Uncategorized Works in progress

Producers, Consumers and Intermediaries

This is a work in progress, published in this state, but which needs substantial revision to finish it.

In the real world the things we want as consumers are often supplied by a chain, where some form of intermediary sits between us and the ultimate producer of whatever that thing was, for example

Farm or Factory -> Retailer -> Consumer

Writer -> Publisher -> Reader

Our place in this chain will very according to what we are doing, when a writer buys food, they switch from a producer to a consumer. The ability to specialise accounts for much of human progress, and the intermediary also has an important role and should add value to the process.

Problems in the system tend to come down to abuses of power, usually because one element of the chain has some form of monopoly which prevents, for example shoppers from going to an alternative shop to buy some product, but, for example aggressive negotiations by supermarkets may force farmers into being unable to sell their products are a sustainable price.

Risk and reward

The intermediary is sometimes taking a risk, for example a shop purchases goods, and sells them at a profit, but the profit has to cover the goods which the shop buys and then is unable to sell.

Problems arise if, for any stage in the process, the profits are either excessive in relation to the risk, or fail to cover the risks. In free market theory, competition should prevent this from happening, for example if a shop is making excessive profits, then a competitor will notice an easy profit to be made and move in to undercut the original, profiteering shop.

If this is prevented by some form of monopoly then the system breaks down. Again, in theory, there are markets build around a natural monopoly – for example the supply of utility services to houses. Although an element of competition can be introduced, for example by creating a market in gas intermediaries, the pipework carrying the gas has to be run by a body which is controlled by regulation rather than competition.

Licensing and Copyright management

Publishers, Record Companies, YouTube, CCLI potentially add value by collecting money from people who watch media or listen to music and the artists and musicians who create it.

In the case of YouTube, in general for their advertising supported model, they are not taking money directly, but receiving money from advertisers

The situation becomes complicated in the case of intermediaries (collective rights management) who are not really in the chain, for example PRS for Music – as they do not actually know whose content is actually being used. At least the Public Lending Right tries to match library loans to author remuneration.

For all creative content a major issue is ensuring that revenue generated from that content is distributed appropriately down the chain, from the purchaser through the intermediary they deal with, for example Amazon for Kindle books, then possibly other intermediaries, such as a publisher, and finally the author(s). For a paper book, bought from a high street bookseller, they will have costs, such at rent and rates to pay, which an online seller will not have at the same level, so the purchaser should expect to pay more. It would help someone trying to make ethical decisions on any kind of creative content to have more transparency on where their money is going.

Small Organisation Server

Small Organisation Server – the Target

The end goal of the Small Organisation Server project is a system which can provide everything needed for a small organisation, such as the Ambridge Garden Club, to have a presence on the Internet, with transparent accounting for how it is funded. The organisation should be able to own its data and systems. Although it will have to pay for hosting, as it should – there is no such thing as a free lunch – that hosting should be on a standard platform which does not lock the organisation into any particular vendor.

Simplicity of Administration

Small organisations should not need to have more than a minimal knowledge of computer administration.

Automatic updates

The software should update with the minimum attention needed from the administrator, who should not need to deal with a different update system for each component.


Not every small organisation will want every facility, for example a choir might want some form of music repository, and a garden club might not have a use for that.

Simple to use

Single identity and password

Federation and other organisations

Many people have multiple interests, and the system should not try to be the only one they use.


There is a clash between a desire to have the latest and greatest, and having a system which focuses on continuity. Although the organisation will be interested in keeping up to date with what it is interested in, e.g. gardening, that does not mean that it should need the very latest software.


All designs involve compromises, trade offs between, for example complexity and power. These are the choices I believe to be appropriate for the target types of Small Organisation.

Extreme privacy and security.

Hosting on a base you do not own, such as a hosted virtual computer (or even a real computer in a data centre) requires a level of trust in your host. There is a theoretical possibility, for example, that your hosting provider can read all of your data. The same applies to government level agencies, well funded criminal gangs etc. However such operations are expensive, and if that is a concern then you are in a different category of organisation.

