SuttaCentral

Non-evil platforms for Buddhist monks/nuns to post on, escaping GAFAM/FAANG/whatever

Inspired by the above post…

7 Likes

I had also thought about this, but the only alternative I could come up with was getting a more expensive web-hosting plan to allow video-hosting.

So thank you for raising this.

5 Likes

OK, the entire list of highly-commendable characteristics (which @sujato listed here) is really hard to completely satisfy, sticking entirely to Open Source:

  • open source
  • transparent,
  • no ads
  • privacy
  • non-algorithm based
  • accessible UI
  • discouraging greed, hate, and delusion
  • responsible management
  • non-monopolistic

I could list what my open source technology “stack” is comprised of (that I use on my website here), but the problem with that, is that each individual Open Source enthusiast is bound to pick some different favourites in their “stack”. This is because the Open Source world has the (fortunate) problem of having an overwhelming number of competing open source technologies which roughly accomplish the same functionality.

For example, I prefer Linux distros like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, MX Linux, and Debian (no one distro does it all, unfortunately), but then my monk friend Paladhammika is a big Arch linux fan, so what to do? I can’t simply grab him by the front of his robes, shaking him, demanding that he ditch his deviant Arch habit. Yes, even though he is much more junior than me! :slightly_smiling_face:

So how to cut down on all the various opinions? Here’s one suggestion… there are a couple of other monks I’ve met who also have Computer Science degrees: @Khemarato.bhikkhu , @Jhanarato (and yours truly). The opinions that such rare monastics offer, when it comes to this domain of knowledge, are IMHO worth 10x anyone who doesn’t have a Computer Science degree (and ordained as a Buddhist monastic). Just like a chartered accountant knows 10x more than you non-accountants out there know, about actually doing proper accounting.

The one exception here is @sujato, as I feel he’s done a great job of picking the technologies he uses for Suttacentral. His choices are as if he had a computer science degree. And I’m sure he knows people who have Computer Science degrees, listening to their advice.

Also of note: Niyyānikā Bhikkhunī has a former professional background in UI design or something like that. I strongly trust her tastes in selecting good technology.

4 Likes

Another request I would have for a Buddhist youtube alternative would be no “like” button. It has been proven that these are similar to pokies in that they work based on random reward…wired for addiction.

No likes, no suggestions, no infinite scroll?

3 Likes

My website has none of those. I specifically wanted an absense of those things when I designed my website.

3 Likes

OK, my website nails all of these things. But unfortunately not the “accessible UI” point! It would take a seasoned linux expert to not only understand, but appreciate all the ugly command-line “kung foo” which makes my website work, to achieve one more very-hard-to-achieve characteristic (which @sujato did not put on his list), and that’s low maintenance.

I chose each layer in my technology stack to be low maintenance first and foremost. My prerogative as a monk is to be able to completely ignore, and forget my website for like 6 months at a time, going off into the forest to meditate, and when I emerge again, I don’t find my website hacked, showing ads and/or propagating malware to visitors to my own website other than myself. I can’t afford to be effectively on-call to my website, 24/7, ready to quickly apply security updates as they get announced.

It must be my website which serves me, and not me who serves my website. The difference between these two is achieving very low-maintanance.

I’ll also add one more point, which I managed to achieve, which is: can create and edit web content offline, then perform a sync to the live website during sporadic, brief times I get internet access (which totally came in handy while I just spent 6 months at Arrow River Forest Hermitage)

3 Likes

@sujato said this here:

I think Discourse fits all these, I think. Where possible I use Jitsi for video chat, it’s got a better record than Zoom (not that Zoom is anywhere near the worst).

Here are my views on Discourse: sorry, no decent mobile phone experience, when it comes to editing posts, as it’s too cramped. For having live chat during my Dhamma Talks, I personally chose Mattermost Team server (after trying many possible open source alternatives). Mattermost has a decent (albeit not great) Android (or iOS) app. The Mattermost app is not quite as smooth as, say, the evil and proprietary Discord, but at least it has (currently) free push notifications which work, and it’s not crowded-in and cumbersome.

Here’s my opinion on Jitsi: I set up my own Jitsi server, and even when it was installed on a very close VPS (very low latency), the QOS rules (or in other words, the lack of “Net Neutrality”) of various ISP’s dragged down the traffic horribly, and made me look bad, even though it was not my fault, nor Jitsi’s fault! To understand these complicated, unintuitive and pernicious QOS rules more, please watch the video below, which explains it well:

There simply are no good Open Source alternatives to, say, Zoom, because you can’t wave any magic wand and make Net Neutrality be solidly established all over planet Earth, forever. I hate to say this, but if you have got to have highly reliable video chat, then you have to be willing to settle for less-than-ideal choices (at least these days), such as WhatsApp. It is the 800lb gorillas such as GAFAM who have got the QOS rules all tilted in their favour, when it comes to video chat! Tough cookies, everyone. (Yes, I’m aware WhatsApp went down for a little while the other day.)

