20000 leagues under the web:
Alice wants to send an email to Bob. Alice's address
is email@example.com, while Bob's is firstname.lastname@example.org. In our
world they can easily do it, but imagine a parallel universe
in which Alice cannot send it because her domain is
amail.com while Bob's is bmail.com. In order to communicate,
Alice would need to sign up in bmail.com provider or Bob
should sign up in amail.com services. Otherwise they could
not communicate. It sounds crazy, doesn't it? Why couldn't
amail.com talk to bmail.com, you could ask? It would not
Now imagine a world in which Alice wants to send an
instantaneous message to Bob. Alice uses an app called
Asap and Bob uses another called Belegram. Unfortunately,
Asap and Belegram cannot talk to each other so, unless
Alice installs Belegram or Bob downloads Wasap they cannot
communicate. This also sounds crazy, doesn't it? What an
absurd parallel world! But wait! This sounds quite familiar!
It is perfectly reasonable that different companies like
amail or bmail exist. It is also understandable that many
messaging apps like Asap and Belegram appear. They provide
variety, competition, different choices to appeal to
different people. But why in the world wouldn't talk to
each other? We live in a world artificially separated in
countries, entities delimited by imaginary lines, but
even they, sometimes, talk to each other. Why are messaging
apps are even more isolated than countries?
The reason is related to the phenomenon called "the winner takes all".
If you build a communication platform and you don't allow
other platforms to communicate with you, two very different
things can happen. First, and most probable, you will
never succeed so you disappear from the market. But, if by
any chance of fortune, you appear on the market first, or
one of the firsts, or if being billionare you buy the
most popular platform already working, then you can easily
aglutinate and control most of the users of the world.
You may think "but people would never accept such a thing!"
Yet they do. A self locking phenomenon occurs here. Imagine
a new set of platforms is developed and made available.
First of all: will you notice they are there? Will they
have the resources of paying for expensive ads? Will they be
announced at other platforms that don't want to lose their
users? And second: even if some users notice, and they
install such new software, they will end having a contact
list that rarely will surpass five users, if they are lucky.
These enthusiasts can try to convince others, but most
people will not see a point in changing to another service
that feels like a field of crickets and tumbleweeds.
Some users will be convinced, though, and they will give
it a try, just to discover that such apps have not a fancy
design, that they lack features they have on their
usual apps, or even that it has some bugs. Of course, their
usual services are backed by thousands of paid developers
and designers, while these alternative and ugly imitators
are the product of some "geek people playing in their free time".
But somehow these alternative choices keep insisting. They
seem to claim that they, unless the others, respect your
freedom. Freedom? Am I not using all these apps for free?
No, the alternative people will answer, not freedom as in
free beer: freedom as liberty.
Ah, they say, but I send from
my apps whatever I like. I have not suffered any kind of
censorship. No, the others answer, it is more subtle than
that: freedom to audit your code, freedom to not being
spied, freedom to... wait a minute, why would I want to
read some code? why should I care to be spied? I don't have
nothing to be ashamed of, and I want the police to be able
to do their job finding criminals. No, they answer, it is
even subtler than that, it is just that... But at this
point nobody is listening anymore. Who wants to spend such
a time and energy in these ultrasubtle matters? They are
happy sharing memes and pictures with friends and family.
Life is too short to worry about these what if scenarios
or about such creepy issues. Use this yourself and chat
with your other nerd mates and leave us alone. Alone,
what an irony! Leave us together, they should have said!
For two weeks, I have been exploring the world of XMPP and
Matrix, which are two protocols for instant messaging. Since
I am not an expert, and not trying to become one, I will
write many technical mistakes, like for example calling
them protocols or saying that they are for messaging. I
am sure they are designed for more things than instant
messaging and I am also sure that they have an awful
collection of technical terms to distinguish an infinite
array of subtle differences. I don't care. I understand
experts need terminology, but we the users don't want to
know about it. To me, they are protocols to send messages,
A word worth learning is federation. The ability to talk
between different providers by using the same protocol is
called federation, just like a federation of states talk
to each other to pursue a general good while each
retains its own idiosyncrasies. E-mail is federated, while
messaging is usually not. Enter Matrix and XMPP, which are
two choices to have messages the same
federated way we have email.
As a software developer, you could build your own client,
which is a software that is able to understand and use
the protocol in order to talk to other people. Or you can
run an instance, so that you host a node in such networking
web. But these are technicalities of little importance to
a user like me.
