Happy holidays!

It’s been just over a year since freenode saw it’s biggest shake-up yet, the passing of founder Rob ‘lilo’ Levin. It has been a challenging and interesting year both for freenode and Peer-Directed Projects Center, the not-for-profit organisation which owns and operates the network. There have been changes within the staff, there have been technical changes and soon we will see the change-over of both our Services package and our IRC daemon.

freenode is doing well — we’ve more sponsors than ever, and we’ve gained around 18,000 users. We’ve had interesting projects choose to use our services and we’ve had a lot of input from users on what changes they would like to see. This past year has truly shown freenode for what it is — a service provided by the community for the community. We’ve been joined by new staff, all of whom we’re pleased to have onboard. We’re making progress on the development side, both internally and externally.

PDPC has been more of a challenge. The NFP was fairly inactive previously and the change to having a active board who share a passion for the community we serve has been great, but it has also meant that we’ve had a lot to tidy up. While we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel, we haven’t quite gotten to where we want to be yet. However, I am confident that all the hard work put in by the board members, project specific volunteers and of course, our lawyers, CPA and accountant (without whom we’d be hairless by now), we will be able to do some truly spectacular things for the community in the coming years.

It has been a interesting and exciting year — I am proud and happy to have had the chance to work with such an amazing group of people: freenode staff, the PDPC board, past and present code contributors, projects using our services and of course the diverse and incredible user group freenode has.

I’d like to thank the PDPC board for sticking in there and for having the energy and drive to push on with what at times looked bleak and depressing, each and every one of the freenode staff members for the time and effort they have put in to keep the network running, our developers and code contributors for new services and IRCd (and of course, to the original Atheme and Charybdis developers for allowing us to continue work on already amazing services in order to make it fit our needs!), every project which uses our facilities, every single PDPC donor for helping us help the community, and of course our sponsors, without whom none of this would be possible.

I’d also like to thank the OFTC staffers for this year’s collaboration. It has been an interesting journey and one which I hope we will continue together.

And finally, I’d like to wish everyone happy holidays and a great new year!

More blogging about logging…

I promised you all that I would write an update when we’d had a chance to review things and speak with the IRseeK people. After a bit of discussion, both amongst freenode staff and with the management of the company which provides the IRseeK service, we are happy to announce that there will be a few changes.

  1. The IRseeK service will be on a opt-in basis only.
  2. The IRseeK bots will (on freenode) be cloaked and easy to identify.
  3. Logs obtained prior to the service becoming opt-in will not be published on the IRseeK website without the explicit permission of the channel owners.

It is our belief that IRseeK and similar services can provide a useful service not only to the IRC community but to other interested users as well, and we (freenode staff) are very happy to see that IRseeK are happy to change their approach to one which is clear and concise rather than covert. I hope that the service can be of benefit to the projects which use freenode, and should you have any queries — or if you’d like to get in touch with the IRseeK people — don’t hesitate to talk to us and we’ll do our best to put channel owners in touch with the IRseeK project.

Again, we encourage projects which do publicly log their channels to make this clear to all users of the channel, by placing a note in the topic or with an on-join message.

I hope this solution is one which our users find satisfactory.

We are recruiting!

We are currently looking to expand the freenode volunteer staff team – seeking people from across the target communities we serve.

Previous irc experience is a bonus, but not a requirement.

We ask that you familiarise yourself with the guidelines, policies, procedures and philosophies as per our website: http://freenode.net and assess whether you feel you agree with what we are all about. We are looking for someone who is able to work as part of a team but also happy to take initiative.

The current volunteer team is a diverse group of people – of all ages and backgrounds. We share a common passion and interest in Free and Open Source Software as well as Free Culture. We are looking for people who would compliment the current set-up and be a refreshing addition to the team – we love suggestions and ideas and appreciate it if you aren’t too shy to speak your mind!

The freenode network is run by a great team of volunteers, it’s day to day operations are overseen by the Steering Committee under the oversight of Head of Staff. While each freenode staffer has a individual role within the project; utilizing their strengths, experiences and interests the most important role on the network is that of the levelone support volunteer. We encourage all staff, regardless of seniority to spend as much time as possible on levelone duties.

We are currently looking for more staff to join us in order to better serve the groups and projects which use our services, if you should be interested please drop us a few lines to volunteering AT freenode.net letting us know a little bit about yourself, what projects you are currently involved with, why you would be interested in helping out with freenode and why you would be the right person for us to take onboard!

In addition to looking for volunteer staff we are also looking for developers – we are looking for people familiar with Ruby on Rails to work on our Group Management System (GMS) which is a web based dashboard to services, allowing group contacts of projects to better manage their namespace, cloaks etc.

We are also looking for people who could be interested in coming on board to work on 7 (Seven), which is the Charybdis based IRCD which freenode will be moving to. In addition to these, there are also other development opportunities available – and we would love to hear it if you have suggestions for something new/different too! If you are interested in helping out on the coding side, get in touch with us via code AT freenode.net and we’ll take it from there!

