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Have you heard about Gibberfish?

Posted by Estelle on September 11, 2018

Every now and then, we like to talk about the great projects that are being supported by WebTranslateIt. Gibberfish is one of them.

Gibberfish, Inc. was founded by Simon Spartalian, Raymond Lalumiere, Brian O'Donnell and Rob Rickner. All of them wished to support non-profit organizations, activists and human rights defenders worldwide by providing them with accessible encryption.

We asked Brian O'Donnell, Executive Director, to tell us more about it.

WTI: What exactly is Gibberfish?
B.O.D.: We are an all-volunteer non-profit that provides a secure, private cloud collaboration platform. For qualifying groups we provide zero-knowledge hosting free of charge. Our software is 100% free and open source, so anyone who wishes can also download and run it themselves. In either case, the cost is always $0.

WTI: Who are the people who started it and what was your main motivation?
B.O.D.: Our founders are a group of friends with a diverse set of skills. We are united by our belief that privacy is central to protecting free speech, individual liberties and civil rights.

The initial impetus for our project came from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in Standing Rock, South Dakota in 2016. A lot of groups that participated in those protests communicated using platforms like Google Docs or Facebook. These platforms have a notoriously bad track record when it comes to privacy. There is ample evidence of peaceful protesters being attacked and harassed by authorities tracking them via their cell phones and Facebook posts. This surveillance was magnified by private companies who make it their business to know—and sell—our personal information. In this environment it became clear to us that activists need online tools that can’t be weaponized against them.

We took a look at what already existed, and it fell into one of three broad categories:
- ‘Free’ but questionably private (Facebook, Google, et al)
- Paid, with robust privacy protections (e.g. SpiderOak)
- Do-it-yourself solutions (ownCloud, Nextcloud, etc)

For small groups with limited funds the ‘free’ option is often the only choice, and it’s arguably the worst one. Unfortunately, a group on a shoestring budget can’t afford the fees charged by paid services. Both ‘free’ and paid services can also respond to requests or demands for your information without your knowledge or consent. DIY solutions have many great advantages. Most importantly they return complete control over your data to the user. But while they can be reasonably affordable, they require a high level of technical skill.

We decided that we could take an existing DIY alternative, namely Nextcloud, and remove all of the technical and financial hurdles to provide something with the same quality and usability of the major online platforms while making privacy and security paramount.

WTI: How is Gibberfish maintained and developed? Do you rely only on volunteers?
B.O.D.: Gibberfish is composed of two main software projects, both of which are open-source under the MIT License. The first, Pancrypticon, is an automation of the Nextcloud stack using Docker. Each service runs in its own container and they are all tightly integrated to work together seamlessly. We can upgrade, modify, or replace any component easily. From the user’s perspective, their cloud just works.

Our second project, Daygate, is a web application written in Django. Daygate serves as the management portal we provide to our hosted clients. It allows them to deploy their cloud server with a single click, and intuitively self-manage SSH keys and backups.

Both projects are public on Gitlab.com and we gladly accept and encourage community contributions. We continue to expand system availability and enhance user experience.

WTI: Can you tell us how WebTranslateIt is helping you along the way?
B.O.D.: Accessibility is really important to us. We want our project to be accessible and approachable to everyone, worldwide. Since we’ve already removed technical and financial barriers from our service, it’s natural to eliminate language barriers as well. We’re all primary English speakers, so having translators is invaluable.

We put out a call for volunteers and got a great response, but it quickly became difficult to manage a dozen or so translators by swapping files over email. When we found out about WebTranslateIt (via a post on Diaspora*) we were excited. Now it’s very easy to direct volunteers to our project, see their progress, and let them know when we need corrections or updates. In the past we manually transcribed translator’s work into our codebase. Now we can pull in changes automatically using a simple script.

We need to make every dollar count, so the free service for non-profits enables us to succeed.

WTI: Gibberfish is already available in 13 languages, do you have more coming and how could people help out with the translation?
B.O.D.: Our initial focus in recruitment was to cover the most commonly used languages online first. We were able to have the top ten languages fully translated, although we still need help keeping our information up to date.

Anyone who is interested in helping us translate our materials from English to another language can request an invitation to one of our WebTranslateIt projects directly:
- the translation project of our Management Portal
- or that of our User Documentation.

WTI: How do you finance the project?
B.O.D.: Our organization is volunteer driven, and we rely on donations to fund our activities. All of the members of the team work for free, and we use free open-source software. There are still significant costs associated with hosting servers for our clients, as well as overhead from registration fees, and other online services. In our first year we all invested our own money in the project. Now that we’re fully operational and taking on real costs, it’s more important than ever to get public support.

We’re a registered, tax-exempt 501©(3) organization, so all contributions by US taxpayers are fully deductible. Regardless, 100% of your donation will go to directly support privacy and liberty worldwide.

If you wish to help out, don’t hesitate to donate.

WTI: How many users do you have and what kind of feedback do you get from them?
B.O.D.: We’re somewhat fanatical about our clients’ privacy, so we don’t say much about them individually or as a class. By design, Gibberfish severely limits what is even possible to know about a user. We can say that they have been grateful to have our service available in languages they understand.
If Webtranslateit users know a group that could benefit from Gibberfish we would love to hear from them. For everyone’s safety and security, please do not send us names or contact information for anyone. We cannot reach out. Interested groups must contact us through an encrypted channel. One is available on our website.

WTI: Do you intend on creating a version that could be commercialised and sold for instance to companies relying a lot on R&D to help you keep supplying the tool for free to non-profit organizations?
B.O.D.: We started this with the goal of providing a free service to people in need, and we have no plans to do otherwise.

WTI: Are there any features your team is working on right now and for which you need help in priority?
B.O.D.: Development of our Management Portal has priority right now. Currently it allows our clients to self-deploy their apps, manage backups and upload SSH keys. We would like to further improve these features, as well as add new ones with the goal of giving as much autonomy and control as possible to the client. Volunteers who have experience with Django, python in general, and Javascript would all be very valuable. Additionally, we have some tweaks and features we would like to see in Nextcloud, so we could also use the help of PHP programmers who could develop these features for us and submit them to the upstream Nextcloud codebase.

However we don’t just need programmers! People who can help us share the responsibility of website maintenance, blogging, social media presence, fundraising, etc are all welcome, and we encourage them to contact us. We’re a small group that wears a lot of hats, so there’s plently of work to go around for volunteers with nearly any skillset.


Do you wish to get involved?
Contact the Gibberfish team via email at info@gibberfish.org or via their encrypted contact form.

Are you a developer and want to help out? Go directly to Gibberfish’s Gitlab page.
If you wish to help out financially, don’t hesitate to donate.


Are you a non-profit organization in need of translating a project on a budget? Don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll help out.


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