Let's say I want to use XMPP. How can I obtain an address to
start sending messages? Like there is amail.com or wmail.org
we also find providers that can give you an address. Will
they give this for free? Most of them yes, but wait! Again
free? Free as in free beer, gratis?
Should I trust them? Will
I have to run my own service because I cannot trust anyone?
Should I be paying for just sending a few irrelevant
messages with friends? Why should I trust this geek
XMPP provider while at the same time shitting on those
big companies providing free services as well?
Let's say I signed for a xmpp service, for free, gratis.
Just to explore. Then I discovered a new thing. When you
sign up for Asap, you also have the app to already start
sending messages. This app is the "client". But here in the
XMPP world I had the address but there was no app ready to
use. So I had to find one. On mobile, an app called
Conversations was available not only on popular app markets,
but also in f-droid.org. Neat! And once installed I saw
that they offer (paid) accounts as well. Not for now, but
good to know, and since it is a federated thing I can use
the address I got for free in the app. Cool! Is this what
they mean by freedom? Let's see!
First cold fact: even importing contacts from my list,
nobody known to me is using XMPP so I cannot chat with
anyone. So, not surrendering, I discover that there are
chat rooms, public places to go and share messages. Maybe
there are private groups as well, who knows. Once in some
of them I start noticing they call these groups MUC, as
multi user chat. OK, but I really hate jargon when you
don't know if you are talking to an expert or not. It is
very frequently used as a tribal signal. You use the
jargon, and you understand it, ergo you belong. This
reminds me of most math teachers who punish their students
because the say "triangle with two same sides and one
not equal" instead of "isosceles". These teachers are
complete idiots. They confuse math with jargon, and they
try to make a career out of it. And they, of course, make
students hate this kind of pseudomath which in fact is
just jargon. Jargon can be useful for college math (but
never indispensable) but using it against children? Damn.
Same for other things.
As I want to chat with my newly installed client I start
writing some opinions here and there. I also discover that
my Linux distribution, xubuntu, also has a pre-installed
XMPP client called Pidgin. So I introduce my username and
password and I now can use XMPP on the computer. Great!
I start to receive my first responses. Many of them are
so rude! What a welcome! Since I am new in those tribes,
the room lord frequently appears to mark its territory,
with the accomplice silence of the rest of users. Of course
these rude room-lords are properly called administrators or
moderators or things like that, but man, what a way to
welcome a newcomer! It reminded me some movies of the
Far West, when you entered the bar, with the piano out
of tune playing ragtime, the ladies watching from upstairs,
the swinging door still squeaking, a deafening silence...
Fortunately, some nice users popped here and there, and
not all room-lords were so dark.
Another curious thing is that rooms seemed to be ordered
by topic, so God forbid you to talk about something
off-topic. "There is a room for that!". Even off-topic is
a topic now! As if most interesting things in life would not
come from the boundaries of the so called topics. The
same happens with sciences: physics, chemistry, geology...
or inside them: astronomy, solid-state, organic... These
departments can be useful, but only if you never forget
that they are pure convention, and that the interaction
between them and the whole natural world
is the true endeavour of science. So I learn
that even if you go to the Far West of freedom messages,
idiocy is everywhere. And also lack of real freedom.
There are two types of geeks: those who really understand
things and those who like trying fancy new things
because they look like in the movies, even if they don't
really understand what are they doing. I am on this second
group. And geeks from the first group rapidly notice the
difference. Oh, no, they think, another dumb lost in our
territory. Why do they even try? But dumbness has one
thing: that you don't care about what others think, so
I decided to explore different clients,
especially command line one so as to be even closer
to movies, and also
mysterious things started to happen in the clients
I was using (except Conversations which always
For example, messages
that I sent or received while using the mobile (Conversations
app) but while being offline at the computer, never
arrived to the computer when I launched the desktop programs.
What a weird thing! This would be unacceptable in the
world of Asap or Belegram! I asked, again the dumb man
crossing the swinging door. Almost nobody cared to answer.
Some people threw some jargon at me, how nice. I replied
with naive clarity,
which seems not to be so welcome in these
lands of forced cold-coolness.
Some people replied nicely, but also ambiguously,
which made me wonder if I was the only one losing messages
in limbo. I still don't know. Then, when going to a place
called github where the experts say expert things and
improve their code, I find that the jargon word for that
was MAM. Message Archive Management or something like that.
