YouTube or PeerTube, which will it be.

YouTube has a monopoly on video and this is bad news. Read what’s so bad about it and why PeerTube is a good alternative.

What’s wrong with YouTube

If you want to watch a video chances are you’ll end up on YT. Sure there are alternatives such as Vimeo or Dailymotion but they are tiny compared to YT. Therefore YT has a near-monopoly As you know monopolies are bad. YT can do whatever they want and users will have to accept it no matter what. Frequently I’ve seen YouTubers ranting in on their YT channel about YT because of some wrongdoing from YT but they have no where else to go (or at least that’s what they think).

YouTube collects our data and sells it. You may think that YT is free but it’s not. Users pay by providing YT with data about their behaviour on YT. This data is turned into profiles about the users and sold to third parties. These third parties can then target you for their ads.

YouTube advertisements are getting increasingly annoying. Alphabet, the holding company, wants to make YT as profitable as possible to satisfy the shareholders. This can either by offering paid premium services or (targeted) ads. Lately I noticed a sharp increase in ads and I’m confident that this will only increase further in the future.

YouTube algorithm wants to keep me on YouTube. Why? So that they sell more ads. The secret of YT is the algorithm that recommends new videos. These recommendations are based on my profile, increasing the chances that I lazily click on another video and another one. This often leaves me with a feeling of pointlessly watching videos while I should have done more productive things.

YouTube algorithm encourages controversy. Controversial videos ensures ensure views and interaction such as likes, dislikes and comments. This in turn means again the opportunity to show more ads which means more income for YT.

What are the alternatives

Vimeo is the only sizeable competitor of YT. It’s business model differs because it doesn’t show ads, instead users can pay for more premium services. Vimeo does track the users however in order to show you ads elsewhere on the web. Also with the users consent Vimeo will sell your data to third parties. Lastly Vimeo is neither open source nor is it a distributed service.

Luckily more ethical alternatives are emerging. PeerTube is one of these alternatives. PeerTube is free and open source software and it’s a decentralized video platform that uses peer to peer technology. Instead of one single organisation that controls all the PeerTube servers, all servers are controlled by different owners. Nevertheless PeerTube operates as one where videos on one server can be searched for and watched on another, thus creating a network of interconnected nodes.

Everyone can install PeerTube on a server (instance) and join the network (this is called federation). Already hundreds of instances exist. Every owner or administrator of an instance can determine which other instances it follows.

Everyone can watch videos on PeerTube but if you want to comment or like or upload your own content you must join PeerTube. To join PeerTube it’s important to understand that there is no centralized portal to login. Instead you’ll choose an instance that you want to join, you login and enter the PeerTube network from that server. This means that choosing the right instance is important. Each server provides useful information about itself but an overall list can be found here.

PeerTube has another great feature. The PeerTube instances do not only federate with other PeerTube instances, they also federate with a larger network that’s called the Fediverse. Mastodon, a social network, is one of these members of the Fediverse and it has a huge number of users. Videos can easily be shared on Mastodon and Mastodon users can comment on videos with their Mastodon account.

Having read this it’s probably not a surprise to you that I’m currently transferring my content from YouTube to PeerTube and remaster the old videos in the process. I also intend to create original content and share it solely on PeerTube. It’s a drop in the ocean and no one at YouTube will loose any sleep over it but that doesn’t matter. PeerTube is still young (2015) and the developer Framasoft is working hard to improve PeerTube. Already some free and open source companies such as Krita, OpenStreetMap and KDE have a channel on PeerTube.

I do hope that people, that love their privacy and want to control their content, will follow me and start uploading great content to PeerTube for this is the only way to get out of the YouTube stranglehold. To get you started I’ve made a list of some useful links. See you on PeerTube.

Giving OpenShot another try

After iMovie completely let me down I gave OpenShot another try and it didn’t disappoint.

I’ve been using iMovie for ages to create videos, both to document my family life and for my YouTube channel. Over the years I’ve create dozens of movies with iMovie and I kind of liked the simplicity of the program. I only wished it was free and open source software instead of proprietary.

The last couple of years I tried several free and open source alternatives notably OpenShot and Shotcut (both GPL v3 license). I was willing to jump to one of them but they were both rather unstable on my OSX system. OpenShot was the worst and crashed every few minutes making it impossible to work with. So in the end I kept using iMovie.

