Call to fund research on an easy and COMPLETE alternative to Gmail, Facebook etc...

Call to fund research on an easy and COMPLETE alternative to Gmail, Facebook etc... /img/I_want_to_break_free.jpg
Source: Ray MacLean on Flickr



I have been using my own email service and self-hosted blogs since 2006/2007. I started explaining why everybody should do the same three years ago, when I proposed Virtual Personal Email Servers to overcome the big limits of today’s email. In 2011 I repeated why it is important to find alternatives to Gmail.

Since real support for privacy, control and data ownership should be present in everything we do online, last January I also pointed out that alternatives to corporate social networks already exist and only need proper packaging.

Now the Snowden/NSA/PRISM affair has finally made evident, to an audience immensely larger than geek circles, that I (with many others of course) was right. Everybody, including non-geeks (no: starting from them) should have, as soon as possible, at least the possibility to


  • store personal data and files a personal online space
  • own and use email addresses
  • run a personal blog with social networking capabilities (“find friends”, see as one page what all your friends are doing on their websites etc…)
  • share calendars online
  • do collaborative work (e.g. co-writing text through the Internet)
  • use strong cryptography for all communications, in the most transparent way that is possible
  • do all the above from any device

in a way that:

  • requires the least possible amount of software CONFIGURATION skills
  • is not tied to any single, non-replaceable organization, be it a software multinational or a Public Administration, or computer platform
  • if not gratis, is as cheap as possible, i.e. a few USD/Euros per year, possibly because it…
  • may be (temporarily) outsourced to many trusted third parties (e.g. community-owned data centers, relatives with a permanent Internet connection…). Please note that this would also be a new, huge business opportunity, for all the small ISPs and consultants that may host, manage or customize the software
  • could be also freely moved in any moment to other personal or third party computers without losing data or disrupting services (meaning that one’s email address, domain name, links to blog posts etc… would not change because of that migration)

and my proposal is…

I do know that things like Mailpile, FreedomBox and Diaspora have been already proposed to solve the same problems. While they are all great, in my opinion they also have a few serious limits that I have explained in another post. My proposal, which I first made here, remains instead:

  1. study which already existing Free Software applications may best replace each component of the proprietary, centralized services, and are most compatible with point 2
  2. study and specify how a single, graphical control panel for all those applications should work (*)
  3. build and maintain that control panel
  4. define the procedures to integrate and keep integrated with the smallest possible effort all these applications, that is to build and maintain ONE software bundle that contains all of them and can be installed with one procedure on any server
  5. do the actual maintenance/integration/quality testing as time goes by
  6. develop iOS/Android app versions of the control panel

Point 3, 5 and 6 are work for (teams of) real programmers, possibly coordinated by some Foundation. I could be part of it, but never do it myself.

I am, however, qualified to do the other points, or at least a good initial part of them. Having such documents would prove that there is wide interest for this kind of solution and describe how to make it happen. The only reason I’m not doing this yet is that I can’t do it for free, as even this initial part should be almost full time work for a few months.

Therefore, and following several private requests I got recently, I officially announce that:

  1. in the next few days I will set up an Indiegogo page to raise the money to crow-fund me to write those specs and publish them online with a CC-BY or CC-BY-SA license. In this way all the work will remain available for reuse. I’ll publish the details of this commitment, that is what exactly I’ll study and write down if I get funding, in a separate post
  2. regardless of point 1, this winter I’ll start an online course at the Free Technology Academy on how to build your own cloud from scratch by yourself (that is how to assemble and configure these applications by yourself, without a central control panel)

Follow me via RSS or Twitter to be informed of any further development. In the meantime, please do spread the word as much as you see fit AND provide any feedback you may have as comments to this post. Thanks!

(*) here’s a 4-line definition of “single graphical control panel” (writing the real one would be part of the job…): ONE window with links to the existing dashboards of each single package, or to new ones developed from scratch, that would open as sub-windows of the main one, all pre-configured to have the same theme/colors/etc…