So I go back to some rooms and ask: do you support MAM?
Oh, they thought, let's reply since it must be one of ours.
NO, some client-rooms say. We plan to support this somewhere
in the future. What a cool way to say "yes, we are all
losing our offline messages in limbo". Maybe they don't
suffer this because they all run servers that are all the
time running, which raises many environmental flags.
Others replied: yes, we support it, but not in this version
you are using. Oh, but my version is the very last LTS
version. (I am throwing jargon at you as a joke: LTS means
Long Term Support, so that you have a stable operating
system instead of the new of the newest with many bugs). So
are you saying that my up-to-date distribution brings
me an already old-fashioned version of your software? Am
I dreaming? No, and there is more. They reply that I, yes,
you are actually reading this,
I, me, a nobody, should contact the
operating system channel (!) in order to ask
them (!!) to include
a newer version of it. Wow! How important I must be!
There were other choices: use flatpak. Sorry, flatwhat?
OK, I google it, oh sorry, I startpage it, oh sorry, I
duckduck it, oh sorry, I p2ppunksearchwhatthefuck it...
is that right now? OK, so I manage to learn what flatpak
is and I install it, but oh, now I don't have encryption
enabled. They say they have not included this the flatpak,
but they will. I of course understand them: they develop
free software, but this does not necessarily mean free
support. They are not paid for this, so I find awesome
that they even have done something already. I really
appreciate their work, but we must remain critical about
the actual result and about the human approach to it.
This list goes on and on. Many clients that are extremely
difficult to install to avoid losing messages, or other
nasty complications. I wonder: why not joining forces
and developing less clients that could be more reliable?
At least for a while.!
Anyway, there are good news after that. After trying many
clients (not all of them of course) I found that both Dino
and Gajim work OK,
but not with the versions offered by the
current operating system repositories (as of 20/11/20).
I needed to upgrade the programs by other means,
which is not
nice for someone using the latest distribution version,
always within long term support (stable) terms. Is XMPP
ready to be proposed as a reliable alternative today, then?
I am not sure. Maybe yes, but someone should convince
me of it.
So using Dino and Gajim at the computer and Conversations
at the mobile I was having a working environment. I could
communicate with encryption and without losing messages.
OK, but with who, and communicate about what? For a whole
week all the content I exchanged was about the software.
Meta content as best. But I want non-technical content
as well. I found some groups, like the Environment one,
(email@example.com) with a very friendly
room-lord that allows off and cross topics. But not much
more. It must be that I have not searched for long enough,
but I have already devoted a lot of time by now.
Then I found a very interesting guy, Arne, who is the
a site called monocles.de, which is a (meta)search engine,
meaning it aggregates results of other search engines
while not tracking you. He also provides xmpp addresses and
cloud and email! Check it at https://monocles.de/ocean/
Why am I sharing this? Because I found, to my amazement,
that the whole thing is running with solar power, but
not only that: the solar station is right there at the
very same roof! This is the kind of content that I like.
This raises the issue of how polluting
are servers. Servers are used everywhere to provide
communications between clients. And they provide quite
a service! Let's say that A wants to exchange messages
with B. But A is not online all the time, and neither is
B. However, the server S is always online (best case
scenario), so A can send a message to S and go to sleep.
When B wakes, S will send the message to B and that's it.
So convenient. But wait... do we really
need a machine running all
This does not sound quite environment-friendly,
or even ethical. These server machines are emitting CO2
all the time. So isn't it nice to have such machines
powered by a "clean" energy? I say "clean" because even
solar and other renewables also have their issues. As with
other things, it is a scale of greys between black and
white. But we must not fall into the black or white trap.
Going a bit further to the white side is worth it, even
if being still at a quite dark grey.
Arne kindly provided me with a nice XMPP address, cloud
and e-mail services, so I am helping trying them and
giving feedback. I would not mind paying to use such
a service, or another similar one who had a closer location
to mine. But will this provider succeed in the market?
Who knows. I wish it will. And we need many more like it.
I also tried Matrix, through a client called Element. I
think the most famous Matrix client was called Riot some
time ago when I was trying to make r0oT (see blog
post 5) work. Maybe
someone wanted a less revolutionary name, I don't know.
