Why I became #Mozfest decentralization spacewrangler?

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Back in October I was again a spacewrangler for Mozfest. I haven’t had a proper chance to write-up the experience since I was going from one place to another. Unlike previous years as a spacewrangler, Mozilla themed the festival around the internet health report issues.

Originally during Mozretreat in Tallinn, I was going to spacewrangle the privacy & security space but during the workshops decided that decentralisation was under represented. Under represented as its always seen as technical, too difficult a problem or in the realm of who cares?

Decentralization in Mozretreat
An internet controlled by many, no one actor can own it, control it or turn it off

In the discussions in Tallinn it was clear the root of the issue is Power! Its what lives deep under the data ethics, hence why I keep mentioning data portability (the ability to own and not be reliant on one system/service)

…power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely – Sir John Dalberg-Acton

Big centralised power tends to lead towards corruption. A good example of this is the dating industry which is centralised and treats its customers like cattle. There is something about these centralised services which cuts people off from each other, hence everything is mediated through the centralised server. Of course they would claim its to protect the users, which is certainly partly true (based on the amount of women’s profiles which say please no pix of your parts) but thats not the only thing they do…

So with all this in mind, I switched from privacy and security which had enough momentum; to decentralised with a Z; poor Erika had to hear me joke/moan about it everytime (thanks Erika for being such a sport).

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

The timeline from the Mozretreat to Mozfest is pretty aggressive, and with just me and Viki working on the whole decentralised space at the time. It became clear we needed to have more people. In past Mozfests, its been a team effort of Jon, Michelle, Michael, etc. However earlier in the year Jon told me he wasn’t spacerangling this year. Jasmine had stepped back from spacerangling last year anyway, so I thought long and hard about what people would be ideal. This was all during working out the call for participation. I asked a few other people and luckily 3 out of the 5 people I asked agreed. The wrangler team now included Tim and Jon from BBC R&D, then Mark joined a bit later.

Organisation of time and space

It wasn’t easy as everyone was super busy but we made it work using lots of google docs/sheets, github, google hangout, skype, trello, etc. As I was the most experienced there was a lot of weight on my shoulders but by the time we started getting proposals in, things felt better. After the call closed, we read every single one rated and ranked them all. First cut was the travel stipend ones then the others afterwards. There was something strange that the quality of the proposals seemed to better in the middle of the call. The late & early ones seemed less thoughtful.

The wall of mozfest issues in the decentralisation space
The wall of mozfest issues in the decentralisation space

The months moved on and we slowly cut the list down to 44 proposals. By September there was a lot of logistics work including working out where everything was going to fit (we had selected far too much). We ended up with 3 talk (learning) spaces, 2 workshop (shed) spaces and 1 gallery space; 6 things happening in parallel just in the decentralised space alone. It was going to be tricky but I thought we can manage it with 5 spacewranglers. Unfortunately Viki couldn’t make it but at the last minute Jon convinced 2 trainees from BBC R&D (Kristine & Kristian) to join us, without them it would have been near impossible, very thankful for their help and stepping in at the last minute. If there wasn’t enough challenges, our commissioned artist (Archana Prasad) also ended up not coming from India due to illness. This made us scramble a little to come up with an overall theme to fit, which was the one thing which I knew we didn’t do such a great job on as previous years (the library) & (ethical dilemma cafe)

#Mozhouse (Royal Society of Arts)

Philo talking at Mozhouse

Mozfest this year tried something quite different from previous years. Instead of the weekend festival in Ravensbourne alone, they hosted a week long of events at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). The events were very varied and the space was opened as a co-working space all weekend. This seemed to be very fitting with the RSA’s own plans for a 21st century coffee house?

We ran our first community of practice event in London too, which was well attended and included colleagues from the object based media team.

Databox meet York Uni

I also attended a few other events including Mel’s slidedesign and the glassroom which I wrote about already, it was also a good time to arrange meetings with people including Nesta. Later in the week, spacewrangler duties increased meaning more time at Ravensbourne oppose to the Mozhouse, this means I could only attend the first part of the databox event. But I was able to capture the interchange between Nottingham Uni (Databox) and York Uni (OBM engine). The conversation at the table in Mozhouse will have big consequences for the living room project and more.