Recently I updated OSX to Sierra (10.12) and when I opened iMovie I noticed that everything worked except that I couldn’t render anymore. This is a disaster. All my carefully crafted movies are locked in iMovie and I’m unable to get them out of it. I really wanted to kick someone at Apple for this.

Since I couldn’t find a solution (apparently a widespread problem as I read on the web) I had no other alternative than to install OpenShot again (version 2.4.4). I didn’t have high hopes but to my surprise it was stable. I worked several days with it and it didn’t crashed once.

What I like about OpenShot is that it’s, like iMovie, very easy to use. The interface looks modern and unlike some other video-editing programs I could easily find my way around. The word intuitive springs to mind. This may give the impression that OpenShot is a very basic video-editor. OpenShot certainly can’t compete with the feature-rich major video-editors in the market but I was surprised that all basic features are included and there is more under the hood. To name just a few, the interface can easily be changed to my liking, the handling of titles is great and OpenShot enables the user to create animation which is handy.

It also offers a lot of control over the export of a video with every format, codec and quality setting available. This is probably because the video backend of OpenShot is linked to FFmpeg, IMHO the best video-converter around. (I wrote about FFmpeg earlier)

The coming weeks I will do further tests and will decide if this is my new go to video-editor. A bonus is that OpenShot is available for Linux, Windows and OSX so I can also use it on my Linux desktop.

UPDATE : 12 December 2019. After having done some projects I’ve noticed an issue with OpenShot. OpenShot tends to be very resource hungry in both memory and cpu load. This creates problems in more complex projects where the program becomes very slow. This forces me to restart OpenShot and continue. Also on my humble 2011 iMac it’s impossible to get smooth video and sound in the preview window.

Maintaining the Raspberry Pi Squeezebox server (aka Logitech Media Server)

This article describes how to maintain a Squeezebox server (or Logitech Media Server). All software used for this project is free and open source.

I wrote earlier about the Logitech Media Server (LMS), open source software that I’ve used to turn a Raspberry Pi into a music server for my Squeezebox devices. I’m using my Raspberry Pi based Logitech Media Server a couple of months and I’ve grown very fond of it. What started as an experiment now has become a device I’m starting to rely on. I guess that eventually I have to replace the USB-HDD that I connected to the Raspberry Pi with a better one. In the meantime however I do need to maintain the LMS. In this blogpost I’ll explain how I add and remove music files from the LMS and create a simple backup of your music files. Finally I provide a tip to debug problems with the Logitech Media Server. All software that I used for this project is free and open source.

Adding, changing and deleting music files

When I buy a new CD I want to add it to my LMS. All the ripping is done on my Thinkpad T40 laptop using Asunder, a low resource ripper for Linux. In the beginning I unmounted the USB hard disk from the LMS, removed it and connected it to the laptop and copied the albums. For new albums this proved to be be a clumsy method and I quickly found myself looking for an alternative.

I decided to use FTP to transfer files over the network to the Raspberry Pi. FTP is a network protocol to transfer files between a client and a server. The software that I’m using is either FileZilla or gFTP. They have basically the same functionality but gFTP is not available for Windows while FileZilla is available for GNU/Linux, OSX and Windows. Working with both is easy enough the only problem that I had was to set the ownership for the USB hard disk on the Raspberry Pi. Only root was able to write to the disk. The reason is a bit technical and maybe confusing but I had used the Windows FAT filesystem for the USB hard disk and when I mounted it on my Linux laptop (Puppy Linux distro), ownership of all files was changed by Puppy Linux to root. At this point it was impossible to change ownership and permissions with chmod and chown from the media server. To solve this problem I had to unmount and mount the USB hard disk using the following general command:

mount device mount-point -o uid=foo -o gid=foo

or in my specific case

mount /dev/sda1 ~/media/usb-drive -o uid=pi -o gid=pi

This command sets the ownership of all files on the USB hard disk to pi instead of root enabling me to use FileZilla and gFTP to copy files from a remote PC to the Raspberry Pi.

