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Updates: ActivityPub Conference, and more

By Christopher Lemmer Webber on Tue 01 October 2019

NOTE: This update also appeared on my Patreon account. If you're reading the below and it sounds like I'm doing a lot of useful work, consider becoming a patron!

Hello all! It's been a couple of months since I've gotten out an update; much has happened.

First of all, ActivityPub Conf happened and was a big success! The video team got things recorded an uploaded so you can watch talks from the event, including my keynote (the audio quality is a bit messed up on this one, the others are better) and Mark Miller's keynote. The other talks were all also very excellent; I'm not going to iterate them all here because you can already go watch them! I think you will find there are many thematic threads between the videos.

We had about 40 people at the event; the first day was spent on talks and the second day was an "unconference" where groups self-organized to discuss various topics of mutual interest. One common thread was about the kinds of directions I've been pushing for in Spritely: distributed encrypted storage (Datashards, with Serge Wroclawski leading the conversation on that), object capabilities (OcapPub), stamps, etc. It was interesting to watch from the start to the end of the unconference day; particularly, the Pleroma folks were there and gave a lot of feedback. Towards the start of the day I think there was much more skepticism, but towards the end we were hearing belief and interest that these kinds of things could and should be implemented and would be of real use to fediverse participants. Lain of Pleroma in particular expressed that it helped to realize that even though I'm presenting all these ideas, they don't need to be implemented all at once; we can take them on piecemeal, and incrementalism is a perfectly valid approach. (Also "OcapPub" sounds like a new protocol, whereas it's really just a way-to-use ActivityPub mostly as it already exists. Maybe time for a new name for that?)

Anyway, ActivityPub Conf was a massive success; thank you everyone who came and participated. It's clear after APConf to me just how much of a difference getting folks together can make. For those who couldn't make it, let's thank the video team (DeeAnn Little, Sebastian Lasse, Markus Feilner) for getting those videos up!

On the topic of Datashards, we have a website and a nice logo now (courtesy of mray, who also made the ActivityPub logo). Serge Wroclawski (co-host with myself of Libre Lounge) has been increasingly helping with the project; before ActivityPub Conference and Rebooting Web of Trust we worked to make sure both of our implementations could talk to each other (Serge's Python implementation and my Racket implementation). At RWoT we showed a demo where I "beamed" the death star plans to Serge's computer. (We used the same content storage server, I uploaded the death star plans, rendered the QR code on my laptop, Serge scanned the QR code from his laptop, downloaded the file and showed off the plans from his computer... with the storage server having no idea about the contents of the data we were storing there!) People really liked that demo; we have had conversations about whether Datashards may serve as a foundational system for some other tools being made in that space; more later. In the meanwhile, I'm happy we have two applications in two different languages successfully being able to read and write each others' immutable datashards updates; the next step is making sure that mutability works the same.

Rebooting Web of Trust was also a very interesting event; the highlight being that I am now collaborating with some great folks on a secure user interfaces paper. We are taking the existing Mastodon web user interface and retooling it to reduce risks such as phishing, and open the path for more peer to peer systems (very timely, since that's the direction we want to take things). Unfortunately the amount of work to do on the paper is rather huge; it may take a while until the paper is complete. In the meanwhile, the Petnames paper has turned out to be a pre-requisite for the secure UIs one; that paper has been nearly complete for some time so I guess I have to finish the work. I recently added some new UI mockups to it, but there is still more to do.

