Members' Thinking about What We Should Do

The Board of May First Movement Technology will be holding its regular meeting on May 8th. Before each meeting, the Board seeks feedback from any members who are interested through an informal convergence that we are calling next week and through this forum space.

Here’s the main question: Given what’s going on in the world with the virus and the connected social collapse, what should May First be doing?

Our movement needs forms of communication other than commercial software. We also need to come together and talk about the culture of meeting which is going to change after all this. Finally, we have to talk about the role technology plays in a struggle that is certain to be much sharper and more intense in the coming period.

What do we do?

All answers are taken into consideration during the Board’s meeting.


Dear members all of you…

  1. Can we share more information (user guides, for example) regarding high quality alternative software for virtual meetings and workgroups?
  2. How will we work with fake news distributed and disclosed through our movement?
    Thanks a lot…
    hugs for each of you.
    ÁBACOenRed (Nicaragua)

Glad we’re asking these questions. I have certainly seen a lot of hunger for alternatives to the commercial online collaboration tools. I have been using our Jitsi instance as much as people will let me, and I wonder if there are other things we might start offering, such as Matrix or a public Mumble. Above all, I think we should focus on showing more than telling—demonstrating that free/open tools, hosted and managed cooperatively, are a viable alternative to surveillance capitalism.

Hi All.
I’m new hear but not new to tech even though I’m not a programmer at all. I run a service in Philadelphia called Wikidelphia. One of the tools I’ve run across is something called Liquid Feedback. I searched and could only find a mention of Liquid Feedback in a email list in 2012. That was in the [Obit] list.
I’m wondering if there is any interest here in helping groups to establish their own Liquid Feedback tools and would that be something useful here, too. You can see my page on Wikidelphia for Liquid Feeback here:

The link to the project’s website is in the top left corner under the title.
– Stan

Thanks for starting this convo. Here’s the page on our alternatives to live tools:

There are some important questions we have about how to promote these alternative tools - since none of them replicate what the corporate tools can do - specifically having a video conference with more than 10 participants. We have mumble, that can handle over a 100 effortlessly - but no video. We have jitsi-meet which supports video, but not so great after 10 participants.

How should we advise the movement? What should we put our resources into developing further?

The jitsi meet developers seem to be working on making their tool better able to handle bigger meetings but that will require much more server resources then we are currently applying (and it’s unclear at this point what would be required to handle these big meetings once the software is adjusted to handle them). On the other hand, we can easily meet the needs of large meetings via mumble - with audio only. Should we be improving the mumble tool to make it easier to use even though it has no video?

Lastly, we have this tool - discourse. Are live meetings the best way to move us forward? Or should we be working more on text based asynchronous tools like Discourse. It seems that LiquidFeedback falls into ths category - I’ve never heard of that tool and can’t tell if it’s open source or not. I have some experience with a similar tool called loomio

I think it’s important to be up-front about the limitations. One of the (many) profoundly disappointing things about the landscape of tech is that many of us do need to compromise. So speaking with understanding about that. For example, we’re running live, global, interactive meetings with 50-200 live attendees and unfortunately, there just aren’t many options I’m really happy about. I’d love to hear about, of the commercial options, which are the least worst.

Love loomio. That and Discourse I find to be very helpful with online organizing in recent years. :woman_shrugging:

Right now MFMT doesn’t use volunteers except for those of us who volunteer (and get elected) to be on the Board.; our members are mostly members of other organizations and most have jobs, and we’re adjusting to our new coop structure, so we haven’t developed an approach to creating opportunities for volunteering, and we don’t have experience with reaching out and recruiting volunteers. Could we turn that around somehow? I’m aware from being on the Board’s coordination team that our in-house organizational resources have to focus our capacities on our existing hosting and tech service work, so we can’t do much more without volunteer help. Would it work if we identified some open source projects that could use help or could be adapted to better serve our movement needs, and put out a call to the membership for volunteers for various roles to contribute to training, installation, documentation, graphics, UX design, and of course software development? I’d love being part of a team to adapt and improve existing free/libre open source tools to address some of the movement needs Alfredo mentioned. Is this approach of coordinating and organizing within the movement something MFMT should be doing?

