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After the GitHub purchase, I had the idea to host non-profit alternatives to many commercial products. So, I put together Asymptote Club. I figure somebody on Lobsters might be interested, so here it is. It’s invite-only, but if you have a Lobsters account consider yourself invited (send me an email at zebmccorkle@asymptote.club).

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    The underlying factor that caused the github purchase to be a problem was that github was free. As long as the service is free, then selling out is always a risk.

    Why not take the total server costs at the end of the month, divide by the number of users, and charge that as a monthly subscription to keep the lights on? If the system is even marginally profitable, that makes any kind of selling out (via acquisition or selling user data) less attractive.

    If the system is costing the administrators money, then they have a high incentive to sell out.

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      Why not take the total server costs at the end of the month, divide by the number of users, and charge that as a monthly subscription to keep the lights on?

      Nah, charge them based on use like in mainframe and cloud models. That’s more fair. Safer, too, for the host. There probably should be a baseline fee that covers administrative overhead or at least contributes something to it. The usage charges go on top of that. There could be some usage that comes with the baseline fee, though.

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        That’s an interesting point, and I’ll have to consider it. Though, I don’t see the user base growing enough to make selling out a possibility. My philosophy is that there should be many services like this one to prevent any one from growing too large and making selling out a possibility (that’s why the goal is to make everything open source - if someone wants to clone Asymptote they have my blessing).

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          I don’t see the user base growing enough to make selling out a possibility.

          I think the more likely case is it becomes too expensive and you don’t want to keep paying so the service shuts down and many users lose access to their email.

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            You would be amazed how well a donation meter works.

            Have a monthly goal of expenses + overhead. Show it on the homepage. Near the end of each month, if the goal isn’t met, nag the users a bit. Give those who donate some flair or something silly.

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              True. In that circumstance I would run a cheap ($2.50/mo) VPS to keep essential services running (such as email) while fundraising.

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            Bingo! I’d like to see people putting their effort into distributed alternatives, in the same way that Peertube is an alternative to Youtube ans Mastodon to Twitter.

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              What is the fear with github being bought out? Is the prediction that there will now be ads on the site like source forge?

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                Asymptote’s existance isn’t because of fear of what Microsoft might do to GitHub. I made it to test out a midpoint between large, centralized services and everybody self-hosting. I don’t think Microsoft will screw up GitHub, it’s just that the discussion around the purchase prompted this idea.

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                  There are many concerns but one obvious one is that they will integrate it with LinkedIn. Software is one of the only professions where you can still find a job without a LinkedIn; M$ will do what they can to change this.

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                  We can just make sure that the admins publish inappropriate stuff like ‘women are weaker then men’ or ‘women make less money because they make different choices compared to men’ on its blog every month. Then the site would be ‘unbuyable’ because of the outvogue apparent social position of the owners. The people in the know would know to ignore such posts, but the bad-headline potential of these blogs would poison the site against any future buyouts.

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                    This is a rather sarcastic way of making a reasonable point - what sorts of rules about host content will Asymptote Club (or other similar “middle-ground” services) enforce, and how resistant will it be to social/political pressure to censor content? What if I want to use Asymptote Club’s gitea/CI service to actively develop machine-learning software that’s illegal in some jurisdictions but not others? What if I want to use their matrix service to host a misogynist chatroom because I believe that the accusations that the content of the chatroom actually constitutes misogyny are complete bullshit? If something hosted on Asymptote Club got into the news and invokes a social media shitstorm against it, how much can I trust that Asymptote Club will keep hosting it, and how much do I have to know about the personal politics of zebMcCorkle in order to ascertain that?

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                      Sad fact is that these things being published even in jest still provides fodder to people who do believe this stuff and want to feel justified in their opinions.

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                    Sweet. There is a similar community here https://github.com/hashbang/hashbang. They provide free shell accounts and I’m told their infrastructure runs on a combination of VPSes/dedicated servers.