Now that these conferences are over, I am putting time towards Spritely's core vision again: distributed virtual worlds. The foundational layer for that is Spritely Goblins, an ocap-secure distributed programming environment on top of Racket. I really enjoy hacking on this and I am happy to get time back to working on it. A topic of discussion came up between myself and Mark Miller at Rebooting Web of Trust though; am I unnecessarily duplicating effort between myself and the Agoric folks? In particular, they are building something equivalent (and arguably more featureful) to Spritely Goblins named SwingSet. This would run on top of Javascript rather than Racket/Lisp/Scheme. I have found that in the past I have been not very happy when working with Javascript, but Mark suggested I take a look at Agoric's Jessie subset of Javascript, which Mark described as "closer to Scheme" (not syntactically, but in terms of language-cleanliness). It does seem nicer than Javascript; when I admitted to Mark that I am addicted to parenthetical syntax, Mark posed the question about whether building a parenthetical version of Jessie would be less work than reproducing all the other things that Agoric is doing. It's a good point; I don't know. I'm unhappy with the idea of pivoting, but I do feel like it's probably true that due diligence suggests I should consider it carefully. It is true at least that I would probably reach a broader userbase more quickly with the option of Javascript syntax; it's hard for me to deny that. I will probably explore it with some smaller tests of Agoric's stuff. But in the meanwhile, I currently plan to release a very small version of the game demo using the toolkit I already am building while testing Agoric's infrastructure in parallel. I suspect we'll see the first user-visible outputs of this in early 2020.

There have been four new Libre Lounge episodes since my last update. That's still quite a few episodes to listen to, but slower than we previously were updating; all the travel is to blame. However that is settling down and I think we'll be updating more frequently soon. Even so, we have been updating!

In addition to all this, I suspect there will be at least two major announcements in the coming months; stay tuned. Work has already occured on both, but I can only say so much right now.

Thanks to everyone who has supported my work. I work much more than full time in the cause of advancing user freedom; it's not easy to fund this work. I appreciate all of you who are giving what you can.

Now, back to work!

ActivityPub Conf 2019 Speakers

By Christopher Lemmer Webber on Wed 07 August 2019

Good news everyone! The speaker list for ActivityPub Conf 2019 is here! (In this document, below, but also in ODT and PDF formats.)

(Bad news everyone: registration is closed! We're now at 40 people registered to attend. However, we do aim to be posting recordings of the event afterwards if you couldn't register in time.)

But, just in case you'd rather see the list of speakers on a webpage rather than download a document, here you go:

Keynote: Mark Miller, “Architectures of Robust Openness”

Description coming soon! But we're very excited about Mark Miller keynoting.

Keynote: Christopher Lemmer Webber, “ActivityPub: past, present, future”

This talk gives an overview of ActivityPub: how did we get to this point? Where are we now? Where do we need to go? We'll paint a chart from past to a hopeful future with better privacy, richer interactions, and more security and control for our users.

Matt Baer, “Federated Blogging with WriteFreely”

We're building out one idea of what federated blogging could look like with separate ActivityPub-powered platforms, WriteFreely and Read.as -- one for writing and and one for reading. Beyond the software, we're also offering hosting services and helping new instances spring up to make community-building more accessible, and get ActivityPub-powered software into more hands. In this talk I'll go over our approach so far and where we're headed next.

Caleb James DeLisle, “The case for the unattributed message”

Despite it's significant contribution to internet culture, the archetype of the anonymous image board has been largely ignored by protocol designers. Perhaps the reason for this is because it's all too easy to conflate unattributed speech with unmoderated speech, which has shown itself to be a dead end. But as we've seen from Twitter and Facebook, putting a name on everything hasn't actually worked that well at improving the quality of discourse, but what it does do is put already marginalized people at greater risk.

What I credit as one of the biggest breakthroughs of the fediverse has been the loose federation which allows a person to choose their moderator, completely side stepping the question of undemocratic censorship vs. toxic free speech. Now I want to start a conversation about how we might marry this powerful moderation system to a forum which divorces the expression of thought from all forms of identity.

Cristina DeLisle, “OSS compliance with privacy by default and design”

Privacy is becoming more and more central in shaping the future of tech and the data protection legislation has contributed significantly to making this happen. Privacy by default and design are core principles that are fundamental to how software should be envisioned. The GDPR that came into the spotlight has a strong case to become a standard even outside European borders, influencing the way we protect personal data. However its impact might be, its implementation is still in its infancy. OSS has found itself facing the situation and one aspect which is particularly interesting on the tech side is how to incorporate the principles of privacy by default and design into the software that we build.

