A friend from a project started over 15 years ago, pointed me at the Libre Hosters gathering in Amsterdam so, I thought, hey! that sounds interesting. I joined the irc chat room, and before long booked tickets to Amsterdam. Travelling by Eurostar would have been fun, but sadly it was twice the price, and would have took an extra day of travelling, which wasn’t available, so a return on KLM to Schipol was organised.

Travel to Amsterdam was uneventful, apart from temporarily having my passport taken from me on entrance to the Netherlands, and travel across the city using the Metro and Tram was easy. So I headed for initial informal gathering on Friday 09/11/2018 at laglab.org, which is part of the De Binnenpret collective, a building collective housing various cultural and political initiatives. During the evening more people arrived, from different collectives and organisations, and the conversation ranged across various topics. It was surprising ( or perhaps not! ) to find that we had so many comrades in common across Europe and beyond. Subjects for conversation ranged from technical details on deploying services, how to cooperate on sharing services, how to define the community, how to scale, when to decentralise…

The chat went on until after midnight, eventually I gave up and went to sleep around 2am.

Saturday 10th, we headed to techinc.nl, the venue for the next couple of days. Techinc is a hackerspace in ACTA, a large building that used to be a  Dental school, but now housing over 160 artists and RADION, a 24 hour nightclub. More people arrived, and the event started with introductions

Ten groups presented brief introductions of themselves.  They represented quite a variety of organisations, some more established, others nascent, some more active, some more dormant.  It was great to hear about the different organisations and there see what services and processes they were using. 

notes from the meeting where collectives described themselves
notes from the meeting where collectives describe themselves

After the presentation by the people physically at the meeting,  a video conference was held with the French Chatons collective, which has the wonderful slogan

“The collective gathers structures that wish to avoid collect and centralisation of personal data within digital silos like GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft).

Framasoft, one of the initiators of the Chatons project sees itself not as a tech project, because tech is too complicated! It prefers to see itself as a project to “empower the commons” whilst providing a number of of decentralised hosting services for it’s members. Framasoft is relatively big project, employing a number of paid workers.
It’s difficult to build systems that are truly decentralised, especially when the groups and organisations within them have very different capacities, one of the key issues that was mentioned from Chatons and Framasoft was how to prevent organisations with greater capacity and resources becoming more “centred” within networks.

After the introductions with from the organisations a complicated conversation occurred around definitions of a librehosting organisation and what types of content should or could be carried by a librehoster. This was a quite a difficult discussion, as we tried to get an idea of what would be “allowed speech” and how “federation” such as in protocols such as Matrix or ActivityPub affect hosting providers.  After several hours of back and forth around the subject a consensus started that, rather than defining what was allowed, an agreement around shared  norms and values of a librehosters would be better place to define the network at this point.  

There was then discussion about how groups can interoperate. An initial proposal of each member organisation to share a virtual machine with another peer, for external monitoring of each others networks .  This was quite a neat idea, to build a “monitoring ring”, however it didn’t get immediate traction with everyone. However it did start another discussion about information sharing, and a proposal for an api to publish the information about our services got everyone excited, and quickly a variation Space API was hacked together.   You can see it here https://lab.libreho.st/librehosters/directory/  

Fuelled by a feeling of success and collaboration, the libreho.st was purchased, and quickly the infrastructure required for a domain (DNS, email, and web hosting) was put together, distributed across the participating organisations. 

Day 2 started back again at techinc.nl and had two areas of work

  1. A discussion on governance
  2. practical work on implementing services on top of the domain.  A minimum of a gitlab service, a discourse forum, and a keycloak federated login service. 

The governance discussion was important, but in the end did not result in the production of a formal process.  However there was a clear understanding that face to face meetings would have a priority over discourse, and discourse over matrix/irc chat when it came to any conflict resolution.

So to sum up… 3 days of conversations and hacking, contacts and friends made across Europe, and fine start to grow some collaboration on. 

Written by Kate