Scaling to enormous sizes

Some software or systems do not scale to support thousands, or millions of people on the same platform. This causes them to be dismissed by people who want to be able to run huge systems. If you are expecting to grow to those sort of sizes you should be planning for some paid dedicated IT staff.

Applications – what can it do ?

The purpose of a Server is to serve, to serve the needs of the people who own it (Also true for the servers which belong to Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon etc). Here I put some of the things which might be useful to a Small Organisation on the Internet.


One of the key building blocks of the internet, and also often now used as a proxy for identity. It should be possible for members of the organisation to contact each other through email, and possibly at their choice have their emails forwarded to another system, or read to write emails from the server. This should be compliant with technical standards for mail authentication, such as DMARC, without needing the administrators to have to understand the technicalities. Ideally it should support filtering via Sieve, and reading and writing mail either through a web interface or standard email client programs.

Mailing lists

Sending emails to large numbers of recipients is a specialist area, particularly if there are doubts about whether they want the emails or not, and if the small organisation wants to do that type of thing they should pay a specialist. However for cases like contacting committee members, or possibly, for example a small charity to update previous donors (who are willing to be contacted) a mailing list manager can be useful.

Web pages

These are the public face of the organisation, and it should be relatively easy for those members of the organisation who represent it to update them. This will probably not be every member, and it should be clear, at least internally, who said what. Some form of content management system, such as WordPress or Drupal, integrated with the rest of the user administration should be possible.


Some form of Survey software may prove useful, but it does not have to be Google Forms, or Microsoft Forms or SurveyMonkey – it may be well be that LimeSurvey will do the job.


If the organisation creates video content they should be able to decide whether to pay to host it, and allow others to view it without advertising, or to have someone else host it for ‘free’ paid for by advertising, which may not align with their ideals.

Note that, probably, this is not a large a risk as it might seem. Although a Temperance Society might in theory find it’s videos interrupted by advertisements for alcoholic beverages this would not be an effective use of the advertiser’s spend.

It is still an area where groups should have more choice about whether to host their own video content, and being able to run Peertube on their own server would allow this. This also allows the ability to publish content only available to members, should they want, and to live stream meetings.

Chat/Instant messaging

There are a number of options for this, depending on requirements. Some of them keep a permanent record of everything which has been said, such as Matrix, which might be wanted for important decisions, but overkill for general chat. The established standard in this area is XMPP, a Federated chat protocol which was the basis for Facebook Messenger and Google Talk before they decided to only allow it be used within their own communities. It can, but does not have too, keep a record of chats on the server.

Social media (microblogs)

Some organisations may want to produce small snippets of information, similar to Tweets, intended for public consumption. They may also want their members to be able to do this, but may want to distinguish between an official view and member’s opinions. Software based around the ActivityPub standard works for this.

Social networking

Some groups may want members to be able to create small amounts of content primarily for sharing with friends, for which something like Diaspora may be more appropriate.

Calendars and events

People will probably want to know when the next meeting is and similar needs. Organisations can host their own calendars and do not need to Google or Microsoft to host them, which means that they do not have to require their members to have Google or Microsoft accounts.

These calendars can be added to smartphones or integrated into calendar programs on a PC, such as Thunderbird or Outlook, which saves members from having to add them manually.

Video conferencing/virtual meetings

Organisations should be able, if they wish, to run meetings and conferencing on systems they own and operate themselves, using a system such as Jitsi, or BigBlueButton (more suitable for a larger organisation).


At present all of the components exist, and someone with an interest in computers can put forward such a system, as has been done at least in part for Debian and Wikipedia, but there is a scarcity of information making it simple for someone without computer skills to put such a system together.

Systems like FreedomBox have a similar aim, but targeted towards individuals hosting on their own hardware. Yunohost is also based on Debian, and is the closest I can find to a Small Organisation Server. The aspect I don’t know about is it’s stability across Debian upgrades. It’s installation instructions are still based on Debian version 10, whereas Debian’s stable release is now version 11, and I know the upgrade was fairly painless. Their Use Cases for NGOs is quite similar to this post.