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posted by Fnord666 on Friday April 17 2020, @08:57PM   Printer-friendly
from the suggestions-please dept.

With all of the Pandemic precautions that have been put into effect, many people are turning to "free" on-line conferencing services. As the saying goes, "If you are not paying for the service, you are the product". And, even if paid for (by yourself or by an employer), that does not mean freedom from having your information mined for advertising or other purposes.

I've not used any of the following, so please forgive me if I got the product names incorrect. Here are some of the big "free" services that I've seen mentioned: Zoom (whose security issues have been cited many times on SoylentNews), Apple (Group Facetime), Google (Hangouts), Facebook (Facebook Live) and Microsoft (Teams).

I suspect many Soylentils have now acquired some experience with on-line conferencing. I am hoping to draw upon your experience. Better still, I would love to see development and proliferation of alternatives to the "Big Names". Solutions that are self-hosted and as free as reasonably possible from the prying eyes of the big, data-warehousing corporations. Open source — free as in beer and libre — would be good, too

Aside: Way back in 2013 there was a great deal of media attention given to the revelation that the USA's NSA (National Security Agency) had been collecting metadata. Oft-touted was that it was only metadata. I immediately thought, "If it is only metadata, then why is there such resistance to terminating the program? They must be getting something of value out of it!"

Kieran Healy answered my question. He is a Professor of Sociology at Duke University and posted an illuminating article, Using Metadata to find Paul Revere. A humorous and lighthearted portrayal, written as if from the colonial era, Kieran uses relatively simple linear algebra on seemingly innocuous data to draw some startling conclusions. Fear not! No deep understanding of linear algebra is required! For the mathematically knowledgeable, sufficient details are provided. For the rest of us, summaries are provided which explain what each operation does and offers. If you've ever wondered why so many organizations want to know your contact list, this article makes things quite clear!

So, back to conferencing. To my knowledge, the preceding companies offer video chat, though I am more interested in strictly voice chat applications (but am willing to consider video as an alternative, too.) Skeptical of company's ulterior motives, I thought there must be some self-hosting solution. I'd like to be able to lease a low-cost, on-line server, like SoylentNews does from Linode. Then install the application on, say, Ubuntu and make chat available over the net using just a web browser.

Besides, I can't be the first person to be interested in this. It sounds like something tailor-made for an open-source solution. A cursory glance seemed filled with "marketing speak" and I could not tell the wheat from the chaff. Each offering trumpets their features and downplays (or even neglects to mention) their shortcomings. How to choose?

Yes, I realize that short of going nuts with onion routing and TOR or something of that ilk, there will necessarily be "footprints" left behind for ISPs, DNS providers, etc. to harvest. Still, the perfect is the enemy of the much-better-than-what-we-have-now, so I'm reaching out to our the community.

What user-platform-agnostic (smartphone, laptop, or desktop) browser-based conferencing software have you hosted or used? How did it work out? What worked well? What shortcomings did you find? What obvious question am I forgetting to ask?

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  • (Score: 1) by spiraldancing on Monday April 20 2020, @10:22AM

    by spiraldancing (5894) on Monday April 20 2020, @10:22AM (#985040)

    I've been hosting my own instance for 4-5 years. Self-hosting is not too hard for the tech-savvy, but perhaps overwhelming for general public. They also offer hosted instances you can join (though I've never tried that).

    At it's core, it's primarily a personal Cloud storage/sharing/syncing tool, similar to GDrive, Dropbox, etc. But as a self-hosted FOSS webservice, it also supports many plug-in apps for additional functionality ... calendars, collaborative Office suite, task lists, email, contact lists, yada.

    Nextcloud Talk is one of the primary plug-in apps available, that provides text, audio, video and group chatting and such-like. Getting the audio and video functionality working across the public Internet is a bit more complicated than just 'install and use'. My personal experience with it has been spotty. But broadly speaking, it is well reviewed.

    Lets go exploring.