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= association producing free and libre software in France



"Framasoft offers anyone free, libre and open-source alternatives to services like Google Docs, Dropbox, Skype, Slack, Facebook Groups, Doodle. For free. Framasoft is hosting roundabout 30 services ranging from Etherpad, Nextcloud, Jitsi, Mattermost, Loomio and Studs used by hundreds of thousands of users every month (here is an quick overview of all services Framasoft offers right now). They did spend 400.000 Euros in the last two and half years on building this – most of the money came from donations.

There is much to learn from Framasoft on how to make free, libre and open-source software popular and accessible. There are many great alternatives – but you need to help people to use, understand and love them." (


Excerpts from a collaborative interview with the 6-member team conducted by Konrad Lischka:

* "Why do you offer free services for anyone based on free software?

From its early age, Framasoft’s approach was– and still is – very pragmatic: we do not intend to convert people to the Libre as to a theoretical cause. We provide tools and services that you can use in your everyday environment – even on a proprietary OS! And from there on, we hope we can help people think by themselves, about their privacy, about their data, about the control they are entitled to claim on their digital lives.

Framasoft started 15 years ago, with teachers who created a directory website for free libre open source software (FLOSS), so that they could share the software with their friends and colleagues. And we kept on going along this path and proposing practical projects to bring more free libre software (DVDs, USB-Keys and so on) and culture (Blog, translations, publishing house…) to Mr-Mrs Everyone. Because we are (or were) Mr-Mrs Everyone: we still have a minority of tech-savvy hardcore developers among our midst, and we try to act as a “missing link” between this world and the widespread audience.

A turn point was 2011, when we started hosting our first Etherpad instance (the former branch). It was really powerful: as soon as we showed people how to collaborate on writing a text in real-time, online and without opening an account, they were amazed. We went on with hosting an Ethercalc instance (collaborative spreadsheets) and a now-homebrewed Doodle alternative named Framadate.

Nowadays, our association gathers people from all over France who seldom meet in the same physical space. So we have been the first to use our collaborative online services. As a matter of fact, we often started hosting them for our own private needs before making them publicly available.

But it’s only in October, 2014 that we launched our “Let’s De-Google-ify the Internet” program and made the bet that over the next three years we would host more than 30 Free-Libre and ethical alternatives to big-data services.

* What are the benefits of doing this as an association instead of a cooperative for example?

Not dealing with clients :p! OK, behind that poor-tasted-joke lies some kind of truth: we want to empower people in their digital lives, and we feel we won’t be able to do so if we place them in a passive customer role.

On a general point of view, our activities are non-commercial and we intend to keep them on a small scale and to maintain a democratic balance between the employees and the volunteers in the association. By doing so, our relationship won’t become anonymous and everyone is involved in the global project. Like in a cooperative, 1 person = 1 voice

Since we don’t sell our services (nor won’t we one day propose “premium fees” and such), we are dealing with users. It changes everything: people are more understanding, less demanding. They know we do our best (we would settle for nothing less) and they can accept when our best isn’t enough, when there is some downtime, for example.

We don’t aim to host and concentrate as many people (and people’s data) as possible. Our goal is to demonstrate that the Free-Libre world has already worked on alternatives to GAFAM’s services (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft). We want people to come and try services with us. That’s why we contribute through user & self-hosting documentation, translations into French, presentation and a (tiny bit of) design, some code. But our final goal is that users leave our services because they liked to use them and were so convinced that they started self-hosting them. Or that they have at least found a local ethical Free-Libre service provider – decentralization of data is important and forgotten too often.

Those purposes make us not compatible with a model based on profit. Being a non-profit looking only for self-sustenance allows us to explore, to take time to educate people and to experiment – and with experiments come failures, which are great lessons.

Last, being an association, under the French status of “Association de loi 1901” allows our organization to be officially recognized of general interest. This benefits directly to our more than 2,000 donators who can get a tax relief of a third of the amount they gave us. Thus it’s an incentive for them to keep on supporting us. And donations are 95% of our revenue stream and the basis to pay for our 6 employees, our servers, and such.

* What are your aspirations, what are your promises to users in regard to availability, security, service for framasoft free services? Or asked differently: Would you recommend an association or local volunteer groups to use your services for organizing themselves and getting work done?

In our charter, we pledge to give our best efforts, but not to get the best results (at least, not at any cost).

Practically, it translates into doing everything we can for the best uptime. We hired a full-time system administrator, help by other tech-savvy employees and volunteers. 100% uptime isn’t a sensible goal for a non-profit like us, the cost would be overwhelming. When our services fail (need to reboot), it’s usually for less than 15 minutes. If there is a bigger issue, we inform our users (through social networks and a dedicated website), taking this chance to educate them about what it means to host a service and administrate a system. We only had one major incident in January 2015, when our ethercalc instance became unstable after an update. It was closed for a fortnight, but when we re-opened it, all the user data were there and safe.

We take every security step we can for our users, with multiple backups of data at different geographical places.

Service is very important to us: our support team respond to each and everyone, as it is the occasion to know our users and to try and help them on their way to digital independence. Of course we provide a Frequently Asked Question page, but you will never get a reply like “read the fucking manual” (RTFM) from us ;).

Any association and local group is welcome to use our services, we know how they can be a very important vector of digital education, awareness and empowerment. That being said, we would advise them to consider our services as a “first step”: use it, try anything you think would help your self-organization, and when you know the tools you need, try to take the second step and host them for your group. We’ll be here to provide help and share our knowledge!" (