Tue 30 Jun 2020 2:28PM

Next generation 'room' services and stewarding of digital tools infrastructure

M mike_hales Public Seen by 142

An exchange around Big Blue Button in OpenCoop triggered this thread. Reposted here, as a starter. The questions are around . .

  • persistent shared video-mediated workspace ('rooms') as an element of digital infrastructure which has now become basic? but is (politically and functionally) flaky and incomplete?

  • affordances that collaborator-organiser-coproducers need to be provided with in this kind of workspace (=use cases? social intentions? genres and cultural modes of collaboration?); and

  • how 'public' versions of such infrastructure can be effectively stewarded, as commons, as ecosystems. Including stewarding the design, production and mobilisation of large bodies of FLOSS code that will be needed, to give the necessary affordances to an infrastructure of 'useful rooms' for ongoing collaboration within distributed practices of commons development?


mike_hales Tue 30 Jun 2020 2:32PM

Reposting this thread from Open2020, with encouragement from @Danyl Strype . .

Oli SB · Jun 25

There is now more detail about Murmurations - and a video from the Presentations and Demos at OPEN 2020 here: https://murmurations.network/blog/

Danyl Strype · Jun 26

This is a fantastic introduction to protocols! Thanks for this Oli. Again, I'm really sad I missed out on participating live.


Blue sky thinking; it would be amazing if BBB [Big Blue Button, open source conference software] could produce webinar recordings where the viewer can choose what to see as they watch; speaker, slides, audience, or a combo thereof.


mike_hales Tue 30 Jun 2020 2:40PM

mike_hales · culture hacker, geek of another kind · Jun 26

amazing if BBB could produce webinar recordings where the viewer can choose what to see

Sadly, BBB is miles away from that capability. It takes loads of hands-on editing to get the re-publishable video extracts that Oli is putting up in OpenCoop. However, the entire conference stream (video thumbnails, slides, chat) can be viewed in the BBB front end, Greenlight. https://ca.meet.coop/playback/presentation/2.0/playback.html?meetingId=1f7e85c99e0d0f6572888c75c883a7eb0e605c5d-1591858104685&t=3h51m44s

Use the slide view on the left, to navigate to a segment if the (14 hour) conference.

Amendment: The file at the above link is now a 404. Although sysadmins had taken steps to prevent such resources being pruned, the install process for BBB resulted in all history being deleted. An example of how unfriendly sysadmin machinery can be for FLOSS apps, and how painfully users depending on 'friendly' front-ends can discover such things out. An ongoing part of the story in this post . .

In meet.coop we’re discovering that BBB/Greenlight is very oriented to the back end (server ops, docker containers, etc) and barely engages with the reality of how movement organisations and working collaboratives (‘circles’ in the DisCO model, for example) will want to use video ‘roomspace’ as persistent shared workspaces for ongoing work, and to configure different workspaces to suit different kinds of working-together. BBB/Greenlight doesn’t even monitor room usage and server resource usage - sysadmins have to write custom scripts if anybody wants to handle anything so basic as ‘fair use’ or distribution of participation, across a community of rooms, for example.

The whole architecture is oriented to one-off drop-ins. No support for organisation and continuity at all - just glorified ‘chat’. Huh! The video meeting medium has a LONG way to go to meet movement-organisation needs. I don’t think the commercial versions of the tech are any different - there is an individualist, ad-hoc, stream-of-chat mindset. Integration with the “trinity” (Rich Bartlett/Nati Lombardo) and the (DisCO) “stack” of collaborative tools (esp shared document handling) is at Square One-minus. But as ‘the trinity’ makes clear, chat is just one of the capabilities that organisers and collaborators depend on.

Our movements need to get cracking, and develop some (app) integrations and front-ends, to support organisational integrations and circles, if we’re to have anything that counts as movement infrastructure.

Flame over ;-)

The Open2020 conference has been a big learning curve in this regard.


mike_hales Tue 30 Jun 2020 2:41PM

Danyl Strype · Jun 26

Sorry if my little grizzle rubbed you up the wrong way Mike :D You raise some valid points here.

Sadly, BBB is miles away from that capability

As is every other video chat tool, which is why I started that final comment with "blue skies " ;) But from what you describe, what I want is already possible by viewing the recording on BBB itself, which is exciting. Can I do that or is it admin-only? If I can, how do I find it?

The whole architecture is oriented to one-off drop-ins. No support for organisation and continuity at all

That's because it was built to add digital classroom features to existing LMS like Moodle and Canvas, which already provide those things. As I mentioned in the VOICE report, Greenlight is a newer project, which allows BBB to be used as a standalone service. Give it time ... or money! ;)

BBB+Greenlight is not intended to meet all "movement-organisation needs", just as Loomio isn't. Each aims to one thing really well (video conferencing, deliberative decision-making). I agree 100% that ...

