LibreServer Blog / FreedomBox at Ten

Or almost ten. Here is another talk by Eben Moglen about the FreedomBox project. For avoidance of confusion Freedombone isn't the same thing as FreedomBox, though it is the same type of project and is in some ways compatible.

Nine years on from the Freedom in The Cloud talk which launched FreedomBox as a concept the project now exists as actually running software and has some developers actively working on it. Events have transpired, but in the intervening time the underlying nature of the problem which FreedomBox seeks to remediate has hardly changed at all. The only additional factor which might be added is the environmental one.

Data center cooling is a huge market that’s expected to be worth about $8 billion by 2023. With power densities increasing rapidly, many companies are investing heavily in new data center cooling technologies to ensure that they’ll be able to harness the computing power of the next generation of processors.

-- Kaylie Gyarmathy

The environmental argument for home servers is something I tried to make a few years ago, but the general opinion was that gigantic liquid-cooled data warehouses owned by Facebook, Google and Amazon had the magical "economies of scale". The tendency was always to believe that people from Google were wizards who could cleverly figure out how to circumvent the basic laws of physics. But given that a home server can run on 10W of electrical power, and potentially off of a solar panel I found this unpersuasive. I didn't have any quantitative estimates then, and still don't now. However, it's likely that a world in which there is one server per household or per street would be more electrically efficient than the current world of billionaire cloud servers.

Another point in Moglen's recent talk is about the problem of promotion. It's one thing to build technology but quite another to get people using it. You might think that this whole approach is wrong-headed and that surely according to classical economics "demand" must precede supply. Technologists merely solve problems for which "the market" wants solutions. But this was never the way that technology worked in reality. Nobody was "demanding" smartphones or spreadsheets before they existed. Nobody consumer demanded that the internet exist in the first place. Instead things were invented often with very different motivations and sometimes they turned out to have other uses and businesses then grew up to support those.

If the last decade was the birth phase I hope that the 2020s will be the time when running your own internet services, individually or in small groups, becomes quite normal. Perhaps something like FreedomBox will be installed onto internet routers by default. Facebook might be re-branded but I expect it will also continue to exist, because billions of users don't switch technologies easily or quickly and the gravity of the network effect is powerful. Agitation and education will need to continue.