This talk is going to be an overview of how the GDPR has impacted FOSS communities, what do we mean by privacy by default and by design, how could we envision them applied in our OSS. It will bring examples from which we might find something interesting to learn from, regardless if we are looking at them as mistakes, best practices or just ways of doing things.

Michael Demetriou, “I don't know what I'm talking about: a newbie's introduction to ActivityPub”

I have just started my development journey in ActivityPubLand and I hope to have a first small application ready before ActivityPubConf. I was thinking that since I have close to zero experience with ActivityPub development, I could document my first month of experience, describe the onboarding process and point out useful resources and common pitfalls. In the end I can showcase what I've done during this period.

Luc Didry, “Advice to new fediverse administrators and developers”

Hosting an ActivityPub service is not like hosting another service… and it's the same for developing ActivityPub software. Here is some advice based on Framasoft's experience (we host a Mastodon instance and develop two ActivityPub software: PeerTube and Mobilizon – the last one is not yet out), errors and observations.

Maloki, “Is ActivityPub paving the way to web 3.0?”

A talk about how we're walking away from Web 2.0, and paving the way to Web 3.0 with ActivityPub development. We'll discuss what this could mean for the future of the web, we'll look at some of the history of the web, and also consider the social implications moving forward.

Pukkamustard, “The Semantic Social Network”

ActivityPub uses JSON-LD as serialization. This means @context field all over the place. But really there is more behind this: ActivityPub speaks Linked Data. In this talk we would like to show what this means and how this can be used to do cool things. We might even convince you that the Fediverse is a huge distributed graph that could be queried in very interesting ways - that the Fediverse is a Semantic Social Network.

Schmittlauch, “Decentralised Hashtag Search and Subscription in Federated Social Networks”

Hashtags have become an important tool for organising topic-related posts in all major social networks, even having managed to spark social movements like #MeToo. In federated social networks, unfortunately so far the view on all posts of a hashtag is fragmented between instances.

For a student research paper I came up with an architecture for search and subscription of hashtag-posts in federated social networks. This additional backend for instances augments the Fediverse with a little bit of P2P technology.

As this architecture is still at a conceptual stage, after presenting my work I'd like to gather ideas and feedback from various Fediverse stakeholders: What do global hashtags mean for marginalised people and moderation, are they more a tool of empowerment or of harassment? How can this concept be represented in the ActivityPub protocol? And what stories do server devs have to tell about common attack scenarios?

Serge Wroclawski, “Keeping Unwanted Messages off the Fediverse”

Spam, scams and harassment pose a threat to all social networks, including the Fediverse. In this talk, we discuss a multilayered approach to mitigating these threats. We explore spam mitigation techniques of the past as well as new techniques such as OcapPub and Postage.

ActivityPub Conf 2019

By Christopher Lemmer Webber on Mon 22 July 2019

ActivityPub Conf flier

This flier also available in PDF and ODT formats.

UPDATE: As of August 5th, registrations have now filled up! See all of you who registered at ActivityPub Conf!

That's right! We're hosting the first ever ActivityPub Conf. It's immediately following Rebooting Web of Trust in Prague.

There's no admission fee to attend. (Relatedly, the conference is kind of being done on the cheap, because it is being funded by organizers who are themselves barely funded.) The venue, however, is quite cool: it's at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, which is itself exploring the ways the digital world is affecting our lives.

If you plan on attending (and maybe also speaking), you should get in your application soon (see the flier for details). We've never done one of these, and we have no idea what the response will be like, so this is going to be a smaller gathering (about 40 people). In some ways, it will be somewhere between a conference and a gathering of people-who-are-interested-in-activitypub.

As said in the flier, by attending, you are agreeing to the code of conduct, so be sure to read that.

The plan is that the first day will be talks (see the flier above for details on how to apply as a speaker) and the second day will be an unconference, with people splitting off into groups to work through problems of mutual interest.

Applications for general admission are first-come-first-serve. Additionally, we have reserved some slots for speakers specifically; the application to get in submissions for talks is 1 week from today (July 29th). We are hoping for and encouraging a wide range of participant backgrounds.

Hope to see you in Prague!