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Science and technology

Is it potential to run a convention utilizing solely free software program?

The Free Software Foundation’s (FSF) annual convention LibrePlanet went totally digital in 2020 on account of ongoing points attributable to the coronavirus pandemic. In our final week of preparations earlier than the reside occasion, more and more disturbing information associated to the virus made us notice we couldn’t responsibly maintain our ordinary convention on software program freedom in particular person whereas defending the protection of our contributors and their communities. So we turned every thing round to ultimately convey 35 free software program shows to our neighborhood by means of the filter of a pc display screen. After the convention, we had many individuals writing to ask us for extra particulars about what we used to do it, so we needed to take this chance to share how we had been in a position to create a completely free interactive and academic digital expertise for the primary time, however possible not the final.

LibrePlanet 2020 movies had been recorded from the reside stream and have been posted online for everybody to take pleasure in. For the periods not fully depending on visible data from slides, we additionally present the audio over an RSS (Atom) feed for anybody to take heed to whereas they train, bake, backyard, or in any other case search distraction from anxious instances.

HUBAngl and Icecast

Because our neighborhood is a world one, we now have been streaming our occasion on-line for years utilizing fully free software program. Thankfully, the tech staff may build on this experience to ensure that we delivered a clean on-line convention. Previously, we used HUBAngl, which was developed particularly for LibrePlanet, by Free Software Foundation (FSF) intern David Teste. It fetches audio and/or video enter streams, after which streams to the Icecast streaming server. The streams which are broadcasted and saved might be audio-only, video-only, or each without delay.

Gstreamer and Jitsi

In 2016, we gained some live streaming expertise after we interviewed Edward Snowden reside from Moscow. To decrease the danger of failed recordings on account of overly complicated or error-prone software program techniques, we made it a precedence to realize a pipeline with low latency, good picture high quality, and low CPU utilization. The software we used then was Jitsi Meet, and the tech info and scripts we used for streaming from 2016 can be found in your data and inspiration.

Using Ansible for multimedia reliability

Naturally, for this 12 months, with no time for researching different functions, we opted to construct on our expertise with Jitsi Meet. We hosted our personal occasion for distant audio system to connect with and enter a video name with the convention organizers. A display screen seize of this name was then concurrently recorded by the FSF tech staff and streamed out to the world over Gstreamer and Icecast.

To bypass suggestions of nonfree providers or software program, some components of the Jitsi Meet configuration had been set up differently with Ansible, fairly than as advised. In the times following the convention, we now have already improved the script we used for streaming your display screen or window, and it’s free so that you can use and adapt.

At the time of the convention, it was nonetheless thought of protected to have a small variety of individuals collectively, so we had been in a position to have a few of our workers and volunteers within the workplace. Speakers referred to as right into a devoted digital convention room for his or her session, the place they had been assisted by a room monitor and a tech staff member who coordinated the session collectively. The name was acquired on an area monitor within the workplace. Our three digital convention rooms all had comparable streaming setups, with the native monitor being broadcast by means of Gstreamer to Icecast. The desktops used had been ASUS KGPE-D16 motherboards with Libreboot; this hardware has beforehand additionally been licensed below the Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification program.

When everybody was prepared, and every thing labored, they’d begin the stream. All audio system had been requested to ship their slides prematurely. That manner, if a presenter had hassle sharing their display screen with Jitsi Meet, the slides could possibly be loaded from the FSF server and managed by the tech staff member answerable for coordinating that digital convention room as an alternative. In some distinctive instances, like main time variations or panel coordination challenges, the speak was pre-recorded. If so, it was performed regionally on the machine with the MPV video player.


We hosted interactive IRC sessions on the Freenode community. In addition to a non-public channel to speak immediately with the audio system about technical points, we had a normal #libreplanet channel, and extra channels for each convention “room.” In these rooms, the audio system related on to the viewers to area questions and be part of the dialog. We enlisted volunteers to watch the rooms for protected house coverage points, however the viewers was so nice and enthusiastic that we didn’t have a single concern!

Breakout rooms and hallway tracks

Each 12 months at LibrePlanet, we have facilitated a self-organized assembly of affiliate members who talk about the FSF’s work and alternatives and share their suggestions and concepts with us afterward. We did not need to miss out on this 12 months’s suggestions, so we moved the member assembly on-line as properly. This required extra conversational communication and note-taking, so we opted for a mixture of Etherpad for note-taking and written suggestions, Mumble for voice communication, and using the devoted IRC channel.

Issues and enhancements

We had solely per week to pick out and optimize our streaming setup, however the expertise itself taught us quite a bit. If given the chance, or for these of you now bringing your occasion on-line, some issues we’d do in another way are:

  • We would arrange a steady stream and insert the session into it; this might relieve the necessity to refresh between periods and enhance the viewer expertise.
  • It is vital to inform audio system of bandwidth utilized by the streaming. Make certain they check their connection or have devoted Internet traces. This is particularly vital with the worldwide connections, as they confirmed to be extra unreliable than native connections; this introduced itself largely by way of connection points and difficulties with sharing the presentation display screen.
  • For a greater expertise for individuals on the transfer, or to expertise the occasion by way of cell, we advise the deployment of audio-only feeds and a decrease bandwidth various feed for the movies.
  • The FSF tech staff is at present experimenting with Big Blue Button and Canvas for interactive streaming that permits for video, slide sharing, and on the spot chat. We will put up in additional element about our work with these functions quickly; they’re price contemplating in case you are planning a convention, interactive video session, or on-line assembly.

Free software program tech conferences

Hosting your convention freely is totally potential. You should not have to compromise freedom once you need to hook up with your neighborhood, and also you most actually do not have to settle for proprietary software that will help you talk.

If you’ve gotten an upcoming occasion and are keen on a freedom-respecting setup however want a hand, you possibly can e-mail us at, and we would be capable of assist. In latest weeks, the FSF technical and campaigns groups have spent a number of time engaged on and speaking about free communication instruments. And as all the time, you are welcome to turn out to be a member of the FSF itself.

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