Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2021-06
End: 2022-10


ActivityPub powered Livecasting

Owncast is a self-hosted, open source live streaming platform for people to easily host and manage their own live streams. It has become an increasingly popular option for many people to break away from the large centralized services. The project will add Fediverse (ActivityPub) integration in order to provide better means of discovery, increase engagement, and to have interoperability with other applications. The goal is for Owncast to become a fully fledged member of the Fediverse, focusing on people's streams being discovered with existing timelines and search indexes. This would allow people to for instance contribute comments directly from their own ActivityPub powered website or ActivityPub-powered link aggegators like Lemmy.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

One of the things people enjoy the most about the internet, is that it enables them to talk to others remotely almost without limit. Internet allows anyone to keep closely connected with friends and family, and help their kids solve a math problem while they are at work. People collaborate with their colleagues from the couch of their living room, the cafe where they enjoy lunch or on their cell phone on the bus to the gym. Businesses can easily service their customers where this is most convenient to them, without having to travel themselves. This is so convenient, that some businesses have already moved entirely online. Internet communication has become the nerve center of whole neighbourhoods, where people watch over the possessions of their neighbours while these are away for work or leisure.

However, users have a hard time to understand how privacy is impacted if they use the wrong technology. Because internet works almost everywhere, the natural privacy protection of the walls of a house, a school or an office is gone. Unlike the traditional phone companies, many of the large technology providers run their business not on delivering an honest service but on secretly eavesdropping on their users and selling information to others. It is mostly not about what you say, so it is relatively easy for providers to allow some form of privacy by encrypting messages. The more interesting parts are who talks to whom, when, and where they are in the real world while they meet on the internet. if you want to be reachable across the internet, you have to constantly let the communication provider follow you wherever you go. This makes the private and professional lives of citizens an open book to companies that with the help of AI and other technologies make billions from selling 'hidden data' normal people are completely unaware of even exists. And of course in societies that are not so democratic, this type of information is critical to bring down opposition and stifle human rights.

These risks of surveillance and profiling also exist for videoconferencing, which can be very useful to reach a worldwide audience, but is not so democratic when that audience is continuously tracked. Especially public institutions like schools, universities and local governments should not rely on proprietary hardware and software for videoconferencing, as they risk having their viewers logged and their videos stored and monetized. Instead public conferencing can be done with publicly developed and transparent devices and tools.

Luckily there are more and more open source and self-hostable alternatives for live video streaming. Owncast adds unique capabilities to this premise, namely the possibility to interact with servers that support the decentralized social media protocol ActivityPub. This way multiple Owncast-servers and -communities can not only communicate with each other, but also with microblogging, picture sharing and music servers.

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.