Our movements need to get cracking, and develop some (app) integrations and front-ends, to support organisational integrations and circles

That's my goal for the cat-herding I do in the OAE group, fediverse.party, and the web forums for SocialHub/ ActivityPub, Solid, talk.Feneas.org, Humane Tech Community, Snowdrift.coop, etc. Give me time ... or money ;)


mike_hales Tue 30 Jun 2020 2:45PM

mike_hales · culture hacker, geek of another kind · Jun 26

BBB+Greenlight is not intended to meet all "movement-organisation needs", just as Loomio isn't. Each aims to one thing really well (video conferencing, deliberative decision-making). I agree 100% that ...

Me too. Except . . seems to me BBB+Greenlight doesnt do the 'room' thing really well at all . . if what we want is a work room for some kind of productive circle, with persistent 'furnishings' (resources, tools) for collaborative co-production (which isn't what the LMS world is basically about in the first place?). If all we want is to stop and chat on the street, and be filmed by CCTV, it's cool. I think the expectations that we have of 'rooms' have to be really lifted. I don't think (from Open2020 experience) it even does conferencing well. What it does, in an OK way, is meetings with a few active speakers (classrooms, yukk). Feedbacks from multiple breakout rooms to a main session - essential in engaging really complex systems - are very poorly supported, for example. No equivalent for good-old flipcharts/butcher paper posters ;-) Which can be stuck up all around the walls of the plenary room. Generating a new context for what happens next.

Same is true - as you noted - of video 'conferencing' generally. This is a basic challenge for the technology, not a BBB issue.

A video room has no intrinsic ongoing context. I think maybe context should reside in the 'core' app bundle (BBB+Greenlight front-end) not in a 'parent' frame like Moodle or Canvas or Wordpress, which links thro plugins. I think ongoing shared context is the essence of a meeting in a room between collaborators, and I think that (eg) Wordpress is quite likely to be the secondary rather than the primary co-working frame for a well configured suite of workrooms. Wordpress has all the development effort and plugins (bcos everybody loves to blog and publicise and sell) but that doesn't make it the primary app, in the pairing with a 'room' platform. The room is where the work gets done, rather than the blog trail or the storefront or whatever?

it was built to add digital classroom features to existing LMS like Moodle and Canvas, which already provide [resource supports and process supports]

That explains much, thanks. But as a stand-alone bundle, it offers no hint that it's moving towards other distinct kinds of usage. The LMS use-case isn't a lot of help for real-world collaborative work, seems to me. Different kind of work?

Give it time ... or money! ;)

I'm impatient. And I don't feel we have time.We need the distributed collaborative workspace NOW. The world is going up in flames. The commons are urgent - and the commons of digital means are geek enclaves that are really hard to manage, despite all the praise for P2P culture?

OK with you @Danyl Strype if I copy this mini-thread to OAE? There are further things I'd like to link in more explicitly . . like the Open2020 session on tools infrastructure, and trinity/stack/specials, referenced above.


mike_hales Tue 30 Jun 2020 2:45PM

Danyl Strype · Jun 27

OK with you if I copy this mini-thread to OAE?

Funny, I was going to ask you to do just that :)


Bob Haugen Tue 30 Jun 2020 3:01PM

Glad to see this more detailed feedback about the Open2020 BBB experience. I had, unfortunately, recommended it to OSHWA based on the earlier report of a successful experience. And I also see that social.coop has decided to join meet.coop which hosts BBB sessions.

Should I rescind my recommendation?


mike_hales Tue 30 Jun 2020 3:31PM

meet.coop is working hard on formulating its service offering in the light of hands-on piloting, and is constrained as a start-up by (human and financial) resource shortages, small-coop economics, practicalities of coop-to-coop federation and shortcomings in the available software (eg the front-end for administering bundles of rooms). Thus, the service at first will be of an early-adopter Alpha-release nature, and users will need to be ready to go through a bit of a learning process in how the coop membership works, and how the service evolves and becomes richer.

A lot will rest at first on fair-use agreements, rather than nicely-targeted service bundles. But the current server provision (Koumbit coop, Montreal) is good, so long as lots of users don't go crazy with big rooms and lots of cameras on. As revenue comes in, load balancing across multiple servers is part of the roadmap. All good.

The BBB tech itself works, no problem, the challenges are more about the large-scale administration of the front end, as a user-facing platform and a paid-for service. A BBB room works fine (depending on browsers being used and of course broadband connections) and quite large numbers can participate (with cameras off, preferably). If an organisation just wants a virtual space to meet in - especially, in smallish teams - a BBB room will do the job (in a slightly different way than Zoom/jitsi but the learning curve isn't too great). At this stage, with regard to meet.coop (there are other providers of BBB access too) the issue is more about wanting to contribute to the coop project per se, and engaging the challenge of putting core infrastructure in the commons, rather than in corporate hands. Being a commons-cooperative federated venture is a big part of the proposition.

In the next month, in meet.coop, things will firm up membership-wise and offering-wise. If a large or complex organisation with high levels of usage wants to join, it might be good to have a chat with meet.coop. It is a small start-up.