En español desde (microsoft) (¿Puede alguien que es bilingue decirme lo buena que es realmente esta traducción?)

En este momento MFMT no utiliza voluntarios excepto para la Junta; nuestros miembros son en su mayoría miembros de otras organizaciones y la mayoría tienen trabajos, y nos estamos adaptando a nuestra nueva estructura cooperativa, por lo que no hemos desarrollado un enfoque para crear oportunidades para el voluntariado, y no tenemos experiencia con la búsqueda y reclutamiento de voluntarios.¿Podríamos darle la vuelta a eso de alguna manera? Soy consciente de estar en el equipo de coordinación de la Junta que nuestros recursos organizativos internos tienen que enfocar nuestras capacidades en nuestro trabajo de hosting y servicio tecnológico existente, por lo que no podemos hacer mucho más sin ayuda voluntaria.¿Funcionaría si identificamos algunos proyectos de código abierto que podrían utilizar ayuda o podrían adaptarse para satisfacer mejor nuestras necesidades de movimiento, y hacer una llamada a los miembros para que los voluntarios contribuyan a la formación, instalación, documentación, gráficos, diseño de experiencia de usuario y, por supuesto, desarrollo de software?Me encantaría formar parte de un equipo para adaptar y mejorar las herramientas existentes de código abierto libre/libre para abordar algunas de las necesidades del movimiento que Alfredo mencionó.¿Es este enfoque de coordinación y organización dentro del movimiento algo que MFMT debería estar haciendo?

I’ve been using a self-hosted instance of Jitsi for video chats/virtual meetings. My experience has been mostly great, and I’d be happy to talk about that and wonder if others have tried it and/or alternatives.

I know that MF has used Mumble and Jitsi, and I think I’ve had a similar experience with the latter with regard to difficulties with scaling. But it’s pretty easy to set up and works alright for small groups.

Thanks for these comments, @jamie.

I am very interested in the same question, whether video is the best way forward or if asynch. text tools are more effective/useful.

What other tools along these lines, other than Discourse, do you find interesting?

Have we explored hosting Matrix, @jamie (or others)? It seems like a really important up-and-coming project that is well suited for hosting on a shared infrastructure like ours. And it operates in the space of synchronous text chat, which we don’t have any offerings for. It also has a Jitsi integration, so it would build on our existing use of Jitsi. Oh, and Mumble, too.

We don’t have a matrix server. But we do host a jabber/xmpp server (see Matrix and XMPP are competing standards - they are both federated (meaning it’s not centralized - anyone can start their own server and participate) and they both focus on real time text messaging.

XMPP is the older standard and matrix is a newer one.

It’s always a tough call with things like this - which do we support? Putting both of them forward tends to be confusing to our members and results in two poorly adopted services.

For the time being, we’ve been sticking with XMPP.

@reed I haven’t spent much time on other tools besides Discourse (other then email lists of course). I’m also on a few Signal groups. I think the question for the movement is: do we use email, which is nearly universal and dead simple to access or try to switch to any of the newer tools, which makes things easier for the more tech saavy but effectively excludes a lot of people.

I think there’s a lot of talk about how “young” people don’t use email and you can’t reach them via email, but I’m not convinced. I still think email is the one requirement for any kind of work on the Internet and remains the lowest common denominator. That’s one of the reasons I like Discourse because there is an email notification aspect to it (although I have found it really confusing to configure).

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I appreciate the comments about email. I’ve found it to be the most effective asynchronous text tool in my work. Maybe that makes me “an old”, but it’s just hard to beat.

I will say I’ve seen younger folks struggle with (specifically mailman) email lists (conceptually and technically) far more than I would have imagined I would – not only using them but also moderating and managing them.

Do you think there are ways to make mailing lists easier to moderate and manage? To (teach/learn how to) use them?

Do you have ideas for email-related applications, tools, or libraries that would help movements continue to use email but also address changing needs/tastes?

Two thoughts… if we can move forward with the consolidation of the tech group that was started at Highlander last year, to be able to think through how we might address significant movement needs, that would be great. Also, if we can as part of movement building, do more with connection and outreach, publicity and communication between sectors, constituencies, communities, organizations… that would be a great contribution.

