of it that I certainly could see myself going the “GNU social” way rather than “pumping” whatever needs to be pumped.

    Anyhow, all these big moves have (almost literally) pushed me towards running my own instances and going federated, starting with the demise of Google Reader which had grown quite dependent upon, but which took me a mere 5 minutes to replace entirely some months ago.

    Maintaining one’s own server can be quite time-consuming; I had been running my personal website on a pretty standard LAMP server for a few years, but installing anything else there (RoR for a Diaspora or Redmine instance, NodeJS for Pumpio or Etherpad, PostGreSQL or CGI-Perl or Nginx or Python/Django/Zope or what do I know) seemed a bit tedious. Not to mention that it definitely requires having a full dedicated server (or a virtualized one), which excludes the cheapest hosting solutions.

    Fortunately, there still are quite a few lightweight solutions fairly straightforward to setup and understand. Starting (again) with RSS readers, that may come as a single ready-to-run, database-less yet full-featured PHP file!

    When it comes to so-called “social” networking, I’m looking forward to seeing whether the GNU umbrella will just be where microblogs come to die, or if SN/GNUsocial really has a future (I very much wish it does, particularly when seeing how well MediaGoblin is evolving). For now, I am running my own friendica instance and it has actually been quite simple and pleasant to grasp. (I had never given it a try, perhaps because of their ugly branding/logotype, that’s how shallow I am.) Here like everywhere else, the Libre world’s strengths (diversity, plasticity, creativity) are also its weakness (fragmention, user-unfriendliness).

    Now, can this process be made simpler? Hopefully it can: just like portable self-bundled software have allowed people (starting with Microsoft users) to discover Free Software (another great example is the self-bundled anonymous Web browser distributed by the Tor project), just like user-friendly LiveCDs have made GNU/Linux affordable to non-technical users in the past, we could imagine ready-to-ship Plug’N’Run low-cost computers that could act as decentralized servers. What worries me, however, is that our vision of “self-friendly” may have changed in the past decade, where people increasingly expect to find everything in “The Cloud” and where JavaScript applications, YouTube videos and centralized crowdfunding platforms seem to be the preferred avenue for promoting even the freeest of all projects. I have the feeling that it’s getting harder to ask people to actually *install* anything on their computer, be it a simple program or an operating system, let alone purchase an actual piece of hardware.

    Just my € .2 of random thoughts.

  3. Ronaldo Nascimento

    Sorry to post this here but I don’t know how to get help with identi.ca
    You see the problem is I registered with lavabit address and forgot my password. How would I go about resolving this with identi.ca to get my identity back
    ronaldo1@identi.ca is my registered name, under ronaldonascimento@lavabit.com
    but I can not recover my password
    me so sad :(

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