Adding Podcasts to the server

Podcasts can be easily added to the Logitech Media Server and there is no need to subscribe to a service. First the Podcasts app must be added to myApps on the Squeezebox player or players. Next to add podcasts to the list a plugin needs to be installed. To do this open the web interface in your browser and type:

<your_Raspberry_Pi_ip_address:9000> (in my case 192.168.178.69:9000)

Choose Settings at the bottom right of the web browser and then choose the Plugins tab. Now enable the Podcasts (v2.0) plugin and reboot the Raspberry Pi for the changes to take effect. The Podcasts plugin is now active and can be entered through a new tab in the Settings menu. In this tab new feeds can be entered that will immediatly be available on the Squeezebox players. To find a certain feed look for the rss feed of your favorite podcast and copy the link into ‘add a new feed’ in the podcast tab of the Settings menu mentioned above (e.g. http://feed.thisamericanlife.org/talpodcast for This American Life).

Creating a backup of the music collection

I invested a lot of time in ripping my CD collection so it would be a shame if I lost my music files due to a hard disk crash. I therefore use a very simple backup method, largely copied from the Raspberrypi.org website to ensure that my files are safe. First make sure that there’s enough harddisk space available with df -h. Next do:

tar -cvf backup.tar.gz ~/media/usb-drive

This creates a file ‘backup.tar.gz’ that contains files in /media/usb-drive, the mounting point of my USB drive and places it in the same map. Next I use (again) Filezilla to move the backup file to my desktop computer. Alternatively the ripped files on the PC they were ripped on can serve as a backup.

Debug problems with the Logitech Media Server

I didn’t encounter much problems with the LMS but if you do take a look into the log file of the server. This can be done opening a terminal on your PC and login into the Rasperry Pi with:

ssh pi@<your_network_ip_address_of_the_server>
cat /var/log/squeezeboxserver/server.log

The sudo ssh command prompts for the password of the Raspberry Pi. Now look for anything suspicious in the log, copy it and do an internet search with your preferred search engine. Chances are someone already encountered the same problem.

FLOSS tools to create a forum or community

With G+ closing in a couple of months community owners are searching for alternatives. I provide a number of FLOSS options.

Introduction

With the demise of G+ a lot of community owners are suddenly looking for a new home. Since a lot of G+ users despise FaceBook (and rightfully so) other social networks are mentioned. The problem with a lot of these networks is that they are centralized and proprietary making the users depending on the whims of the owner of the network. Below I summerize the FLOSS options for people interested in setting up a community. This is not an exhaustive list. I encountered these options after discussions often on G+ and I experimented with some of these options during the last couple of months.

Self-hosted or not

An important decisions is whether or not to host the forum or community yourself. If you want to host it yourself you’ll keep full control of the server however the maintenance is considerably more labor-intensive than with a non-selfhosted solution. You also need to install the software on a server and configure it.

Friendica forum

Friendica (self-hosting possible)

Both are macroblogging social media networks that offer the possibility to create a forum. The UI of Friendica doesn’t look very modern but the functionality needed to use and maintain a forum is all there. Click this link to see an example of what a Friendica forum looks like. If you want to create a forum on a existing server please note that the administrator of this server can place limits to the forum e.g the number of participant or the number of forums that can be created by one account. Be aware that you’re a guest on someone else’s server.

A practical example. In the German town of Zwenkau the citizens are provided with a community platform, the Zwenkauer Flaschenpost, for online communication and discussion between citizens. This is all done with a standard Friendica install on a server. If you want to read more here is a link.

Movim (self-hosting possible)

Movim is social platform that let you share and chat. Movim is build on top of the XMPP communication protocol. A strength of Movim is that is federates and that everyone with a XMPP account (e.g Jabber) can connect. Once you’ve created an account it’s very easy to create a community. The UI looks modern but some community admin features are missing (or I couldn’t find them). As an example as an owner I couldn’t ban someone from the community. This is a link to a Movim community. Also a word of warning if you create a forum on an existing server be aware that you’re a guest of that server and that restriction may be applicable.

I recently wrote a more lengthy post about the chat capabilities of Movim.

Mastodon (self-hosting possible)

Mastodon is a microblog social network that has a TweetDeck like interface. I was hesitant to add it to this list because the UI and the dynamic experience differ from a classical forum where the same post remains in the viewport for days or weeks. However when joining the right instance (=server) or create one yourself it may very well become a great dedicated community. Here is a link to mastodon.art an instance where artists can show their artwork.

