Backbone 409

How to offer trusted services for a decade or more?

Keywords: sustainability, work, human resources, responsibility, turnover

Summary: This roundtable will discuss the challenges of providing stable services for the long haul by examining both ephemeral groups, as well as several organisations which have continued to run email and other services for a decade or longer. We will discuss various organisational models and how they impact sustainability and resiliency to both external repression and internal strife.

Providing online services entails great responsibility regarding data integrity, continued development and long-term availability. Alternatives to commercial services which are offered by self-organised groups rightly meet with skepticism from potential users. What happens if the developers and administrators decide to do something else with their lives and move on to another project? What happens if the developers are all in jail? All the data invested in the legacy project can become useless, be that the Lorea social network 1 or a Drupal 5 website 2. How can we live up to the responsibilities implied by the trust users invest in our software and services? Or, how to offer trusted email addresses for a decade or more?

Radical technology collectives like Nadir 3, Autistici/Inventati 4, PUSCII 5, 6 and Riseup 7 have provided mailboxes and other services for more than a decade, on a donation basis and in defiance of repression. The alterglobalisation movement canonised new forms of resistance and movement building, but it was also characterised by the emphemerality of local groups and the rise and fall of global networks like Peoples’ Global Action and Indymedia. All those withered away with the end of that cycle of struggle. However, some radical technology collectives continued their work.

Just after the eschatological Snowden revelations two commercial companies selling trusted services – Lavabit 8 and Silent Circle’s email branch 9 decided to cease their operations because their organisational model was no longer viable. Meanwhile, new requests for services received by Riseup and Autistic/Inventati nearly doubled after the NSA scandal. These and other radical technology collectives are still afloat.

Meanwhile, lives and circumstances change, hopefully the collective attracts new members, and manage to invest enough work to stay relevant. Alternatively, members may realise that their work is not managable any more and provide a migration path away from their services. In this roundtable we discuss how to face these challenges of longevity.

  1. Lorea is a large and featureful social networking software geared towards self-organisation, and adopted widely mostly through the website ↩

  2. Drupal does not provide a clear upgrade path from version 5 to version 6. ↩

  3. Nadir is a radical technology collective based in Hamburg, founded in 1994. ↩

  4. Autistici/Inventati is a radical technology collective from Italy, founded in 2001. ↩

  5. PUSCII is a radical technology collective from Utrecht, founded in 1999. ↩

  6. is an autonomous server collective started in Dijon in 2004. ↩

  7. Riseup is a collective started in Seattle, in 2000 which provides email, lists, and other communication tools. ↩

  8. Lavabit closed down their operations as a response to pressure from the authorities to cooperate in spying on their users, one of which was Edward Snowden. ↩

  9. Silent Circle provides several private and secure information and communication services and it is associated with Bruce Schneider, a legendary cryptographer. ↩