Mozhouse was a very good idea and I think with more events using up the space, it could really add something different to Mozfest.

#Mozfest 2017

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Mozfest is always something you are not totally sure will work but it always does. The space was tight but my gut reaction of the layout was just about right. We squeezed in 6 spaces and it wasn’t so bad, although talk space 3’s intimacy was a little lost sadly.

This year Mozilla used Slack to bring conversations with spacewranglers and session owners together, it kind of worked but there was some missed/dropped conversations between slack, github and emails. There was a discussion about Mozfest using the centralised Slack service oppose to decentralised systems like matrix and mattermost, but it was a matter of practicality at the time. Maybe next year Matrix could be be the host? Sure Matrix must have a feature some serious dataportability features.

The reason why I mention Matrix, is I was seriously impressed with the Matrix people. They really got the while Mozfest thing and setup Matrix node (a mini PC) over the course of the festival weekend. It ran for most of the weekend and was perfectly timed for their session. As it was federated, when the PC did hit a problem, the other Matrix servers took on the processing instantly.

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

As always I never get the time to wonder around the other spaces due to spacewrangling in one zone. But I did get to see a few other things including the Privacy & Security space (they shared the floor with us), Unbox space and tiny rolling IOT home.

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Some of the highlights included when Storj labs failed to turn up and having to announce to a busy audience of people this fact. I said people could leave as the session facilitator was no where to be seen, or they could talk between themselves. Of course being Mozfest, the expert audience started talking and 40mins later they were still talking and Mich Baker had joined the conversation. This sums up the emergent nature of Mozfest, spacewranglers are simply constructing the environment for this all to happen.

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Another few sessions were cancelled including the much  wanted connected world of music, which I had planned straight after Kristian’s Smart Blockchain Indie Film Distribution, and the Internet Of Things. Another well attended interactive session with lots of questions and discussion asking the expert audience again instead of speaking at them. Very happy we were able to host the session as we seeked out using decentralised solutions on existing problems rather than just talking about the underlying technology.

Another good non-technical session I poked my head into but knew would be good when choosing it was the co-op talk. On the face of it some might ask whats that got to do with decentralisation? But it fitted the wider theme of power and distributed and federated power.

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Although we did have some sessions which were about the technology too. One example was host your data on the peer to peer web with Dat. I walked through the session a few times and was quite enjoying it and wish I could have attended the whole thing.

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Seeing a youth led session Introducting Code Club in the decentralised space, Mark talking to a very nervious Abhiram before his session Demystifying ethereum to build your own decentralized app (Ðapp) using blockchain, seeing people around a table wiring their own fibre hosted by Neharika.

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Let’s Keep Our Chat Local was the Matrix session and although waking back and forth, I caught enough to learn quite a bit about Matrix service. Earlier that week I had installed riot.im app on my Android tablet and through-out the week finally got myself on the server.

To prove the power of Matrix, they had already setup a bridge to the #decentralized slack channel and made it super easy to talk between the services. On top of all this, I saw audio/video messaging over matrix, something around VR and other very cool things. I took away the need to investigate more, and maybe consider using it for decentralised dating?

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Dating on the Open Web with Evan was good but I’ve gone into a lot of detail in a previous blog post. We needed more conversation, which is why I did a follow up on the Sunday.

Spacewrangling for Mozfest again was really good and maybe slightly less stressful except the unexpected surprises near the end. I think we got a real nice balance of topics through-out the decentralised spectrum. From general interest to deep rooted knowledge, everyone was catered for making decentralisation interesting to everyone. Next time, I would work harder on the theming because although the theming and navigation was mixed together, in retrospective we could have set this much earlier and included the likes of databox project into the experience. I was impressed with the diversity of speakers and audience. There was a deep fear we would end up with all white men and actively worked hard to make sure this wasn’t the case.

Party at #mozhouse

Party time

The night parties at Mozfest have always been great and the Saturday night one was good but I did prefer the creepy one in 2016, however I know immersive theatre isn’t everyone’s bag. The venue of Mozhouse/RSA was great and it would have been great to throw some more of the rooms open to others to do things like host a game of werewolf (for example).

