Harm minimisation of corporate social networks not getting the monkey off your back? Still need a digital social fix but want it less toxic?
I participate in several communities that claim to want to leave the surveillance-and-manipulation factory for somewhere else. Here are some notes I am writing for these communities on alternative ways we could be organising ourselves. They have various pluses (e.g. less advertising, less centralising profiling of us, less weaponised addictiveness and various minuses (e.g. higher barrier for entry, higher cost, less polish, nearly impossible to get critical mass of friends).
Using turnkey infrastructure
There are turnkey technical solutions designed to do this for various use cases.
- discourse is an
open-source community chat
platform which you can install on your own server.
It seems to be the dominant force in community-run servers at the moment.
Do not be confused by the similarity of name to the commercial
- keybase teams are a reputedly end-to-end encrypted chats run by a fancy hipster dotcom.
- Zulip is an open source slack-alike with first-class mathematics support.
- Rocket.chat is another one. A quick perusal seems to indicate it is attempting to be the good bits of Slack, which seems to be an the aspiration for nearly everything else here.
- Element is the flagship modestly-secure chat system for Matrix. Looks a little like Slack.
- Stackoverflow teams is goal-oriented Q&A for teams. I do not know anything about their security history, but they are hosted in the USA FWIW.
- Gitter is a hosted and (open-source) system. It’s sort of like its more famous cousin Slack, apparently? Now you are responsible for your own security. Is that better?
- Slack is a communication platform somewhat more oriented towards workplace organising than other chat programs. Can be forced to support mathematics. Its UX is unsatisfactory for ad hoc groups (signing on is hard, and it requires people to learn how to turn on notifications, and you end up with a million Slack channels of low activity) and it is hosted by a third party with dubiously competent enforcement of their jurisdiction’s wacky geopolitical tantrums.
- discord is like a “fun” themed Slack, (i.e. chat thing hosted on a 3rd party server) which means a slightly lower barrier to entry but less professional cred. It is still presumably prone to unaccountable American politics tantrums.
- groups is a freemium mail group services with, for each group, “a calendar, chat, polls, a database section, a photos section, a files section, and a wiki.” Also integrates “Feeds, Facebook Pages, Slack, Google Drive, Github, Trello, Email.” NB Facebook pages need to be public to integrate.
- mobilize has particular emphasis on community management for non-profits.
- wire pro is the groupware version of the wire chat client.
- Wickr Pro is similar, a group chat that could be shoehorned into being social.
Or, dunno if it really fits here, but look at this attempt to provide the some of the features of the social network in terms of telling you not to forget birthdays, Monica the open-source personal CRM.
If you just want something efficient for your purposes but don’t care about the NSA reading it any of those will work, and they offer varying degrees of guarantees about not data mining you.
Keybase, Wire, Wickr and (partially) Riot claim to be host-proof, so in principle it should be hard for adversaries to spy upon.
Working together online
🏗 rant here about how no one but Facebook facilitates IRL gigs, events and meet-ups and since that is a major priority for me and many of my communities I am unlikely to actually use any of these options until I (or more realistically, someone else) can produce a decent collective events system.
A slightly different niche: hosting your own web content with sociable overtones.
NB a decentralised system is not necessarily also an encrypted one, but in practice there don’t seem to be people who are only interested in decentralised networks without cryptographic guarantees, and there are certain problems that cryptography certainly helps with in a decentralised setting, such as not being embarrasingly easy to spoof.↩︎