Flarum (only self-hosting)

Open source forum software that is currently in beta. Nice, modern UI. I’ve read some concerns about the beta status and the stability of Flarum. If you want to see what the interface looks like here is a link.

NodeBB (self-hosting possible)

Open source forum software with a modern UI. You can either self host for free or use a NodeBB hosting plan that comes with a price tag. Here is a link to the source of NodeBB. You can check the interface yourself on this website. Here is a link to a guide how to install Flarum.

Discourse (self-hosting possible)

Discourse is an open source and mailing list management software application also with a modern UI. It can either be self-hosted or Discourse can host for you. The latter which is clearly the business model of Discourse comes at price tag. If you want to see what Discourse looks like take a look at the discussion forum of Diaspora*or Tom’s 3D community. Here is a link to the source code and another to the install guide.

EDIT: I removed the Osada social network because the developers decided to abandon it. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on the Zap social network which is similar to Osada with one huge difference that Zap doesn’t support the ActivityPub protocol.

Last updated: 26 Februari 2019

Diaspora*, an alternative social network for GooglePlus

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about the demise of G+ and I defined four criteria for an alternative social network. This blog post describes my experience with Diaspora.

Why an alternative social network

Three weeks ago I wrote an article about the demise of G+ and I defined four criteria for an alternative social network. Based on these criteria I choose three social networks, Mastodon, MeWe and Diaspora* and signed up on them and promised to write about my experience with these three.

I will not write any further about MeWe since I already deleted the account after one week and wrote a post about it. So that leaves Mastodon and Diaspora*. This blog post is about my experience with Diaspora*.

Screenshot of the Diaspora* interface. Not flashy but very functional and fast.

What is Diaspora*

The shortest way to describe Diaspora* is it being a Facebook clone however this doesn’t do justice to Diaspora*. Although the user interface of Diaspora* has similarities with Facebook the network couldn’t be more different, kind of an anti-Facebook. First of all Diaspora* is free and open source software while Facebook is proprietary and Diaspora* is distributed while Facebook is centralized. The latter means that while Facebook is owned by a single entity that controls the entire network and it’s users Diaspora* has no owner and thus can never be controlled by a single organisation or person. Instead Diaspora* consists of many servers (or pods) that have their own administrator. These servers are are all interconnected (or federated). Without going into details about how this works exactly being distributed has other notable advantages from a user point of view.

  • First of all Diaspora* doesn’t have ads  (it worth to note that some centralized social networks like G+ and MeWe also don’t have ads).
  • Diaspora* can’t be closed or sold.
  • There is no ‘built-in’ data-mining. While it can’t be excluded that some rogue administrator will use your data there is no ‘Diaspora* business model’ that would encourage this. Meaning that your privacy is better protected.

Conversations on Diaspora* are good and in-depth although it takes time to identify good contacts.

Working with Diaspora*

Being a user of G+ for several years I admit it took a little time to get used to the Diaspora* interface. Central is the ‘Stream’, a single column of posts of your contacts (followers in G+) and the hashtags (e.g #Linux) that you follow. Next is ‘My Activity’ which lists all posts that you liked, shared or commented on but also the posts that you wrote yourself. Lastly there is ‘Public activity’ that shows all public posts from the Diaspora* community. This also shows nudity or even porn but, as I noticed so far, this was always tagged with #nsfw which stands for ‘not suitable for work’. These #nsfw posts are not shown until the users clicks to open it. I think this is good solution to protect the user without censorship.

Conversations on Diaspora* are good and in-depth although it takes time to identify good contacts. After two weeks I have 29 contacts (on Januari 9 it was 50) of which half turns out to be what I consider good. Diaspora* provides the user with a good tool to ignore a contacts for instance if he or she turns out to be spammer. Diaspora* also allows for a private chat with an established contact which can be very handy.

Diaspora* doesn’t have the G+ equivalent of communities, a group of users sharing posts about a certain topic, and collections, a single users sharing posts about a single topic. These communities and collections can’t be mimicked by combined tags and aspects.

Conclusion

Diaspora* is, after Mastodon, the second biggest distributed social networks with the about 660.000 user accounts. Still a dwarf compared to FaceBook but I’m not interested in the total number of users. I’m interested in the quality of the conversation and this is good, in fact it’s very good. People are mostly knowlegdeable and helpful which guarentees meaningful chats. Just what I’m looking for.

