Change in #defocus policy – and what do you think?

Since rearchitecting freenode’s network help and social channels, we’ve been considering various ways to improve them for our network users, and recently freenode’s steering committee has investigated and considered these issues.

Whilst many of you have indicated to us that you feel longer or more aggressive bans are required to prevent disruption, the steering committee feels that an alternative strategy is most appropriate for freenode, as harsher punishments go against what freenode stands for.

Therefore, as of September 15th #defocus will be a moderated channel. This means that in order to speak, users will need to be voiced in the channel. Most of the time staff will be around to voice users in the channel, and if they are not, then users will need to wait in order to be voiced.

Whilst we appreciate that this will inconvenience some of our users, we regret that the difficulty of managing the channel makes a change in policy of some sort a necessity. We request that users not ask for voice, either directly via staffers or in #freenode, as this will not result in being voiced sooner. Please wait patiently, and you will be voiced eventually.

As part of the change in policy, we’d like to solicit comments from you, the users. How do you feel about the way freenode uses its help and social channels? What improvements would you implement, and how would you plan and discuss them? We’d like to foster greater community feedback, and if you’ve got any general comments about any of these issues we’d love to hear them! Please let [email protected] know what you think!

Lugradio Live: The grand finale

I, for one, was saddened to hear that my favourite FOSS podcast; Lugradio is coming to an end. If you are in the UK, heck, if you’re anywhere and don’t mind traveling a bit you may want to catch the grand finale at this years Lugradio Live.

LugRadio Live UK 2008
The Lighthouse Media Center, Fryer St., Wolverhampton, WV1 1HT

LugRadio Live UK 2008, the most popular community Open Source event in the UK takes place in Wolverhampton on the 19th and 20th and features three stages full of 25+ speakers including Chris DiBona (Google), Max Spevack (Red Hat), Steve Lamb (Microsoft), Robert Collins (Canonical),
Benjamin Otte (GNOME), Rob McQueen (Collabora), Edward Hervey (Collabora Multimedia), James Hooker, Kevin Sandom, Barbie (MessageLabs), Daniel James, Emma Jane Hogbin, Bruno Bord, Ben Thorp, Rufus Pollock (FFFI) Sam Birchall, John Carr, William J Giddings and many more…

In addition to this the show will feature over 20 exhibitors, special debate sessions, the legendary Gong-a-thong Lightbulb Talk Extravaganza (read: a series of small talk chaired by a man in a very small pair of pants and a very large gong – not to be missed!), parties on the Friday and Saturday evenings and much, much more.

All of this is just £5, and there are even a raft of hotel deals
available to make your trip simple and cost effective. Head over to www.lugradio.org/live to find out more.

I hope to see you there!

Who Are freenode Staff? (Part 1 of ?)

As you have undoubtedly noticed by now, freenode recently changed services. Along with this new look, we thought it would be a good time to formally (and perhaps not-so-formally) announce the addition of new staff. You’ll find below a list of all our current staff, and in this post and some that follow, we’ll give you a tiny snapshot of the new (and some of the old) members of our circus^Wteam.

Current freenode staff:

AndrewB
chb
christel
cybersystem
Dave2
denny
DLange
dmwaters
Exstatica
Ganneff
Gary
jenda
JonathanD
Karlprof
kloeri
Lorez
Martinp23
Matt
Md
nalioth
njan
numist
PhilKC
pinpoint
PriceChild
RichiH
seanw
Sejo
skenmy
SportChick
Stx
stylus
tomaw
Udontknow
vorian
weasel
werdan7
wimt
Yaakov

And now, for a little insight on a couple of individuals:

  • christel: If by now, you don’t know christel…well, where have you been?! For the last couple of years, she has been the head of staff of freenode and has seen it through many changes. No, freenode is not yet pink (though if she had her way, it would be entirely pink – you can thank some of the male staffers for preventing that so far). She did once say that if she were to leave a job in a flamboyant manner, she’d simply go to work in pink body paint. Her secret desire has always been to become a Russian spy…however, being from Norway, she’s had to settle for being self-employed and an irc mogul in her spare time. She got her start on irc nearly half her lifetime ago, creating havoc on EfNet and running up her dial-up internet bills.
  • vorian: One of the more recent additions to staff, vorian’s first experience on irc was starting up a Local (Ubuntu) Community team in 2006. Though married (for 10 years!) and with four children, he clearly wasn’t busy enough. A long-time wolf-bot addict, vorian has announced his goal for the future of freenode – creating a unified wolf-bot game where everyone plays by the rules, pays strict attention, and always has a minimum of 8 players per round (this replaces his former goal of becoming a jet pilot AND nurse for the navy).