Greg Cassel Tue 30 Jun 2020 5:06PM

Good topic; thanks! I'm not here often but here's an intentionally broad generalization: the stewarding of persistent teleconferencing 'rooms' has most of the same challenges as the stewarding of physical settings & rooms. There are of course special technical challenges to stewarding digital resources, just as there are special challenges to stewarding a physical setting with physical risk factors, but I think the primary issues are the same: who gets to make decisions & how? Anyone can try to be a benevolent dictator, and some people can perhaps succeed on very small scales where shared demands don't get too bottlenecked; however, few people IMO are good at collaborative decision process which is genuinely inclusive and sufficiently speedy & efficient. Unfortunately, I think our survival as a species depends on developing inclusive and efficient decision process which can scale to all levels of organizing. It's a big problem & that's why I won't generally talk about much else.

One of the key issues IMO is to be clear if there in fact any final arbiters/ governers of potential conflicts within a specific context or domain. Final arbiters are based usually (during this immature phase of 'civilization') on either (1) informal co-working agreements or (2) legal ownership rights. Ownership often applies ultimately. Software & other information resources can be open sourced, and that's great, but even activities which are based mostly on open resources often depend also (either directly or indirectly) upon proprietary resources. I think it's bad policy to ignore any ownership structures which could be invisible most of the time, but which will almost inevitably take center stage in extreme conflicts (unless nation-state governments collapse, but that's another story!) I'm all about identifying and being super clear about ownership issues wherever they do apply. If you can develop a system which involves no proprietary rights whatsoever, well good luck although it'd also lack legal protections including the reduced personal legal risks in incorporated activities. (Actually I wish I could focus deeply on reducing the legal risks of unincorporated collective activities; others might have important learnings on that front.)

Of course, stewardship is not the same as governance or ownership. People can and IMO often should steward resources which they don't "own" legally or otherwise. But let's please be clear when & where ownership applies to any supposedly common resource.

Stewards can and IMO must suggest guidelines indicating the preferred use-cases for specific resources, and any discouraged behaviors. Stewards who are also owners must sometimes establish restrictions and prohibitions. Authority matters, even though many of us are trying to develop inclusive & distributive governance practices.

To end on a more positive note: assuming that society doesn't collapse and we get to keep on developing digital networking technology, I do think that non-ownership, non-coercive processes of stewardship & facilitation will become increasingly important and (through trial and error) effective. We'll get better at stewarding unowned digital resources, and those learnings will benignly infect our attitudes towards other resources. Our species will somehow learn to become a relatively healthy and whole family. I'm pretty optimistic actually although I see plenty of disaster potentials, and it seems important to create some informative time capsules for others to learn from in case we disappear.


mike_hales Tue 30 Jun 2020 5:27PM

A response very much in the spirit of the posting @Greg Cassel thanks - for example the way you focused on awareness of ownership and property, and contrast stewarding with these, and imply that working in this field is some kind of 'dance' which needs a lot of self-consciousness.

When I get another bit of time I'll post some material from the recent Open2020 confeence, where a session - approaching the matter of stewarding of infrastructure - explored relationships between classic P2P open source rationales and full-fledged commoning (alongside classic consumer coop relations, and roots-movement traditions of governance). I have a strong sense that although all bring insights and relevant frames, none of these can be done in 'pure' form in relation to everything that needs to be in the commons, and some new kind of hybrid mode is going to be needed (since full-fledged commoning is arduous dedicated labour, and most folks in any context have their eggs already in other baskets, and just want 'a service' rather than a lifetime of dedication).

stewarding of persistent teleconferencing 'rooms' has most of the same challenges as the stewarding of physical settings & rooms

I think I broadly have the same feeling. But am very aware of how easy it is (for a skilled facilitator) to furnish a physical space with coproduced material that gives history and context to the present action; and how very hard it is to do this for distributed participants in a digital 'space'. There's a great need for interactively manipulable representations of complex systemic stuff, that can be held in the digital space and 'performed' with by participants, during a live session. My sense is, this kind of technology is almost at zero - tho corporate tech like the Miro whiteboard has made a powerful start on stuff that I think has no good free software equivalent (despite plenty of attention to mapping and to graphs). If I have one ambition specifically for for BBB, it's that this FLOSS tech should be developed, and integrated into the presentation space. A 10-year trajectory, a least 🤔


Greg Cassel Wed 1 Jul 2020 3:15PM

Thanks Mike for the thoughtful & detailed response! Yes there are technical challenges to teleconferencing, but personally I've found simple screensharing to be extremely helpful in going over intended subject material, especially if that material includes diagrams or other models of systems. Screensharing enables shared visual focus on almost any type of software tool, without everyone needing to use the same software, although that's often desirable anyway. Of course it's important for the meeting or session facilitation role (possibly relayed, like a "baton") and thus screensharing permission to be mutually understood throughout a meeting.

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