I still prefer the G+ interface with multiple columns over the one column stream in Diaspora* because it saves a lot of scrolling however this seems like nitpicking. Overall the user interface of Diaspora* is straight forward and easy to work with.

The user has good control of the streams of information although I would have preferred the user to be able to combine tags and aspects. The reason for this is I want to be able to follow someone on certain topics instead of all his or her posts.

Yes, my family and friends are not on Diaspora* but I don’t care about that in fact it’s a plus.

Diaspora* works surprisingly good on low-end machines. This is probably due to the minimal user interface. I consider this a big plus since I have a very old Thinkpad laptop that I use regularly.

Yes, my family and friends are not on Diaspora* but I don’t care about that in fact is a plus. I’d rather see them face to face anyway.

In conclusion Diaspora* starts to grow on me. I had a slow start with it but I’m gradually beginning to experience the strength of this well established and stable social network. I found Diaspora* very easy to use a plus that is not to be underestimated. The content that’s being shared is valuable and the conversations are excellent. For me that’s what counts when it comes to social networks.

EDIT: Diaspora* users can choose between a couple of Android apps. I choose Dandelior (which is the same app from the same developer as Dandelion) and I like it. Dandelior and Dandelion for Android can be downloaded from F-Droid.

EDIT: Diaspora* uses Markdown to format text making it an excellent choice for macroblogging. Markdown appears to be more powerful than the editing features of G+. This and the single column stream are making Diaspora* an excellent choice for macroblogging.

Bye bye Google

I was pretty pissed that Google decided to close G+. As an alternative I came up with a short list of three social media services: Mastodon, Diaspora and MeWe. In the coming weeks I will choose between these three services.

Google+ closing, now what?

Like many others I was pretty much pissed off that Google decided to close G+ next August in April. I had a lot of social going on at G+ in fact it was the only social media service that I really used (I have a Reddit account that I hardly use). I believe Winston Churchill said to never waste a good crisis so I took the opportunity to look around at other options. I defined some criteria that could help me choose a new social network.

  • preferably open source. G+ wasn’t open source but since I’m an open source advocate it seems appropiate to sign up for a service that itself is open source.
  • quality instead of quantity. I’m looking for meaningful conversations and not mindless sharing of kitty pictures.
  • will protect my privacy. I understand that no service can fully guarantee my privacy but I’m sick and tired of all the data mining.
  • no annoying ads. I’m not against advertisements here and there but I hate these in your face ads on Fartbook.

With these criteria in mind I came up with a short list of three social media services: Mastodon, Diaspora and MeWe. It could have been more but I had to draw the line somewhere. So I signed-up for all three. Preferably I will end up with one or, at the most, two of these. I’m already spending more time on social media than I’m comfortable with. So in the coming weeks I will choose between these three services.

EDIT: I already deleted my MeWe account. It’s a proprietary and centralized service and apparently due to their free speech policy it attracts a lot of nasty people that got kicked out off Facebook. Also I believe that they have a coordinated campaign spamming G+ communities with posts to convince people to move to MeWe.

What about Blogger, Drive and GMail

By closing G+  Google has become unreliable for me. The question is what will they close next and will this affect me? I therefore took a look at other Google services to see if I was exposed to further risks down the line. Most notably I have Blogger, Drive and GMail so I decided to be one step ahead of Google and say goodbye to these services too. This will not happen overnight but I will do it and post the results here. And the beauty of it all I feel rather good about it.

Why I use open source for my DIY projects and you should too

Use open source as often as possible. Not only is it free (as in gratis) but it can be as good or better than propietary software without the all the limiting terms found in a typical software license agreement. Open source enables the community to freely share ideas, information, concepts etc. This is key for a succesful and thriving society.

Introduction

I’ve been a user of proprietary products for a very long time without giving it much thought. In fact I’m writing this on an iMac with OSX as the operating system. I own this iMac for at least 5 years and it is a nice machine but as time went by something kept nagging. I used to believe that for good reliable software you had to pay money. If software was free (as in gratis) it was probably unstable, user unfriendly and unpolished that it wasn’t worth any money. At least that is what I thought. Continue reading “Why I use open source for my DIY projects and you should too”