Last Wednesday, I felt an urge to carefully write out a list of all the possible characteristics that would make communications technology genuinely free. I felt this was important for a number of reasons: for example, to follow up on my earlier claim that free software does not always provide free communications, it is necessary to be able to measure the shortcomings against a perfect (although possibly unachievable) benchmark.
Then something happened
Just hours after my blog was live, The Guardian, a leading British newspaper (and contributor to open source) started publishing explosive allegations about the extent of US Government monitoring of communications. They kicked off a dramatic four days of coverage of this topic with the story that one of America's largest phone companies, Verizon, is secretly passing details of all customer phone calls and approximate locations (metadata) to the NSA.
I've published further blog entries about this subject in the meantime. One thing I want to make clear: real friends tell each other the truth. There is no need to flatter America with gratitude for inventing the Internet when discussing these fundamental privacy failings. Anybody who has tried to generalise any comments about the NSA scandal as `anti-American' is themselves failing to respect America's own principles of free speech. A doctor doesn't make up fairy tales for a patient diagnosed with cancer, he puts the facts on the table as that is the first step in making progress.
The winds of change
Activity on all my free communications web sites, especially Lumicall and OpenTelecoms.org has doubled. Google Play reports that the rate of Lumicall installations have also doubled - hopefully it is getting closer to the point where Metcalfe's Law kicks in and everybody will have federated SIP on their phone.
One thing is clear: this situation provides a huge opportunity for anybody promoting free software, not just for communications. As I mentioned, web sites on the subject of free and private communications are attracting significant interest and I hope this rubs off on other projects. While I have contended that free software does not always provide free communications, there is a compelling argument for the case that you can't have free communications without having genuinely free software.
Some of the developments that are coming up in the very near future:
An upcoming release of DruCall, initially packaged for Debian and leveraging the libraries API packaging scheme, is going to make it much, much easier for the vast majority of web sites to offer a secure calling facility, without any third-party browser plugins required. Other CMS vendors such as xWiki are also working on WebRTC support.
DebConf13 is aiming to feature a half-day track on Free real-time communications with a focus on the way free operating systems, particularly Debian (and it's derivatives like Ubuntu) are fundamental to rolling out an alternative to the status quo.
Federated VoIP is also a confirmed feature of the upcoming Fedora 19 release and will eventually work it's way into EPEL. This is another great way for people who work in an RPM environment to start getting more active deploying SIP as a standard service in their environment.
The real-time communication (RTC) quick-start guide is currently being updated and will include a convenient web-checker to help people test their federated connectivity.