Tool to facilitate digital file sharing, collaborative text editing and image manipulation in physical proximity (WiFi range), using self-hosted open source tools, running on a compact and portable micro-computer, with both technical documentation and a rich history of use in art and cultural projects as practical case studies.
“Etherbox is a constellation of collective tools and practices that developed in and around Constant*. Etherbox responds to practical issues when collaborating in physical spaces with digital tools. In parallel, it became a platform to reflect on network technologies, on how to document artistic processes and on processes of collaboration.”
*An organisation for art and media based in Brussels.
“Sharing documents over Etherbox means that they don't travel via the far-away data-center servers of corporations, but remain in a network-setup that is visibly and physically accessible to everyone. Likewise the Terms of Service are negotiated locally, between people often in the same room. They become specific conditions for the use and potential afterlives of the collected material, rather than being thrown together by company lawyers on another continent.”
Etherbox is an assemblage existing "boxes", a collection of Free Software tools. Some have a long history and represent deeply embedded workflows. Others, like etherpad-lite, are relatively newer, with a history that can reflect complex inter-plays of commercial interests with Free Software projects. The current release of Etherbox consists of:
Etherdump publishes etherpad pages to files
Etherbox was developed out of urgency to accommodate needs of particular small to medium scale art-cultural working/production events using free-libre-open source software, cheap hardware and also to reduce dependencies to and limitations of commercial internet services.
“On a practical level, etherbox was a response to several frustrations: the fragility of online resources, the fact that the labour necessary to maintain resources online after a collective session was often overlooked or simply assumed to continue indefinitely, the limitations of Internet bandwidth when working with many people using etherpad-lite. The goal of the project was thus to present an infrastructure that is both visible and situated. Since it's early beginnings in 2013, many groups have enjoyed the pleasure of writing and documenting together, questioning infrastructure set-ups or simply sharing files effortlessly. Through these multiple experiences, Etherbox has grown up to facilitate discussions and collaborative practices independent from Constant collaborators. Now it is ready to transmutate into other networked imaginations.
As part of its programme, Constant regularly organises situations in which artists, activists, programmers, academics, designers and other researchers collaborate, exchange and reflect. Participants are invited to appropriate physical spaces for the time of the meeting: they share tables, couches, a library, the kitchen and its utensils, the basement or the closet. Etherbox extends this hospitality into digital space. It is the installation of a temporary local platform that foregrounds the sociality of DIWO* infrastructures over the services of often commercially owned spaces in global networks.”
* Do It With Others
Example: BOOK AS A NETWORK @Aleppo, Brussels / June 2015
“A residency of 3 days, with the idea to create a space for presentation, exchange, discussion on new ways of reading and writing. One of the threads, Book as a network, led by Catherine Lenoble and Michael Murtaugh, was the idea of using a local server as a space for collective reading and writing. A first publication was done afterwards with a lot of manual work.”
RA: The reason to document the history of etherbox, is because we are publishing an image right now that will expand beyond its original group of users in Brussels.
FS: It's a way to remember that Etherbox is an object that grew within a practice, that it is intimately linked to events, groups of people, concerns and practises. If we would not document its geneaology, the code or the object would eclipse other types of input.
MM: For me, I've had the opportuntiy to develop the system as part of my role with Constant caring for the infrastructure used during the worksessions Constant hosts twice a year. For me it's ideal, because it gives a situation where I can observe how the system is used, and many of the participants of such sessions are often also involved in similar projects, so there's a lot of exchange of ideas.
“This publication includes manuals for basic usage, a conversation that tries to locate this Etherbox release within interconnected histories, recipes distilled from diverse experiences and a generous collection of appendices. The publication temporarily wraps up the ever-evolving development of the toolset, so that it can be installed by any software-curious group that can get their hands on a Raspberry Pi and knows where to find an ethernet cable.”
Also updates on code and developments https://gitlab.constantvzw.org/aa/etherbox
ETHERBOX should be picked up by every cultural organization that can have a technology informed person (at least part time or based on need) that can understand the setup.
Ideally it should be further developed and documented for non-tech users to be able to operate it with minimum instructional (video) training.
http://CONSTANTvzw.org/ (mostly by Michael Murtaugh)