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FSFE in times of Corona: How a virus affects us


Among all the serious diseases and deaths it causes, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its accompanying COVID-19 disease also keep the FSFE and the whole Free Software community in suspense. For our community and other charitable organisations we would share our experiences and lessons learnt from the Corona crisis.

First of all, we are glad that we can fall back on years of experience with remote collaboration crossing borders and continents. Since its foundation, the FSFE has had its roots in all over Europe, working together with people and organisations in various time zones. Luckily, we are trained to use asynchronous communication tools. But the FSFE as an organisation and community still has to deal with new challenges and serious drawbacks that make our work for Free Software much harder. Your help is needed to balance these!

Office activities mostly continue as normal

For the FSFE’s 9 staff members, albeit the long-term experience with remote collaboration, the current situation still causes a few disruptions. Although we have a long history of having some employees working from elsewhere, the majority used to work in our main office. Until recently, e-mail and mailing lists, XMPP for text chats, collaboration tools like Nextcloud and Wekan, and Jitsi for phone and video conferencing were sufficient for effective collaboration. But since the situation in Europe has gotten quite severe, we asked all staff members to work from home to reduce the probability of infecting each other. So instead of connecting only 2-3 parties with each other for our daily short meetings, we now have up to 9 persons who should be able to be on a call to coordinate our activities.

Like in the past, we’ve settled so far with using Jitsi, a Free Software application for audio and video conferencing. To our utmost delight, it scales very well for audio-only conferences and makes even longer conversations hassle-free. We are also going to test Mumble, a VoIP application which has more features and a focus on good audio quality, and Nextcloud Talk. Unfortunately, for video conferencing with more than 4 participants, we did not find a suitable Free Software solution yet which we can self-host on our aged and limited server hardware.

But there are also processes which cannot be conducted normally nowadays. Unfortunately, we had to temporarily stop sending out information material and merchandise articles which usually is a great way to spread the word about Free Software and inform about activities like “Free Your Android”, “Public Money? Public Code!”, the campaign against DRM and many more.

Physical distancing contradicts our typical work

Apart technical challenges, the biggest impact we face is the cancellation of Free Software conferences, our own events, and scheduled FSFE team meetings. Booths and talks have been one of the main channels over which we informed people about Free Software and the FSFE’s work. Losing those also means a heavily limited visibility of our organisation, and thereby also a loss in new supporters and donors for our cause. In the case of our events, like the annual Legal and Licensing Workshop or the “Public Money? Public Code!” conference, it is a even more direct financial burden due to already invested work and non-refundable costs.

But also the cancellation of working group meetings like the webmasters or country teams hurt us as a community. These have been a great opportunity to meet each other, efficiently coordinate activities for the benefit of Free Software, and of course also to have fun together and motivate each other. The restriction of in-person meetings hits the FSFE local groups even more. Most groups meet once or twice a month to discuss Free Software issues and plan activities on a regional level.

We are working on mitigating these effects and providing alternative options for meetings and remote collaboration. On the one hand, local groups adapt by meeting virtually and continuing to coordinate their activities for the promotion of software freedom asynchronously. On the other hand, we offer various ways to stay informed about Free Software and the FSFE’s activities while staying home. Our Software Freedom Podcast regularly features inspiring people and topics ranging from political to community to legal issues. On our Peertube and Youtube video channels we collect talks by FSFE community members and otherwise thrilling material for hours of binge watching.

Your help is needed

Large parts of our usual operations are limited, but since we are based on digital widespread cooperation, we are still effective. Especially at times like these, it is important to monitor the rapid developments and advocate for Free Software for remote schooling and collaboration. Our ongoing activities like REUSE, Router Freedom or the Next Generation Internet project are not dormant either, and we will intensify the communication with the public via established and new channels.

The FSFE and other Free Software groups have the slight advantage of having long-term experience with remote collaboration over e-mail, instant messengers and conferencing services. However, as many other charity organisations, we suffer from a limited visibility and community interaction which usually are the foundation of our work. Additionally, the expected economic distortions will seriously affect mostly all economic areas and will have unforseeable effects on our supporters, donors, and eventually ourselves.

We and other Free Software organisations do need your help to get through this phase reasonably well. If you can, please consider joining us as a supporter or, if you already are one, increasing your contribution or making a one-time donation. If you cannot, please spread the word among your friends and colleagues; and we hope that your situation will improve soon.

In these difficult times specifically, but also in general we would like to thank the volunteers who form the foundation of the FSFE with their invaluable contributions, and the supporters and donors who enable our work for Free Software. Thank you!