Posts tagged ‘free software’

Discussing Diaspora’s Future

I have seen lots of discussion about the future of !Diaspora lately. Here is my first attempt to really weigh in. We need to distinguish between several things that are all called Diaspora. First of all, there is Diaspora the project (DProj), the Diaspora core development team (DCore), Diaspora the corporation (DStar), and DStar’s Diaspora pod, (JD). There are also several independently-operated pods, such as (DiaspO) and (DiaspE).

First of all, DProj, can really benefit from more contributors. Sadly, I cannot help. I messed around with Ruby for a while, realized that its soup of special characters with special meanings was not going to ever match my brain (like Perl, which has the same problem), and put it down quickly.

DProj is almost synonymous with DCore and DStar, as is usual in a cathedral-type of project. However, DStar is also distracted with the financial and administrative burden of operating JD. This, I think, is the chief problem that Diaspora (overall) faces. Even with a cathedral model, they could be very successful. But they’ll have to be very careful.

DStar must, absolutely must start to create a business model. They need to wake up and realize that centralizing around JD, a site that charges its users nothing and accepts no advertising, is suicidal. Likewise, owners of other Diaspora pods, including both DiaspO and DiaspE, should be thinking about their own business models.

Once you realize that hosting a zero-price site for yourself and a few friends and family is considerably different from hosting a zero-price site for tens or even hundreds of thousands of people you do not know, you will realize that all large Diaspora pods will need some kind of business model. Hosting costs money. Bandwidth costs money. Having someone to administer the site, to respond to issues and outages all day, every day costs money. By refusing to face this issue up front, JD may have seriously damaged the future of both DStar and DProj.

Diaspora, particularly the JD pod, has attracted a large number of people who cannot contribute code, cannot or will not contribute funds, and will not tolerate advertising on the site. Unless the JD pod finds a billionaire sponsor or forces the freeloaders to leave or change, that pod will continue to be a severe drain upon DStar, and to consume resources that DProj and DCore need.

I understand the founders wanted Diaspora to be more of a non-profit foundation, and I understand this. Putting DProj development in a NPO would be the best way to go, but pod-hosting (JD) is killing the project.

People are complaining about the instability of the JD pod, which seems to be down several times each day. As a user of that pod, but a non-participant in DProj itself, my estimation is that the influx of JD users is straining the already-tight finances and server administration resources of DStar.

What should be done about all of this? I am glad you asked.

Number one, DStar must put DProj into a non-profit organization funded primarily by DStar. That will free DProj to seek grants and sponsors. DCore needs to open up DProj a little, so that people who can grok Ruby are more willing to contribute code.

Number two, DStar must emphasize federation. People need to be encouraged to start new pods and to choose to join other pods instead of JD. In fact, I would encourage DProj and DCore to get in touch with the people trying to patch XMPP into the Diaspora codebase. Get in touch with Friendica’s Mike. Get in touch with the StatusNet, OStatus, and RStatus people. Work to make it possible for Diaspora pods to interfederate with OStatus-using federations, such as StatusNet and RStatus; make it possible to interfederate with Friendica using its Zot protocol; and to interfederate with XMPP-using federated social networks, such as Jappix. Many have argued that Diaspora lost its chance to ever become popular. I do not believe that displacing one or more of the big commercial socnets is or ever was on DStar’s agenda, but to the degree that Diaspora or any other federated socnet succeeds in attracting active and sustainable communities, they all benefit, and all the more if they can interfederate. Diaspora, the Zot-using networks (currently just Friendica), the OStatus-using networks (including Identica and other StatusNet instances, and RStatus, at least), and the XMPP-using networks together can form a network with no vulnerable central hub, no corporation or organization in control, and no way for patent and copyright trolls to buy government-sponsored tollbooths.

Number three, JD absolutely needs to immediately post a privacy policy, even if it is a work in progress. Privacy and users controlling their own data is part of Diaspora’s “USP” (unique selling point), as your introductory college marketing class will tell you about. Without a privacy policy and TOS (terms of service) policy on JD, many who would otherwise be willing to help out are avoiding not just JD, but all Diaspora pods.

Number four, DStar must take action to place JD on a sound financial footing. I see two ways to do this: (1) advertising, and (2) subscriptions. Most likely, both will be needed.

Analytics: Nearly every site uses some sort of analytics, if only to help with allocation of server resources and deploying anti-spam and anti-cracking defenses. I imagine that some idea of what features are used and in which sequence they get used is going to strongly influence which features get the most developer attention, also. JD should implement a solution like Piwik, until effective analytics can be integrated into the Diaspora software as a plugin. Without analytics, JD will have no way to know how to adjust the appearance and operation site to enable it to become profitable.