If you can settle for push-to-talk voice memos (which I use quite a lot these days), then Signal is awesome. Sometimes, Signal video calls work great (and don’t get dropped after a while). YMMV.

2 Likes

Hi,
on reflection I think it is important not to forget history of the human inventions, but consider that some of the very important inventions we use came out during world wars and not necessarily for the benefit of all humankind, let alone all beings - like hospital sanitation, vaccines, penicillin, radar, jet engines, computers, understanding of nuclear reactions …

This is certainly no justification of any wars or any aggression, but we can use good inventions in a good way, leave their bad past behind, show and inspire others how to do it by using them in a good way.

For me, Facebook is a tool just as a computer is, not for entertainment, not for self-promotion, but for learning and sharing information, to grow in a good way. I have been using it to learn from and share with others on birds and environment to help in conservation and alleviate global pollution. Youtube has been very useful for Nature documentaries and Dhamma talks and courses. So the inventors have done merit to provide such free platforms.

Can we call a media platform evil or those who misuse it?

Thank you,
:pray:

Facebook is “just a tool” which is effectively smarter than all its users who hubristically feel that they are magically beyond being psychologically manipulated and/or influenced.

5 Likes

I have some replies to what @sujato said here:

We should, as people who care about an ethical life, at least make efforts to seek alternatives. For myself, regarding the Big 5:

I don’t use Facebook, never have

Me neither. :slightly_smiling_face:

I don’t use Apple, never have

Me neither. :slightly_smiling_face:

Over the years I have ordered one or two things from Amazon, but I’ll try to avoid doing that ever again.

I’ll plead guilty to patronizing Amazon more than I should have… this is a bad habit to stop.

I use a few Microsoft-owned products for development: VScode, Github, npm. (Non-programmers probably don’t realize how much of a programmer’s everyday tools have been bought by Microsoft in recent years.)

Since all of those are mostly- (in the case of VScode) , or all-open source friendly, I can’t say I blame you here.

From Google, I still use Gmail,

I don’t have a gmail email address, but sadly I have to have a Google account, which allows Google Play Store use whatsoever, on an Android phone (unfortunately needed for security updates).

Having a gmail address, it turns out, is super pernicious, to anyone and everyone who wants to run their own email server.

I personally run an email server, which controls 2 domains I effectively own. @bhikkhu.ca, and @ebt.support

I can create working email addresses in those domains. Complete with secure IMAP, etc. But when any email from such a totally legitimate domain comes to Gmail, Gmail has a hair-pin-trigger propensity to consider all email from those domains to be spam. Only one gmail user need flag any one message as spam, ever, for Google to conclude that all msgs from that domain, wholesale, must be spam. Even in the middle of a threaded, back and forth conversation, msgs can all of a sudden be classified as spam, and the conversation is derailed

So these custom email domains only have the usefulness of talking to addresses within the same custom domains, or domains like protonmail.com, who have sane spam policies. So this breaks the federated goodness of email.

Google are such excruciating scalliwags of the highest order, for effectively derailing federated email.

I have all the current proper DNS records an email server should have: DKIM, SPF, DMARC, DNSSEC, etc. Doesn’t matter to Google.

Gdrive, Youtube, Android, Maps. I usually use Firefox (Chrome as backup) and DuckDuckGo for search. SC’s front-end uses Google’s open-source “lit” library; however I have to say that the peeps on that particular project are very cool.

Instead of Gdrive, I use Nextcloud, and have done so for years. Works great, as long as you stick to the most common and stable apps within Nextcloud! The file storage feature is super mature.

I must admit that I use Youtube more than I should.

As to Android, I wish there was a decent smartphone OS alternative, but none are really mature enough, IMHO. I tried LineageOS for a while, but got burned badly a couple of times (even after obtaining the most super-compatible hardware I could), then gave up on it.

I would prefer not to use Google Maps, but alas, it does such a great job sometimes.

I do use Firefox and DuckDuckGo as my go-to browser and search engine.

We don’t have to get out completely, even if that’s possible. But the more we seek alternatives, the more we slow down the creep of monopoly and its attendant ills.

Agreed. Every small step we take, away from those evil platforms is a step towards independence and self-sufficiency. Every little click and tap you spend inside those evil platforms is a little vote for the legitimacy, and continued domination of said evil platforms.

3 Likes

If Facebook was just a neutral platform, then I might agree. But Facebook is very much a system and a company with a very active agenda. Essentially the product is not the software, but each person is the product. Their personal information, behavior, and engagement is being sold and fed to others for financial gain. And their behavior is being manipulated to maximize addiction and dependency.

I totally agree that social media can be used for very good ends as well. Every day, people use it to correspond with people all over the world, share hobbies, and learn new things. But I think a lot of those things were still happening before Facebook too. They just happened more on smaller private websites and Internet forums like this one.