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                      I’m going to start this message the same as I am the Disroot one:

                      I’ve heard of them, and I’m pretty sure I have an account! It’s great that there are multiple communities in this space (Hashbang, Disroot, SDF, etc.), it fits perfectly into my philosophy that there should be many communities rather than single organizations serving tons of people.

                      It looks like Hashbang is pretty narrow-focused, though. They have shell, chat, and mail, whereas Asymptote’s focus is anything FLOSS that might be useful to a community, so much wider. Both philosophies have their merits, and I don’t believe that one is better than the other, but they’re certainly different.

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                        I haven’t heard of hashbang.

                        The ones I am familiar with are freeshell and tilde.town.

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                          tilde.town is less of a free shell/hosting provider and more of a social space, though. Asymptote/Hashbang/Disroot are different things to tilde.town.

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                        I think this is a fun idea, and I think your stated goal of a middle ground between “everyone uses GitHub” and “everyone self hosts everything” is worth pursuing.

                        What could be a killer feature for this though is an API to export all a user’s data in a simple format, say a .tar.gz archive with directories for email, git repos, pastes and CI logs. If you keep your feature set small it should be possible to automate this so users who are interested can just download their archive using cron.

                        If I could easily integrate this with my own backup regime, I’d consider using it for real work.

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                          Easy backup/restore + custom domain would make this really usable. I just can’t see how anyone could use this without planning for when it goes down.

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                            You’ve hit the nail right on the head.

                            Data portability (export/import) and social-graph/link portability (custom domains) are the two preconditions to make this kind of thing work (and why I’m uninterested in having an account on a mastodon server - no custom domain support).

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                              All of this is on my personal roadmap, as stages 1 and 2 are mentioned on the website I have a stage 3 in my head which includes all of this. The main roadblock is the fact that Asymptote Club is cobbled together from a bunch of third party projects, and they don’t always have fantastic export support. Though, they are all open source, so I could add support in the future.

                              At least at the moment, you can rsync your home directory from the shell server, which includes mail. Pastes are meant to be ephemeral, for example to give someone a crash log, for now. I might be able to write a simple backup tool with the Gitea API to automatically clone a user’s repos.

                              As for custom domains, I could potentially add custom email domain support, but I’m not sure how I’d execute custom domains on the rest.

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                                As for custom domains, I could potentially add custom email domain support, but I’m not sure how I’d execute custom domains on the rest.

                                This is gonna be really hard for anything but email. Most apps are not written with this use case in mind :L

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                                  I’ve given some thought to this.

                                  For apps which store a domain in a config file, you could launch an instance on-demand and terminate it after some inactivity.

                                  Of course, that could start using a lot of RAM/CPU pretty quickly; much better to use software which was built with this use-case in mind.

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                          It’s not so well known outside the francophone world, but French non-profit organisation framasoft host a wide range of free (libre) alternatives to various online services. They have an ongoing campaign to de-google-ify the internet: https://degooglisons-internet.org/.

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                            Another French service I happen to know: TeDomum

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                            Neat project. Hope it works out for you. One thing that caught my eye:

                            “and Debian Linux (with non-free disabled) for absolute freedom.”

                            It reads like it’s mandatory or definitely beneficial. Many people who like open source don’t buy into strict avoidance of non-free stuff. I’d say do a dedicated server that makes that optional. Maybe transition straight to a dedi with Ubuntu. Then, Debian is an option. Non-free is always an option for whatever supports it. One of the things that sinks lots of these efforts is they try to, for ideological purposes, further divide or filter would-be supporters and/or paying customers.

                            Personally, I think it’s FOSS-lovers doing that are handicapping themselves against competitors who will use proprietary, open source, or FOSS… anything that gives them an advantage in market. Their advantages often lead to bad things like walled gardens, lock-in, and less FOSS. However, folks supporting OSS or FOSS can similarly integrate anything they can that gives us better experience for users or more competitiveness. Their ends will be more utilitarian where financial success leads to more OSS or FOSS than proprietary stuff. Maybe even replacements for non-free they used but mostly what drives adoption and/or revenue. That’s best route to go if you look at it like game theory where we compete with proprietary sector that’s using more stuff (including OSS/FOSS) and taking more customers than the FOSS-only types. The latter can’t conceivably win if they’re turning away money and users. Even many Linux contributions are paid for by revenue from proprietary software.