Advertising: Although Google’s adsense is said to be the more profitable ad network, there is absolutely no way that JD can use it. JD is going to have to build its own ad network (using OpenX or a similar application) or contract another ad network to service the site. However this is done, ads shown on JD need to respect its users’ privacy and the integrity of the Diaspora experience. This means no expanders, none of those popups when you roll over text, no “please view this ad while the page loads”, and positively no “you were discussing cats so we’ll show an ad for XYZ cat food”.

Subscriptions: Subscriptions are an excellent way to pay for some of the costs of operation. Subscription-only would chase away those who cannot afford it, or those who object to paid-only sites. Subscriptions as a “see fewer ads, subscribe” would be the best option.

I would like to encourage DStar to get in touch with Automattic, which is thriving with a similar business and funding model to the one which the various Diaspora entities will need to adopt in order to keep themselves going.

Number five, the various entities mentioned above that are individually and collectively known as ‘Diaspora’ need to be transparent. We know that the developers need to eat, drink, commute, sleep, and do all the other things that any other human needs to do. We know that DStar and any other legal entities need to have a space they operate out of. We know that operating high-traffic servers is expensive. We also know that no one involved in Diaspora is getting rich or trying to put something over on us.

So I would hope that DStar and all other legal entities, along with JD and other major pods, will make it a point to be transparent about what their needs are and what resources are available. Perhaps in doing so, people like me, who really want to see them succeed in producing a viable alternative to centralized networks, will find ways to help them do so.

Please be aware that this is not meant in any way to trash-talk anyone involved in Diaspora. It is meant to spur others to think about the financial needs of developing code full-time and of running large, resource-intensive pods, and to persuade them to be supportive of the people behind Diaspora as JD and other large pods move to find the revenues they need to continue operating.


Tuesday, 2012-January-03 at 05:55 6 comments

FLOSS Progressing At DoD

Matt Asay says that the increasingly rapid adoption of free / libre and open source software in the military could presage the end of proprietary software as we know it.  While I think proprietary software is here to stay, I am encouraged to read about the progress in ending the often unspoken set-aside for closed-source vendors.  I look forward to reading about the implementation of open technologies in numerous government agencies.

One of the things that has been frustrating to see is how a government so paranoid about security that it created the rainbow of doom can run software that calls home to the vendor with who knows what information.  Surely some bad guy has thought about penetrating a database in the Seattle area to find out what configuration is in use at <name your agency here>.  Perhaps someone has even gotten a job at the largest software vendor (and the one that is most known for this kind of snoopware) just so he can try to collect this data for misuse by unknown evildoers.

As always, nothing I say reflects the views of any employer, friend, or relative.  My views are my own.  Disclosure: I use Alfresco, a product of Mr. Asay's employer, at home.

Thursday, 2008-February-14 at 21:22

Sun and MySQL

I just saw the news over on Jonathan Schwartz's blog: Sun is buying MySQL!  I’ll save all comment for later, save this: this is exciting news, because Sun is at least semi-friendly to FLOSS, while Oracle (who has been attempting to target MySQL and Red Hat, perhaps to drive out lower-cost competitors to its products) is less so. The two together will be a stronger competitor.  I do hope that they will now begin to throw some muscle behind the MaxDB product.

Wednesday, 2008-January-16 at 07:07

Opening ODF (.odt, .ods, .odp, etc) Files

You are doing your regular day-to-day work, when someone sends you a file that your office applications suite will not open.  What can you do to open this file?  Well, if the file is in OpenDocument Format (ODF), you have the following alternatives available to you.

What Is OpenDocument Format (ODF)?

ODF is a file format specification created by OASIS, an industry standards group.  Its purpose is to create a set of standardized file formats that is XML-based, archivable, not written specifically for any specific vendor’s products, and can be freely implemented by anyone.  This standard has been approved by the Internation Organization for Standards (ISO), and is soon to be required for government documents in some European countries and American states.  The format includes handicap accessibility, so that such tools as screen readers can easily hook into an ODF-using application.  It re-uses proven technologies such as the W3C’s XML, MathML (for mathematics formulae), and SVG (graphics) formats within the standard, rather than experimental and unproven technologies.

Because ODF is a truly open standard that does not place the user’s data into the hands of any particular vendor’s control, it is something that government agencies need to implement for the documents that they hold in trust for their citizens.  Best of all, several years from now, after one or more software upgrades, users will still be allowed to access their data—already, some people and companies have found that their historical documents are not readable by their current software—this open format means that any decent programmer can always implement tools to enable access to stored data.

Reading, Printing, Editing & Writing ODF

The following list consists of items known to me as of 2007-01-08.  I will update this list as I find out more information.

