5 Battlefield Tactics
While some battles are seemingly beyond our control as individuals, we can still influence the outcome, especially if we work strategically within groups. Increasingly, success in these areas may depend on the coordinated work of communities in partnership with larger entities. Here are five tactics to help you agitate and educate within organizations, peer groups or public bodies.
Promoting Open licenses
If your organization publishes work online then you can support the Open Web by making clear your intentions about how you want people to be able to reuse your work. The best way to do this is by giving your work a license. If your organization works with software this is often done using a Free Software license. It is very likely that if you work with computer enthusiasts, they will be able to share their knowledge on this.1
Creative Commons have done some amazing work in the area of open licenses for non-software projects, especially in the areas of culture, education and science. The Creative Commons website has a license chooser2 which helps you choose a license by asking you a few simple questions. For your troubles you get:
- a web button with nifty graphics that you can embed in your web page
- a link through to a human readable interpretation of how you want your work to be used
- a full legal code that lawyers have created to make your intentions enforceable
Bypassing Censorship and Surveillance
As previously indicated, the fight for the Open Web is also a fight for Civil Rights. Lobbying done by organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation3 plays a vital role in this struggle and we should support them and their campaigns. However, sometimes lobbying just isn’t enough. Luckily, there are also tactics for non-violent resistance for those who refuse to move to the back of the Web. The tools to defeat Internet blocking, filtering and monitoring are designed to deal with different obstacles and threats.
Your organization or peer group can make a real difference. Here are some general pointers to more information on how you can work with others to support appropriate resistance to inappropriate censorship:
- Set up and help others use a public Proxy, an easy way to make it more difficult to trace the Internet use.4
- Encourage the use of routers like the TOR (The Onion Router) project.5
- Set up and help others use a Virtual Private Network. VPN and tunneling are techniques that allow you to encrypt the data connections between yourself and another computer.6
To learn more about digital security, privacy and tools that may facilitate circumventing censorship, preventing eavesdropping, and remaining anonymous there are detailed resources on the Internet which share technical content on this subject.7
In the context of increasing use of online video, the importance of providing subtitles for wider accessibility cannot be overstated. Providing foreign language subtitles increases your potential audience hugely. In addition subtitles in the original language opens the door to hearing impaired viewers as well as second language audiences.8
There are some great tools for subtitling on the Web which allow users to:
- Create subtitles for videos using an online transcribing tool.
- Upload pre-prepared subtitle files to display over video clips.
- Create or embed video players which allow viewers to choose which language subtitles are displayed.
- Download subtitle files to help create DVDs or for general offline use.
If you are involved in an organization or network that distributes video online, you can push to make sure that subtitles are not overlooked. Furthermore, an open and community approach to subtitles is needed (as was the case with Wikipedia) if volunteer-based translation of subtitles is to take off. It is difficult to imagine tens of thousands of users translating videos if their work is then owned or controlled by a corporation. The Universal Subtitle project is also working towards that goal, with the aim of creating a decentralized network of open and searchable subtitle databases.9
Hosting Independent Websites, Blogs and Networks
Automattic the company that runs wordpress.com does not claim to offer anonymous blogging, but users might assume that some degree of legal authority would be needed to access the identities of their bloggers. However, Automattic recently handed over the personal data of the owner of a blog criticizing the VC of the University of Salford to the University seemingly without a court order.10
In this case although Wordpress in built on free software, the installation of it at Wordpress.com can be seen as a centralized Network Service. The Open Web, which established a decentralized approach to hosting, has inbuilt resilience to censorship. Reliance on huge Network Services as the arbiters of Free Speech is a very weak position. Such services come under daily pressures from authorities for disclosure. As such, they often opt for an easy life by handing over personal details and suspending accounts, websites and blogs with little in the way of an appeal process.
If you are part of a group that feels able to foster an online community that values Free Speech then you can do this in a very practical way by providing reliable and secure hosting to groups and individuals who share your aims. There are many technical and social tactics to achieve this. Here are some of them:
Technical aspects of hosting
You can anonymize blogs and services by not logging IP addresses. The process of not logging IP addresses on a server using Apache is relatively simple. Use the removeip Apache module. Rather than trying to remove all logs of IP addresses it replaces them with an arbitrary IP number.11
Avoid the Cloud. Hosting your blogs or networks in the Cloud may offer technical advantages but reduces your control of your resources. Choose a smaller provider who can offer more support and options.
Social aspects of hosting
Here are some tips for running a hosting collective as part of your project:
- Make sure you are agreed on what/who you are prepared to host or not
- Make this agreement public as your AUP (acceptable usage policy)
- Create a clear (and perhaps automated) process for applying for a website or blog
- Have a firm, clear and fair way of taking down websites that you no longer feel you can support and suggest alternative hosting options for users you have to disconnect
As an individual, your influence in promoting the adoption of Open standards and formats is limited. However you can make a difference by working in partnership with other groups and networks to help form a critical mass of adoption. This is especially true in the area of media formats.
In the same way that APIs are widespread but not ‘Standards’, the same applies to many media file formats. The Mp3 audio format has patenting restrictions that make it difficult to support their use in free software. This is problematic, especially for groups who cannot afford to pay for software. The same situation exists for popular Video formats.
Recently Google announced that their Chrome browser wouldn’t support the most widely adopted but patented video format ‘h264’. The announcement has divided opinions. Many criticised the decision as a step backward for openness,12 whilst others supported it as a blow to the patented h264 and therefore a boon to the advancement of more open formats.13
Until recently the situation had been bleak for groups who wanted to support the Open Web in the world of Video.14 However, there are now open formats which we can advocate that are supported with the new <video> tag in HTML5.
If you want to create open video formats you can use Miro Video Converter. This is simple to use software for Windows and Mac to convert to a number of presets including the open formats Ogg Theora and WebM. The free software tool is made by the Participatory Culture Foundation who have a great track record of building tools that make it easy to use open standards in the world of online video.15
- Free Software Definition http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html^