3 Likes

One of the best alternatives for GooTube is LBRY, which is a decentralised open source service/ protocol based on block chain and bittorrent, which enables sharing of any type of media without it being subjected to central control/ censorship/ deplatforming:

It offers a native client, available for all desktop and mobile platforms, and a Web frontend:

4 Likes

I completely against this idea, the last thing we need is to isolate ourself and making us more of a cult than an open community

I am in team YouTube instead we need to reach to those billions of user base

3 Likes

Thank you for the responses. I just scanned through Wikipedia very long page about Facebook. I was surprised that so many people use Facebook for News apart from their own relatives and people they actually personally know face-face! It never even occurred to me to use it as a fairly reliable source of any other social news. ABC and Guardian are much better and obvious choice.

Yes, the company received lots of criticism, but it is an evolving communication medium, changing its conditions on use along its way as many other organisations have done. The page about Facebook at Wkipedia ends with a step n the right direction:
" Facebook announced in 2021 that it will make an effort to stop disinformation about climate change…"

Regarding the Facebook and algorithms manipulating peoples behaviour, I can’t speak for other people. All I have noticed is that when I, for example, visit Facebook page of ‘Birds in Backyards’ each day, the Facebook keeps on informing me about similar Facebook pages, as if trying to please me. When I stop for a few days messages diminish.

The algorithm behind it reminds me of what the Buddha said about human mind and what we can see that our mind habitually inclines to, in meditation and in daily life.
MN19
“Whatever a mendicant frequently thinks about and considers becomes their heart’s inclination. If they often think about and consider thoughts of renunciation, they’ve given up sensual thought to cultivate the thought of renunciation. Their mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. If they often think about and consider thoughts of good will … their mind inclines to thoughts of good will. If they often think about and consider thoughts of harmlessness … their mind inclines to thoughts of harmlessness…”

The Buddha’s advice is much more trustworthy than social media, and so I keep out of them except for practical use in my life. To try to separate truth from fiction about Facebook, and about other platforms just gets too complex, who knows the full truth about those companies intentions. Most people like me, don’t have the time for delving into that, so they use Facebook, since it is useful and free. So to give back some personal info for that service is OK. I may be a bit naive, but what harm have I done by using Facebook?

Choice is ours and so are consequences, and as adults we are responsible for our own choices. I believe that education in primary and secondary schools about attraction and dangers of social media platforms, and safe way to navigate in moderation and that is ‘good for oneself and others too’ is needed. It will prevent psychological injuries.
:pray: :slightly_smiling_face:

3 Likes

Excellent distinction. An app like WhatsApp, while proprietary, and evil in the sense that it harvests data about its users, selling it, at least sits neutrally, not trying to entertain the users beyond the messages they receive from their contacts. It has a pleasant UI, but it’s not embellished with ads (at least not internally), political messages, games, toys, and other distractions. It doesn’t try to be an all-singing, all-dancing entertainment platform. That’s where I draw the line of minimal acceptability.

It gets the job done fast, then gets out of the way. As a Buddhist monk, I need that, in a communications tool. Monastic culture strongly trains monastics to cut through and eliminate all such worldly fluff in their lives, in all the various dimensions of their life. Monastic culture often borders on ruthless, in striving for such efficiency in lifestyle. These values can be found on the Internet also, but they sure as heck won’t be found on the circus-like communication platforms of the world like Youtube.

I use Signal as my go-to messaging app, as it respects privacy, but for those 25%-or-so of my daily contacts who are unwilling to install Signal, I am willing to “fall back” to WhatsApp, for the privacy-challenged Buddhists who I know I need to talk to (and my idealism around privacy has no “landing place” with them, as it were).

2 Likes

I still stand beside my recent comment about how “you can’t put the fox in charge of the henhouse” (and the government is friends with the fox):

3 Likes

I use the same communications network as all the Youtubers. It’s called the Internet. I’m on “team Internet”, not “team Youtube”, as it were. The Internet is an open platform, Youtube is not.

BTW: this very site you are posting on is also found on this same Internet. It’s trivially true that you are OK with the larger Internet as a whole, at least to some extent, since you posted here whatsoever.

2 Likes

The issue is choice. Looking for more ethical platforms doesn’t mean there won’t be Dhamma on YouTube. It’s about expanding the options. So that those who don’t want to use YouTube can still share and hear the Dhamma. YouTube Dhamma talks are not going anywhere. But hopefully, there will be more alternatives.

3 Likes

Ajahn Punnadhammo of Arrow River Forest Hermitage put a video on Odysee. (He voices opinions about Covid which some will find controversial, so be warned).

4 Likes

I respect every person’s ability to have an opinion, but some of the content on his video is just purely incorrect, and seems to adopt some of the COVID medical misinformation that is afloat. I am not sure why a seemingly intelligent person does not fact check their opinions, especially where a public health issue is concerned, but such is the psychology and politics of the times.

4 Likes