I preferred Riot (the name I mean). It works out of the
box and it is evident from the beginning that they have
more people working on it than in XMPP, or so it seems.
From a technical perspective,
it seems more polished and more apt for a new user. But
then I learned that, while each XMPP server hosts its own
content, each matrix server hosts a lot of redundant
information. This is subtle. Redundancy can be a good and
a bad thing. It is good because if one server fails, the
others may not fail and the whole thing can keep running
smoothly. From some perspective, this is a winner approach.
But it is not my perspective.
XMPP servers are much more lightweight,
and even if it does not have the robustness of redundancy,
it can be very reliable if it has a good backup system.
So if a server goes down for some time some things are
not working for a while (so what? are we so mad that we
cannot wait for anything?) but they can be easily restored.
And of course, being lighter, it consumes way less energy,
which means XMPP is right now much more environmentfriendly
than matrix. To me this is a decissive point. Both
protocols are awesome, both open source, both full of
people working for better and more free communications...
But from what I have learned, I prefer XMPP in terms of
simplicity, lightweight and low emissions. Of course I
may be wrong and someone could make my opinion change.
Aside from the technical aspects, I also found little
content that was not technical. Some interesting groups
but very silent. Some room-lords as well... quite a
similar experience to XMPP
There were many more experiences there. Finding interesting
mail lists about amazing projects like gemini, which
made me discover gopher as well. They are "alternative
internets" based on simple plain text and a strong focus
on content, although ironically, most of the content I
found was meta again, that is, content about the container.
Also found a group of Gaians, very nice vegan people,
extremely rude guys, amazing projects and a plethora of
mind blowing activities that could be the end of your
offline life if you would sell your soul to it.
There is a last technical thing worth mentioning. It was
the use of Tox and Jami. Both Peer-to-Peer (P2P) protocols.
P2P means that if A wants to send a message to B, instead
of using a server S as a bridge, A just sends the message
directly to B. But what if B is not online?
Well, you must wait.
What if, by the time B comes online,
you are already offline?
Well, you will need to wait until both are online at the
same time. The messages are not lost: they simply must
wait for the connection to be made between the two. This
may sound very inconvenient, but they don't need a server
running and polluting all the time. They are also free to
communicate without the control of the server, which can
be a nice or a not-nice player. Even if the server is not
unfriendly, governments can easily target them to control
the information flowing through them. For example, reading
the messages if unencrypted, or blocking the servers
so that they can isolate people within a country from
communication with the rest of the world. With P2P no one
knows that you are communicating with somebody. Well, I
am sure the extremely clever people from government
agencies can peak into some communications, but I think
it would be extremely harder for them to do it.
To me, using Tox or Jami is like using a walkie-talkie
with a friend instead of using a mobile phone. But without
the distance limit or the eavesdropping of unencrypted
radio waves. Just amazing. I plan to use P2P messages
I already knew Jami, which I used during the first
with friends for video calls and it worked perfectly well.
Tox is new to me. For chat, it looks better than Jami
because you can have group chats! But the behaviour of
these groups feels quite buggy for now. But what a great
start! Communications without servers! And I don't care
about the waiting thing.
In fact, I consider that, far from being
a limitation, it is a feature. The less you are exposed
to immediacy, the healthier you will stay. And I don't
say this in a paternal way. No, I call this topic because
it is directly related to the topic of freedom.
this long post with some thinking about freedom and some
After two weeks of online adventures that felt like
exploring Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Web, did I gain
more freedom? Short answer: no, but I gained more
The most noticeable
effect was that, since I invested so much time exploring,
learning tech-things, which is a thing that generates
in me a lot of dopamine, I became way dumber than I was.
Lots of new things, things that look exciting, promising
features, hypes, new interactions... this is dopamine's
Disneyland. I could easily spend a whole day with little
food and almost no sleep. Without touching a book or doing
hard thinking at all. Tech-world can seem hard, but in fact
is anything but hard-thinking. Some clever people has
written some code, but that's the end of intelligence there.
The rest is trying to sort out obstacles more due to a
pathological lack of pedagogy permeating this world than
the challenge of a really difficult problem.
So when I woke up from this voyage, I tried to read a
book and experienced a lot of difficulty focusing on it.