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.

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!

Keeping tabs on channel bans

The channel ban, initiated with a mode change of +b, is perhaps one of the most recognised and well known features of IRC, dating back to the origins of the protocol. freenode has implemented a number of features that extend the basic nick!user@host mask format because we believe that the ‘kickban’ is outdated and there are better ways of dealing with disruptions to channel activity. On freenode you will find the quiet, where by replacing +b with +q you can stop a user from speaking in a channel but they can still read the contents of it. It has been found that this creates a more positive atmosphere in the channel that means better discussion can take place. There is also the realname ban, used via +d.

There is however a downside to the ease of banning users on freenode from channels and that is that it is easy to lose track of bans set in large channels. There is no feature to auto-expire bans in IRC and in a busy channel it doesn’t take long for a large list to build up. With multiple operators in a channel things can very quickly become confused and no-one seems to know why ban x was set and whether or not the user should now be unbanned. This leads to unhappy users and a channel that misses out on potential positive discussion. In addition, channels have a limit of fifty bans set at any one time and bans end up being shed arbitarily in order to set a new set for a new threat. This can lead to obvious problems.

This issue is made worse by the fact that +e, +I and +d lists also share the fifty slot limit. This means that if a channel has a large list of ban exceptions or invite exceptions, the number of bans that can be set in a channel is severely limited. In order to avoid having these problems in your channel, we encourage you to take care that bans are being set only when necessary (as bans are generally a Bad Thing) and also to take responsibility for your bans. By this I mean that when a ban no longer makes sense it should be removed.

It is recognised that in some channels these limits may be problematic regardless of how tidy the channel is kept and our server does have the ability to increase the limit. This can be granted by freenode staff but is done so on a case by case basis, and not frequently — doing so indiscriminately would not only encourage channel operators to overfill their banlists, but could eventually cause resource and performance issues on the servers — freenode currently has around 16000 channels active, so increasing the memory consumed by each banlist would have a dramatic effect. Channels that have a lot of stale bans are unlikely to be granted this flag. Keep tabs on your bans for a happier channel with happier users, and clear out your channel lists to speed things up for everyone!


I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that if you are organising a conference or other event that will have many users connected to freenode at once or if you are a company or other establishment with many freenode users you can now request a larger connection limit by e-mailing your request, details and reasoning to ilines AT // NOSPAM \\ freenode DOT net. Conferences and large networks of users provide a substantial part of freenode’s active community and we always seek to accomodate those who are involved in this.

Thank you!

Today saw the (hopefully temporary) resignation of one of our senior staffers; Andy Lindeman (alindeman). Andy has been an important part of freenode staff, both as an excellent part of the strong group of user facing staff and as a part of our infrastructure team. It’s sad to see him go, and we hope that he will find the time to rejoin our ranks at some point in the future, but as most of us can relate, being a college student you often find yourself with new and other priorities, be it studies or the social aspects of spending a few years away studying.

On behalf of freenode staff and the PDPC board I would like to thank Andy for the time and effort he has put in volunteering for us over the years and wish him all the best for the future. And when you finish your degree, do come back! :)

freenode has reached 40 000 users

Today at around 18:45 UTC freenode hit a total number of connections of fourty thousand, which is a new network record. Over the past few months our usercount has been steadily growing and we are really pleased that more people are finding freenode a useful resource. If you want to see how many users are connected at any one time, type the IRC command /lusers

[18:45:52] [freenode] -!- WALLOP Md: FYI, freenode has just broken the record of 40000 connected users. let’s join the party in #defocus

#freenode & #defocus: an evaluation

Donna recently posted on the move that changed #freenode-social and #tapthru to #defocus and #freenode respectively. This has involved getting the former #tapthru staff on board as our new freenode helpers, and as staff we have found them a great bunch of people to work with – thank you to you all. Yesterday we held an evaluation meeting about how the last two months had gone, with the ups and downs, and to try and set plans for the future. It was a constructive event; what follows us a brief summary of the meeting. Continue reading