  1. File Viewing Software: View and Print The File
    • TextMaker Viewer can view and print ODF word processing documents (.odt files).
    • OpenDocument Fellowship’s Viewer can view and print ODF wordprocessing (.odt), spreadsheet (.ods), and presentation (.odp) files.  It is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX.  Thanks to Jean Weber for getting me this information.
      Update: 2008-01-18: It appears that OpenDocument Fellowship’s .org domain is now held by a squatter.  Use the .com link above. Thanks, Jesse, for reporting it.
      Update: 2012-02-20: It now appears that OpenDocument Fellowship is gone. Clicking the above link leads nowhere.Update: 2014-04-29: The link works again.
  2. Online Conversion Sites and Online Office Application Suites
    • 3BView offers the ability to convert to or from ODF formats on their Web site, including a free trial. Apparently, 3BView has been purchased by Microsystems, and now offers DOCX-related services only.
    • Google Docs can import .odt (ODF word processing) files, but it apparently exports .sxw files renamed as .odf.  These files will open in, but may not open correctly in other applications that support ODF.
    • Zoho Office supports ODF for both uploading and downloading documents.
    • IBM’s Workplace—network-based applications for businesses—is adding support for ODF.  Their Lotus SmartSuite product is not currently doing so.  Is SmartSuite even still being developed and sold?  Will IBM make it easy for someone to find out if their business is a potential user of Workplace?
    • Added 2007-01-13:ZamZar offers an online file conversion service, currently zero-price.
    • WebPDF is a server that gets set up to provide service to a company’s network, converting between ODF, Microsoft, and other formats or converting them to PDF.  There are pricing plans to enable application service providers to use the server for their customers.
      Update: 2012-02-20: It currently appears that the software now known as WebPDF converts more than 100 formats, including the ODF formats, into PDF/A.
  3. Installable Software Applications
    •, available for Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OSX (X11 only), Solaris
    • KOffice, available for Linux, Mac OSX, FreeBSD, and any other UNIX-like operating system
    • I recommend LibreOffice over I believe The Document Foundation is the project shepherd that Sun should have put into place prior to selling itself to Oracle, and that TDF will better ensure that more than just large corporations’ interests are served by the directions taken by the product. Further, LibreOffice is working to make the product slimmer and faster.
    • AbiWord (on Windows, be sure to install the extra file formats plugins) available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX
    • NeoOffice, a Mac-native derivative of
    • StarOffice for Windows, Linux, Solaris operating systems. It appears that Oracle, the new owner, has closed their commercially-supported version of OpenOffice as part of the transition to the Apache Foundation.
    • added 2007-10-01: IBM Lotus Symphony for Windows, Linux operating systems with at least 512MB of RAM; this one can also handle many of your old Lotus SmartSuite files.  A Mac version is expected in 2008.
    • TextMaker, PlanMaker (SoftMaker Office) for Windows, Linux, FreeBSD operating systems.
    • WordPerfect. Supports word processing files (.odt – OpenDocument text).  You may want to write to them to ask for broader support if you intend to buy their products.
    • added 2008-01-18: Sun’s ODF Plugin for Microsoft Office allows users of Microsoft’s product to also open and save ODF (.odt, .ods, and .odp) files in the corresponding Microsoft application.  Available for Windows operating systems. UPDATE: 2010-04-20: Oracle / Sun now charges $90 for the plugin, with a minimum 100 unit order. For most of us, this means that this plugin is no longer a reasonable tool for our uses. Update 2011-04-18: A recent search of Oracle’s site gives “page not found” errors for StarOffice / Oracle Open Office and for the ODF Plugin. Oracle did recently announce that is being released to the community’s stewardship. Perhaps the plugin is included in that announcement.
    • added 2009-05-01: Microsoft Office 2007 with Service Pack 2 can now read and write ODF files. Available for Windows operating systems.
    • added 2011-04-18: Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013 can read and write ODF files. Available for Windows operating systems. Their implementation appears to be substandard. Unless you’re at work and have no choice, use LibreOffice or instead. Not only do they handle the format better, but they are less annoying to use.
  4. Freely available software that can manipulate data in files stored in ODF file formats
    • If you are writing such an application, please inform me and also Rob Weir.
  5. Software for mobile phones and PDAs
    • Update, 2007-10-20: SEPT-Solutions Mobile Office can read .odt (text), .ods (spreadsheet), and .odp (presentation) files, with editing capability expected in a future version of the product.  Thanks to Bob Sutor for catching this announcement.
  6. Importers / Exporters for Web Content Systems
    • ODT Indexer – Allows Joomla! 1.0 indexing to index contents of ODF text document (.odt) files.
  7. OpenDocument Fellowship maintains a list of applicatons at  Be sure to use their .com domain in the link, not the .org that has been taken by a cybersquatter.  Thanks to Jean Weber for bringing this list to my attention.

If you have knowledge of something that I missed, please inform me about it, so I can update this information.

Monday, 2007-January-08 at 19:17 19 comments

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