My brain was expecting more new things, and wanted the
dopamine with it. Wanted more new users, more news, more
and more... And boy, if you want dopamine forever, you
may have it, because the number of fascinating new things
never ends in such a world. Never. You can spend a hundred
lives in front of your computer and never stop being
amazed. This is really a rivetting thing, but also a very
Not only you lose your mental health with it due to an
overdose of dopamine that renders your brain impatient,
devoid of motivation, with its effort-reward circuits
completely corrupted, but also leaves your body in a
state of shame. Not to mention the state of your spirit,
since nothing will harm your mindfulness more than a
constant exposure to dopamine.
I understand the approach of building a more freedom
respecting tools for communication, but I also see it
as a way of saying: we don't want the drugs offered by
big corporations, so let's build our own.
At the end of the day, the word freedom keeps appearing
and everyone (me included) is using it as a
container in which to fill
whatever meaning interests them more. As I have already
written in my blog post #3, we have lost the ancient
meaning of freedom, which is by far the most interesting
of it. The current meaning (not the free as gratis but
the free as freedom) is a synonym of power. Try building
a sentence with freedom and change the word by power. It
will mean the same. So what is the point of having such
a word if we already had another, and a powerful one, pun
In the ancient sense, freedom is not about what you can do,
but about what you want. More specifically, it is about
whether what you want is what you really want. It is
about asking whethere your thoughts and volitions are
really determined by you, or at least whether they drive
you against yourself or not. Are your actions the
product of manipulation? Do you consider yourself as
a manipulated being? Are you aware that the less
manipulated you think you are the more manipulated you
actually are? Etc.
If we had a truly freedom software, it could be a single
line of code like echoing: don't use software at all! This
is of course (half) a joke. But now being serious, a free
software should not just be about your power
of communication (the modern meaning of the word),
to be free from corporations services,
but also about your truly ancient-meaning
freedom, like to be free of yourself!
This would mean facilitating
abstention from the software itself, avoiding all the
mechanisms of dopamine generation that are the ones that
really slave you. I feel sorry for those that, raising
the flag of freedom against the tyranny of Twitter,
they build a
Twitter clone like GNUsocial or Mastodon
where they can "freely" continue vomiting
hate and haste or other forms of manipulation/addiction.
These two weeks have been an exploration of a world that
is focused on individual powered technology, which is
great, and I have found many aspects of it that can be
relevant to fight environmental pollution. But
I have not found a trace
of ancient freedom. I mainly found tech-addicts, which is
to say tech-slaves, self-recognized or not. And I have
seen how I was on the verge to become one as well. Most
people won't agree with me in this (I don't care), but
it is pointless to fight a dictionary word. If they want
to call this freedom, so be it. I still prefer to use
freedom for the ancient meaning and translating
accordingly when I hear the modern meaning is used. No
problem. But why not calling it individual power software
instead of free software?
It is very clear to me that
what it does is regaining the power of communications to
the individual users, but it is not doing a single step
to regain its critical thinking, to regain its healthy
dopamine levels, to think more about what is important...
In short, freeing yourself from corporation services does
not make you free: it makes you more powerful, but power
can be used in ancient-free and in ancient-nonfree ways.
Where is such problem addressed? I think it is not even
being recognized as such, from what I know, which is,
admittedly, very little.
It has been, in all, a worthy experience.
But now I must come back
to the offline world, where I can stay away from these
connectivity-dopamine traps. There are also many
offline-dopamine traps out there, like love, for
example! I will write about this one day, for now keep
it as a provocation.
To me, technology is great as a user if I can
set it up fast and use it so as I have MORE time to do
other things like on/offline thinking or off/online CONTENT.
this software needs more user time-investment, then it is
a bad start, perhaps even less freeing than using a
corporation medium where you focus on for example climate
To gain individual power for software use is a war worth
fighting for, but, to me, only if you have already:
1) gone vegan and stopped thinking the world is ours
2) divested your money from non-ethical banks
3) minimized your consumption and waste to the minimum
4) then I see it is time to fight corporations on a
If you are fighting in 4) without having fought in 1),
2) and 3), then maybe you should reconsider your
Notice that even neoliberal
people use the terms "liberal" (from libre),
which out from the US
means "don't regulate markets so companies can behave as
violently as they want", or
"free market" which of course addresses the "freedom"
(=power) to do whatever they want.
When we don't care about what
words mean they become empty so that everyone fills the
content they prefer.
We could imagine a world where people were free of
corporation-based internet and at the same time
complete slaves of their own products. There are two
related but different fights for freedom. Let's fight