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Aug 19 / Goodbye Instagram; hello Pixelfed

I’ve been a big fan of the open source movement for many years. I can probably trace my interest back to at least 2003, which was the year I first installed the Thunderbird email software, followed a year later by experimenting with Ubuntu as the operating system for my laptop.

I think I would describe the experience as ‘not for the faint-hearted’ back then, but over the last fifteen years, the open source movement has taken incredible steps. Open source software now runs most of the world’s IT infrastructure, most household hardware devices and is continuing to develop apace. Ubuntu is now the only operating system that I use on my laptop. Free, fast and fully functional. I love it.

My awareness of open source issues has increased in line with my growing concern about the nature of ‘big data’ harvesting by corporations, with the expectation and intent of profit gained by using that data in amoral ways.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is one concrete example of how democracy itself is at risk from a cynical, cavalier use of personal data, which even now far outpaces the attempts of individual governments to regulate and control it.

Cambridge Analytica logo
Logo of the disgraced company

Like many people, I’ve had an Instagram account for years (a reminder – Instagram is owned by Facebook). Perhaps not a mega-keen user, but certainly uploaded plenty of photos, and presumably with a whole bunch of my personal data.

Today that’s ended. I’ve been experimenting with a new, open source platform for photo sharing called ‘Pixelfed’. It’s similar in look and feel to Instagram, and in rapid development. Unlike Instagram, there’s no way that your personal data can be used to sell advertising or to shift election results. It’s as wholesome a product as you can find within the photo-sharing space.

My experiment with the open source, distributed world isn’t restricted to photos. I’m also reasonably active on Mastadon, a federated version of Twitter which (like Pixelfed) does not collect data in order to derive financial gain. There’s even a Welsh version of Mastadon which connects to all the other users around the world, but is focused on the people and communities of Wales (my thanks to Jaz Michael-King for that!)

I believe that the open source movement has a huge amount to offer the people of Wales (and of course everyone else). The open source movement is transparent, offers low-cost, customisable solutions, and exhibits a number of values which overlap with the Well-being of Future Generations.

If Wales embraced the open source movement, I think we would save money, while simultaneously supporting our citizens to become more highly trained, more aware and more resilient. And by contributing code to the global commons, we would certainly be playing an even greater role in our quest to be a globally responsible country.

I’m currently thinking about how best to promote this issue in Wales – potentially with something like a draft open source manifesto – and I welcome fellow collaborators who’d like to work with me. I think that together we could build a movement to celebrate and benefit from the open source community, and at the same time take back a little bit of the control that we have ceded to the data giants.