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

We had hoped to secure someone from the decentralised space to play at Mozhouse but it didn’t happen. However on the Sunday night party, I did get to DJ on my pacemaker like previous earlier Mozfests. Unfortunately I didn’t record the mix but I can assure you  it was really good and got quite a few people dancing.

Thank you to all!

Mozfest 2017

I want to thank the wrangler team Viki, Jon T, Tim C, Mark B, Kristine and Kristian. Sarah A, Erika D, Marc, Emse, Dan R, Solana, Sam B, all the other spacewranglers, Ravensbourne’s staff including Claire, our decentralised sessions owners who did a excellent job through all the chaos.

The attitude and spirit of the session was higher than ever before. It might be the fact they could talk beforehand via Slack or something else? Even with the challenging emergent environment, imagine doing a large 50+ people session about digital colonialism with no chairs! This happened and we/they made it all work regardless.

Mozilla Festival 2017: Decentralized Zone

Lastly I’d like to thank the audience who attended this excellent festival and attended a lot of the decentralisation space. The engagement was higher than last year and rightly so, the work we put into getting a balanced set of talks worked out very well.

If it was just Mozfest, it would be great but add the glassroom exhibit and #Mozhouse and you got something much closer to the impressive festivals like TOA Berlin and SxSW. The extra days before the festival really elevated it beyond previous years and likely kept the festival base in London for the foreseeable future?

You can see the whole schedule on Guidebook and of course the proposals on Github.

 

What would Jane Jacobs say about the Public & Private internet?

Found this via colleagues at work; the idea and possibility of a adfree public space.

Being from Bristol, I am all in favour of the points made by Adfree Bristol. I grew up with banksey, subverted advertisements and a protesters of golden hill.

Looking at it from a internet view, I find the tension between private & public so apt for what is happening right now. You only have to look at the fight over ad-blockingnet-neutrality and copyright reform.

The internet for most people is the private internet. Its the property of the 5 stacks and the wanna-be startups fighting for position in the patriarchy (hey lets call it what it is). Its a place of attention grabbing, advertising, monetization.

Tony Ageh, Bill Thompson and many others talked about the need for a digital public space. A speech by Tony Hall was clear for me that, another kind of space; not an alternative but an equal to the normal most people experience is needed.

Silicon Valley has remade our children’s world – but they need British culture too
Instead of restricting young people’s activity online, we need to focus on equipping them with the right tools.

I’ve starting to think broadly about the internet in two halves (it shouldn’t be that way, but it works)

Half Moon

Public internet & Private Internet

They have different business models, different motivations, different network topology and different functions. The thing is, the public internet is mainly dark and largely unknown by most because we don’t spend much time there. You could say eclipsed by the private side.

Mozilla Glass Room

Have a look at the physical graph at the glassroom, to see how eclipsed. (see The Alphabet Empire & Apple Towers).

It doesn’t help that most of the gatekeepers also rely on private internet business models. Cue, Jonathan Zittrain the future of the internet and the friction between the two, but generally the private internet wants to expand into the established public spaces; just like the real world. Who would have thought Jane Jacobs would be extremely fitting for the internet age?

Mozilla Glass Room exhibition

Mozilla Glass Room

I talked about the Glass Room in a previous blog.

I can’t really give it justice but I did take some pictures which are good starting points. Theres a nice summary of all the exhibits here. Here are the ones which stuck out in my mind.

Mozilla Glass Room

The Alphabet Empire

All the different sub-companies which fit under the Alphabet (Google) megacorp, there’s so many you needed a magnify glass to see them all.

Mozilla Glass Room

Apple Towers

This physical infographic compared the amount of money Apple accumulated in offshore accounts against the amount of money the UK and EU governments spent on various things in 2016. Really interesting to see the BBC’s total budget of £4.8bn totally eclipsed by Apples tax bill.

Mozilla Glass Room

The Data Detox kits

These paper kits are whats meant to help you clean up and take more control over your personal data. As previously said, I found them interesting as they are simple and effective like a Ikea manual and I’ll be interesting to hear how my sister got on with her data detoxing.