We hope to hear from you soon – while we will endeavour to get back to all interested parties, please keep in mind that we may not reply to your e-mail before we have reviewed a fair chunk of them. We are putting up a preliminary cut-off date of January 1st 2008, and all curious users should receive an indication of interest from us by January 15th 2008.

For now, happy hacking and er, happy holidays!

Blogging about logging..

After this recent article on techcrunch.com many of our users have contacted freenode staff to express their concern, shock, surprise and unease that IRseeK have for some time now been operating covert clients in various channels on freenode (and other IRC Networks) logging all communication and publishing it on their website.

We, freenode staff, are also surprised, not to mention rather upset, that this company has chosen to completely ignore our policies and perform actions which our users see as an invasion of their privacy. While we have contacted B & C Advanced Solutions, the company behind IRseeK, to request that they discontinue unauthorized logging on freenode and also that they remove any published logs, we have unfortunately had to take the additional step of blocking new tor connections while we pursue the matter further. The logging bots primarily connect through tor, seem to have no distinguishing characteristics that we can identify, and so far the company has not been willing to remove them voluntarily. We are currently removing the bots as we see them, and if you do spot a client you believe may be a IRseeK logging bot, please do let staff know and they will look into whether the client needs to be removed from the network. To all legitimate tor users out there, I apologise for the inconvenience caused and hope to have normal service restored as soon as possible.

Our website clearly states our policies on this topic, which have been published for several years. For those who haven’t read them recently, I quote one of the relevant sections:

“If you’re considering publishing channel logs, think it through. The freenode network is an interactive environment. Even on public channels, most users don’t weigh their comments with the idea that they’ll be enshrined in perpetuity. For that reason, few participants publish logs.

If you’re publishing logs on an ongoing basis, your channel topic should reflect that fact. Be sure to provide a way for users to make comments without logging, and get permission from the channel owners before you start. If you’re thinking of “anonymizing” your logs (removing information that identifies the specific users), be aware that it’s difficult to do it well—replies and general context often provide identifying information which is hard to filter.

If you just want to publish a single conversation, be careful to get permission from each participant. Provide as much context as you can. Avoid the temptation to publish or distribute logs without permission in order to portray someone in a bad light. The reputation you save will most likely be your own. “

And this perhaps, is where I feel that IRseeK has gone horribly wrong. I believe that this could have become a popular service had it been done in a way which promotes choice — operating on an opt-in basis could very well have meant that a lot of channel owners would have chosen to request an IRseeK logging bot in their channel so that logs could be referenced and looked at later.

However, currently there is no way to opt-in, or even to opt out. The bots aren’t easily identifiable and you’re not aware that they are present in your channel. Ideally, I would have liked to see:

  1. Logging bots clearly identifiable as such.
  2. Logging of channels occurring only at the channel owners’ request.
  3. Channels that opt in to this service displaying, in a way which is visible to all current and new users of the channel, that the channel is being logged and the logs made publically available on the web. The channel topic and on-join notice could easily be used to this effect.
  4. An easy method to remove logging bots from a channel should it join in error or a channel owner decide that they no longer wish their channel to be logged.

Perhaps, in this regard, they could have taken a leaf out of CIA’s book and become a lot more popular in the process.

To me, the biggest surprise is that the people behind IRseeK defend their actions and believe that they are entirely within their rights to do what they do in the manner that they do it. Leaving our guidelines aside for a moment, what irks me is this: freenode caters primarily to people from the FOSS communities, people to whom choice and freedom are important. For us, providing a service such as freenode to our community is important; our users give a lot, we share code, knowledge, hints, frustrations, laughter.. and we like to give back in the little way we can. It then does not feel comfortable or at all right to have someone intrude upon our privacy, sneaking into the circle and observing with the singular aim of publicising our conversations entirely without our knowledge or consent. By taking the route that they did, IRseeK has taken away our freedom and our choice. They have forced something down on us and in the process soured and poisoned a community which thrives on trust and collaboration. It has created a bad atmosphere and made a lot of people uncomfortable.

I am really sorry that this problem has reached our network, and I am really sorry for the way it has affected our community. I am also sorry for the way in which IRseeK choose to perform their actions, and sorrier still that we did not catch it sooner.

I sincerely hope that IRseeK will honour our request to stop attempting to log channels on freenode without the channel owner’s explicit permission, and I also hope that they will honour our request to remove logs already in their system.

Lastly, I would like to wish IRseeK well, and I hope that you re-consider your approach. I believe that if done properly, what you have could be turned into a respectable service which would be used by and appreciated by a lot of people.

As I said, we have gotten in touch with the people behind IRseeK and they have asked to have until this sunday (tomorrow) to respond. I will give you an update when we hear back from them and know which way the tide is turning.

For now, thank you for using freenode and have a great day!