                            I say give people options, maximize your revenue/usage potential even if non-profit, encourage things from your ideology, tolerate/support some other things with big payoff, and do what it takes to win even if using non-free.

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                              Personally, I think it’s FOSS-lovers doing that are handicapping themselves against competitors who will use proprietary, open source, or FOSS… anything that gives them an advantage in market.

                              That depends on your goal. I doubt the RMSs and Karen Sandlers of the world worry too much about competitive advantage.

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                                I personally love the idea of FLOSS, and that’s the driving force behind me running Asymptote Club. I’m not running it for it to be successful: I’m a full-time student and something successful would take way too much time. I’m running it to have a community of fellow FLOSS enthusiasts. Based on the comments, I feel I did a bad job explaining that on the website, so I’ve updated it to make that more clear and also dull down the quoted phrasing.

                                Thanks for your input! I might look into running a sort of fundraising, non-invite-only, not as community based, paid service to keep the main club going, but I would like to keep a core set of services running on free infrastructure. And that would be after gaining a few members; I can’t run something like that on my own.

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                                I’ve gotten quite the response over the past day, and we’ve jumped from 3 members to 9. I’ve decided that once I notice this post is no longer at the top of the Lobsters front page, I’m going to stop the “open signup” here. Thank you everybody for the input, and special thanks to @lindalap:matrix.org for helping (and continuing to help) with the ToS and privacy policy to stay compliant with <insert regulation here>.

                                I have to say, this is much bigger and better of a reception than I expected. I guess I have something on my hands here then!

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                                  Dude I appreciate this a lot hey. As a comp sci student this is pretty useful.

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                                  Nice. Disroot at https://disroot.org also offer various services, free of charge, and are definitely worth checking out.

                                  Disroot is a platform providing online services based on principles of freedom, privacy, federation and decentralization.

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                                    I’m going to start this message the same as I am the Hashbang one:

                                    I’ve heard of them, and I’m pretty sure I have an account! It’s great that there are multiple communities in this space (Hashbang, Disroot, SDF, etc.), it fits perfectly into my philosophy that there should be many communities rather than single organizations serving tons of people.

                                    Disroot’s awesome, and I think I subconsciously took inspiration from them when making Asymptote. My only real issues are that 1) they’re quite large, much larger than my target member count for Asymptote and 2) they describe themselves as a “platform,” which feels more impersonal to me than “community” or “club.” I realize those issues are petty, but as I said above the presence of competition shouldn’t affect the existence of Asymptote.

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                                      Thank you for the reply. I hear your reasons :) Indeed, I’m happy to see people forming these communities and offering hosted services, helping others get off of proprietary corporate-owned platforms, onto the libre ones.

                                      Another one that comes to mind is @SirCmpwn’s sr.ht.

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                                        Oh, that one’s new to me! I might look into the feasibility of switching to some of that software in Stage 2, it seems nice and UNIX-y.

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                                    The first rule of asymptote club: you can talk about asymptote club, but you can’t join.

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                                      Lol. You would need to be a familiar lobster (reminds me of Jordan B Peterson), anyways.

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                                      I like the idea, the problem I have is these services are so critical that losing access would be pretty devastating and I have no idea how long these services will stay running for which is why the only option I can accept is self hosting. I can’t even trust google to host my stuff as they have randomly locked me out of stuff before with no warning or way to contact them.

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                                        That’s a completely fair point. Actually, my main email address is Gmail and I just use my Asymptote email for open source development. At this point, I would actually argue against using it for anything mission critical, rather just personal projects and the sort. But I’m hoping that it’s possible sometime in the future Asymptote would be able to sustain itself without me, with other administrators and donation/maybe fundraiser funding, so that it has more of a guarantee of staying alive.

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                                        Looks like So You Start is just reselling OVH servers. Why not just go straight to OVH?

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                                          So You Start is an OVH company, it’s their cheaper server line.