Mozilla Glass Room

How Long Does It Take to Read Amazon Kindle’s Terms and Conditions?

Australian consumer advocacy group Choice hired an actor to read all 73,198 words of Amazon Kindle’s Terms and Conditions. It took just shy of 9 hours and the video of all that time illustrates exactly how much time you would give up to fully understand what you are agreeing to. The other interesting point is the frustration and doubts the actor has while reading it aloud, especially later in the agreement.

Mozilla Glass Room

Data Production Labour

By the Institute of Human Obsolescence, this is what I blogged about previously. I found it fascinating to see it working. Basically you put your phone down in front of a camera and scan through your facebook timeline. As I don’t have Facebook on my phone, I scanned through my Twitter friends timeline which I hardly ever do. After 2 mins, the results of your activity are fed back to you in a receipt print out. I think of it like clickclickclick but there is something quite powerful about using your own phone and something you might do all the time.

Mozilla Glass Room

Smell Dating

That whole of idea of smell based dating will never die and this exhibit was oddly placed but I wanted to give it a try as it was causing a bit of a fuss. It would be good to see the results over the course of a day or week, but even watching the woman and man before me had some very different results from me.

Mozilla Glass Room

A data-day in London

Good little summary of all the points when we have to make a decision to agree with their terms and conditions, during a typical day in London. Really interesting to read through.

Mozilla Glass Room

MegaPixels

Visually querying yourself was interesting but didn’t do a good job on me at all. A friend thought it would pick up photos of myself but it didn’t happen. Instead I got a lot of low results for Kanye West. It seemed to work much better for others.

Other notable exhibits were Tor Access Point, Facebook Algorithmic Factory, The listener and Unfit bits.

Unfortuanlly by the time you read this, it would have closed its doors but I look forward to seeing more of this type of exhibit.

Urban legend says facebook is listening

8409207368_b4acce604e_c_d

There so much talk about Facebook and other west coast megacorps (the 5 stacks) listening in on our conversations. To be fair its part of the reason why I don’t like Whatsapp who own and can do what ever they like to the metadata of your conversations. It’s all become a bit of an urban legend, but to be fair the megacorps are doing an incredibly bad job explaining how things are happening (little to no transparency, but to be fair it’s not fitting with their business model).

Even a recent episode of Reply All tackled this field – #109 Is Facebook spying on you.

You can look & listen to the rising concern the public have around their privacy; and the increasing number of stories. I you can’t help but think maybe there is a change coming? Or at least I’d like to think so… but its clear there is a lack of understanding of data by the general public.

For example

“One of the things that Facebook can do is if you like something, it can advertise that thing to your friends. So the brother-in-law obviously signaled to Facebook that he was into white supremacy somehow, and Charles’ friend was liking a lot of the guy’s posts, and they were friends on Facebook, so Facebook was like, “Alright, well, why don’t I advertise this white supremacist stuff to you.”

If you actually read the Facebook EULA, it actually says this but certainly not in such clear human readable words (its been a long while since I skimmed the FB eula, so may have changed – but doubt it). In my own experience, it’s also very hard for people to envision scenarios where the links matter, hence it may not be the actual data but the links between the data which suddenly make people worry and care; the data taken out of context. Most have no idea how many categories of data Facebook alone are sorting us all into.

This is hard to show and demonstrate without going; without going all black mirror or someones eyes glazing over. In my experience when talking about data most people shrug and say things like, “nothing to hide.”

Glass room recipt

During Mozfest this year I got the chance to walk around the Glass Room on Charing Cross Road, with the people at the ingenious bar giving out data detox kits. The kits are interesting because it’s aimed at a mass audience and the advice although simple is generally useful. I also found some of the installations good, especially the one where you are swiping through your facebook timeline (it was twitter for me) and 2 mins later, given a printed receipt of your work. (Funny enough, it felt like a lot longer than 2mins but then again, its not really the thing I do regularlly)

We certainly need more of this!

Hopefully more of these public interjections will start to move the discussion on from urban legends to a proper informed discussion about ethical data use. I believe FB and others are capitalising on the general public ignorance and its got to stop.