Citizen cloud thoughts, after fOSSa 2015


I had (at least) three big reasons to be at the fOSSa 2015 conference, a couple of weeks ago. Two already covered elsewhere and one, “Citizen Cloud: Towards a more decentralized internet?”, that deserves its own separate post.

Before getting to that, however, let me quickly remind the first two reasons: first, I and Wouter Tebbens had to present a great research project we of the Free Knowledge Institute are working on, that is Digital Do-It-Yourself (DiDIY). I described the social, cultural and economical characteristics of DiDIY, and Wouter its main legal issues, like Right To Repair. More about the “Digital DIY” side of fOSSa 2015 is here. We also wanted to check out what others are doing about Open Education, as you can read from Wouter here, and from me here. On to Citizen Clouds now.

Citizen Cloud: where should it start from?

_DISCLAIMER: I have, so to speak, a “personal interest” in this topic because I proposed the percloud a couple of years ago, and I still offer, on demand, experimental courses about the underlying technologies at the Free Technology Academy._

The personal cloud projects presented at fOSSa 2015 include Cozy, which I already looked at a couple of years ago. While describing it, Tristan Nitot listed several priorities for developers of Personal Cloud software, including:

  • #5: alternative cloud must provide “delightful user experience” (I agree 100%, and from what I’ve seen Cozy cloud already is quite ahead on that front)

  • #7: add killer features that large companies cannot match (in Cozy is Quantified Self, and integration of several sources)

degooglize internet with Personal Clouds!

Citizen cloud thoughts, after fOSSa 2015 /img/degooglisons-internet.jpg

More than from Cozy cloud or Descent, however, I have been impressed by the Dégooglisons Internet (Ungooglize Internet) project by Framasoft. Put together, the tools they are developing could offer most of what, in my opinion, a Personal Cloud should be about.

The whole session, however, left me with at least a couple of “open issues”. I did not share them at fOSSa only because I **had **to leave for the airport just when the Personal Cloud panel began, but here they are.

If (let me repeat: if!) I understood correctly, the personal clouds presented that morning present and offer “liberation from Facebook &C” only in a “all-to-nothing, never-look-back”. Those clouds, in other words, have tools to export all your content, contacts etc out of Facebook etc but nothing, apparently, to _remain connected, via a normal Facebook account, to people who won’t touch anything else but Facebook. _

If that is the case then, I’m still left with the same strong concern I’ve expressed several times in the last two years: the concern, that is, that none of this stuff is going to have enough impact, soon enough, to change the game.

The only reason I am and must remain on Facebook (using tricks like this to make it less painful) is certainly not that I don’t know how to have some Web presence. It is that, **exactly **in the interest of Personal Clouds, data ownership, privacy, Free Software and other things I advocate, I must stay in the only place where people who need to hear this stuff may ever discover what I propose. Please note that “peple who need to hear” aren’t just those who do not care to begin with, but also a lot of activists.

It doesn’t matter how cool Cozy or the others are, if they do not keep that door open. **People need to be weaned from walled gardens gradually.**

Most ordinary people will never abandon Facebook if it means quitting cold turkey all the relatives, friends etc… that only know and “tolerate” Facebook, and therefore could not be reached by any other channel. Being able to tell Uncle Ben, instead, “see? I can still share photos with you, without seeing myself all that crap that Facebook throws at you” would make much more difference, because that’s the only feature most people would ever need or appreciate from a Facebook replacement.

Raspberry Pi home servers, p2p wifi networks, ultra-secure email replacements, full ownership of quantified self data from Fitbits and similar gadgets… that’s all well and good, but:

is it to enjoy such wonders that practically all refugees fleeing across Europe these days not only carry a smartphone, but consider it their most crucial equipment?  

Of course not. They just need to stay in touch with their families, through whatever channel those families already knew, even if they can only access electricity a few minutes a day, every day in a different place. Just like “Uncle Ben”, they may jump on any quick and dirty Facebook compatible platform (and thus become ready to move to something better, later on), but almost surely on nothing else, no matter how advanced.

That’s why I am convinced that Personal Cloud projects, if they care to become a **mass *phenomenon before it’s too late, must put compatibility with existing social networks as their first and urgent priority ().

Still talking to the wrong people

The second “open issue” I’ve brought back home from fOSSa 2015 is about Personal Clouds **and **all the other topics of the conference: I do not have any perfect answer or ready solution for this, but I feel we are all continuing to say wonderful things… to the wrong people. One of the Personal Cloud speakers (my notes are incomplete, sorry…) showed a picture of pigs inside a CAFO-style pigsty whose caption more or less said, going by memory:

are these pigs the customers of the farm?

to re-introduce the well-known concept that Personal Clouds are necessary because “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”. While we’re at this, let me say that that slogan should be replaced with one that adequately highlights its _worst _effect:

“if you’re not paying for the product, YOUR FRIENDS are the product”

because if you tell Facebook everything about YOU, that _may _only be your own business. But if you first force ME to stay on Facebook to talk with you, and then start telling Facebook where I was and why (you know, the “X tagged you and 50 more people in a picture, or as attending event Z” stuff), that’s definitely NOT “your business only” anymore.

Whoever the product is, however, the issue I’m talking about is that all us in the audience _already knew that problem (as I said, this is a general issue, also valid for my own talk, I’d assume). Why there are no Consumer Associations, or Human Rights NGOs at congresses like fOSSa? are Why topics and solutions like those of Day 3 of fOSSa almost completely absent_ from the meetings, and general awareness, of those other organizations? Heck, they should be even more passionate than us software geeks to promote them, shouldn’t they? What are we doing wrong?

(*) In case you’re wondering why I keep instisting on this “instead” of actually coding such a solutions, helping other projects etc… please note that all those answers are already online.

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