Aside from our on-going collaboration with x:talk, Alexandra and Cliff are currently engaged in a mini-project to create an adapted version of the x_msg server to the Moving Forest project, “a sonic performance saga with a prelude of 12 days, a durational performance of 6 acts in 12 hours and a closing Coda for the sake of argument.” The resulting system, hex_msg, is live from now to 5th July 2012. Please join and take part (read the page for the full version, or text @hexmsg to 07999 056 794 to dive straight in).
First off the bat – apologies that the software repository was down for so long! It has now been restored, and the xmsg software is available for download once again.
We’ve been working with x:talk to establish what to do next with the software. The first priority is the safety of the software system, making it so people can feel confident communicating through its channels. It’s a difficult prospect. How do we establish safety protocols in the system, including measures that x:talk can take to make sure the system is not used to listen into or harass its members? The system is simply not viable without changes, but there is a risk that we’ll end up establishing a form of centralised monitoring which could undermine the politics of the system and be used against x:talk should the system itself ever fall into the wrong hands. It’s something of a tightrope.
Measures such as restricted keywords for network names, a text activated kill switch and being able to label known users should all help to keep the network safe without undermining its ethos. We shouldn’t be blind to the politics of each measure – the privileging of certain users, the restriction of certain ‘territories’ within the system and the rhetoric of safety itself. However, we have to also view it within the wider ecology it will operate and not buy into the ideology that says a flat open network is always in all cases superior. Developing a critical and coherent approach to these issues is going to be a far greater challenge than the software development itself.
The x_msg project may have gained recognition for the progress made so far, but there’s still much to be done.
We want to look at creating new governing protocols for the software, to allow it to be put to a fuller range of uses. A protocol good at dealing with short-notice changes to English classes isn’t necessarily going to be the best for organising activism or creating broader networks of communications within the sex industry. And each protocol brings with it a host of political questions – who is included and excluded by this means of communication, who is hidden, who is exposed, and in what ways? What’s more, these protocols need to be capable of running in parallel without making the system complicated.
On the surface level, the server’s interface could use a facelift. We’re not going to be developing a graphical user interface for it any time soon, but work can be done to make it more accessible. Also, we’re going to reduce the number of software dependencies in the system to the bare minimum, so it’s easier to set up. The costs of the system are very low; we want to find ways to bring the essential expertise required for the system to a similar level.
We’ll be starting this new phase of experimentation in the autumn, and will keep this blog updated with our thoughts and progress.
The main focus of X_MSG has been working with the x:talk collective to develop a bespoke text messaging system and get it up and running for them. Nonetheless it was always our plan to produce this as a free software tool, so it could be accessed and adapted by other groups. So the software is now up on GitHub and can be downloaded from here.
X_MSG is an on-going project operating on two levels. It’s aim is to develop a many to many text messaging system specifically geared to supporting sex work activism, whilst at the same time investigating the social norms embedded in software and finding means to surpass them.
We’ll be updating this site with more information regarding the project very shortly.