@reed - I think we need to replace mailman with something else. Maybe the new mailman version 3 is enough? I haven’t tried it but it claims to have a “modern user interface” which hopefully means it is more intuitive to use.

I think the hard part is that there are so many different needs it’s hard to come with a one size fits all. Having said that, I think some kind of integrated collection of tools is helpful - an email list, a repository for shared files, a way to meet in real time.

I think it’s a key time for MFMT to address the questions raised and consider the particular ways we can contribute to movement building in this period. There’s the aspect of contributing to addressing the technological needs that will allow communication, collective political analysis and decision making. And there’s fully embracing and actualizing what we are as a movement organization that brings together many movement organizations. How can we contribute to unity, to strategy, to concerted action?

I think this is one of the things the leadership will be talking about from now on.

The “tech group” from Highlander is the Radical Connections Network. We need to rethink what we are doing with that Network because it has become a lot less active recently.

MayFirst should fight against Internet Censorship and work to come up with user friendly tech non-censored alternatives. I’ve said it here before as least twice, see:

but I’ll say it again - there is nothing more important for all our movements, or the techies supporting them, than seeking to get their word out UNCENSORED and combating the censorship that the powers-that-shouldn’t-be have ratcheted up to unbelievable levels during these crazy times. Everyone having access to technology to access the internet and free software to navigate it, to learn, to share knowledge, to meet, are all worthy goals but how meaningful will the results be if the only viewpoints one receives from it or what can be found through searching it, or what opposition groups are meeting and planning, are only from those which the government, in cahoots with the consolidated corporate media, deem “authoritative” and not fake news or misinformation. THEY are making that call. THEY are the gatekeepers. WAKE UP PEOPLE. The answer to what some consider fake news or misinformation is MORE speech not less and the better ideas will out. WHO do you want to choose what’s accurate or true? Do you need a babysitter? Someone to vet your information for you? We’re now living in 1984 to infinity.

I post about this yet again with little hope that May First will address this challenge. Perhaps if book burning was involved, it might attract more attention. FIRE - FIRE - DOES ANYONE SEE THE JOKE THAT IS BEING MADE OF THE U.S. FIRST AMENDMENT’s RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH ON THE INTERNET AND IN SOCIAL MEDIA? Of course, internet censorship is also increasing across the globe . . .


I think part of what makes responding to this question difficult is how unprepared we are for this context. Obligatory or compulsory social distancing is not the environment for change that most social movements connected to May First have spent their time imagining. Unfortunately the conditions created by this global pandemic are exactly those most idealized and planned for by the far right fascists.

Sure we have to rethink how we come together for meetings but more importantly this is an opportunity to think about how we come together in a deeper sense.
We can already see evidence that when governments and capitalist systems fail them people can and will find ways to come to each other’s rescue.

We know that when used correctly, technology can be a powerful tool of resistance for those us who have decided we are unwilling to sacrifice each other to sustain a broken economic system. In that sense, anticipating and maintaining the tools and processes that help us do the practical work of coming together is what I’d like to see our our organization prioritize.

In some cases I think the answer is simple, our movements will continue to depend on and use the tools they have been using. Ensuring that our members can continue to count on basic communications services like web hosting, e-mail, and file sharing to be there for them as they go about doing the work is paramount.

But I’d also like to see May First anticipate new tools that might be needed as our movements find ways to take action and people rise to the occasion.
In doing this I think we should avoid getting caught up in the trap of feeling obligated to provide alternatives to all of the same services commercial entities dominate. Should we put all of our energy into trying to compete with video conferencing systems backed by millions of dollars of investor capital? Is that the most import thing?

What about the tools we need to help us come together that corporate providers don’t provide and don’t even consider?

  • Tools to help track and facilitate collective decision making processes
  • Tools to help us directly exchange labor and resources or route them to where they are needed most

And its not just about the tools. We have to continue the social and communication processes needed to help our movements use technology more effectively. Likewise we need to ensure that new generations of movement technologists have an opportunity to develop the experience and knowledge necessary to replicate these processes.