Its very badly sad to hear news about FAANG & Co still bombarding the markets with some strategic tools to profit from pandemic opportunity in association with surveillance states + allied smart cronies. It is however, also been remarkable to see examples of how people have stepped up to help each other and their communities w/o any vested interests whatsoever. If you are in a position to help others, incredibly important during this time. Help those good nonprofit sectors reporting huge losses, which is normal in such times.
We need to expand all areas of our work – advocacy, legal, and technical – to show that software can be used to make us safer, and to keep us connected, without sacrificing our freedoms or falling prey to big proprietary predators. Hosting your conferences and online classes freely is absolutely possible. You do not have to compromise freedom or waste public funds to buy those licenses from big brands when you want to connect to your community, and you most certainly do not have to settle for proprietary spying software to communicate.
We have been streaming events online for years using fully free software. Thankfully, the tech team could build on this experience to make sure that we delivered a smooth online conference. Previously, we used HUBAngl, which was developed by Free Software Foundation (FSF) intern David Teste. It fetches audio and/or video input streams, and then streams to the Icecast streaming server. The streams that are broadcasted and stored can be audio-only, video-only, or both at once.
In 2016, we gained some live streaming experience when we interviewed Edward Snowden live from Moscow. To minimize the risk of failed recordings due to overly complex or error-prone software systems, we made it a priority to achieve a pipeline with low latency, good image quality, and low CPU usage. The application we used then was Jitsi Meet, and the tech info and scripts we used for streaming from 2016 are available for your information and inspiration.
Naturally, for this year, with no time for researching other applications, we opted to build on our experience with Jitsi Meet. We hosted our own instance for remote speakers to connect to and enter a video call with the conference organizers. A screen capture of this call was then simultaneously recorded by the FSF tech team, and streamed out to the world via Gstreamer and Icecast. Some parts of the Jitsi Meet configuration were set up differently than suggested to bypass recommendations of nonfree services or software. In the days following the conference, we have already improved the script we used for streaming your screen or window, and it is free for you to use and adapt.
At the time of the conference, it was still considered safe to have a small number of people together, so we were able to have some of our staff and volunteers in the office. Speakers called in to a dedicated digital conference room for their session, where they were assisted by a room monitor and a tech team member who coordinated the session together. The call was received on a local monitor in the office. Our three digital conference rooms all had similar streaming setups, with the local monitor being broadcast through Gstreamer to Icecast. The desktops used were ASUS motherboards with Libreboot; this hardware has previously also been certified under the Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification program.
When everyone was ready and everything worked, they would start the stream. All speakers were asked to deliver their slides in advance. That way, if a presenter had trouble sharing their screen with Jitsi Meet, the slides could be loaded from the FSF server and controlled by the tech team member in charge of coordinating that digital conference room as a backup solution. In some exceptional cases, like major time differences or panel coordination challenges, the talk was pre-recorded. If so, it was played locally on the machine with the mpv video player.