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...making Linux just a little more fun!
EcolNet and the escomposLinux.org project
By Javier Malonda

The (not so) brief story.

Why should I be interested in this article?

This is an article about the birth, growth and everyday life of an Internet community. Why is this Internet community so special? See it for yourself.

We're using cable and DSL Internet connections. Most likely this community model could be run on more modest bandwidth connections. Of course it can be run on better connections, thus offering new possibilities. It's all a matter of imagination and motivation. As for the boxes, some of them are pretty old for today's standards, but they deal very well with their everyday duties, showing the true power of Open Source and being a remarkable example of what can be done with Linux and hardware that someone else would consider a piece of junk.

Following EcolNet's example, bigger or smaller communities could be built on the same basis. Keep on reading and see what we have come up with. Maybe it will fire your imagination. I hope it does :)

Some history

escomposLinux stands for a "short" name of the newsgroups hierarchy es.comp.os.Linux. As you can easily note, this is the root of all Linux newsgroups in Spanish and the other languages spoken in Spain. "es" refers to Spain, in contrast with "esp" which hosts all the Spanish speaking groups in general.

The es.comp.os.Linux newsgroup was founded in 1996, promoted by Pablo Saratxaga. In those days, there was no newsgroup to discuss about Linux in Spanish, not even in the esp.* top-level domain noted before. Later, in 1999, and due to the incredible increase of traffic, a split of the original es.comp.os.Linux was proposed, voted and approved, so four more specific groups were created:

This current year saw the birth of es.comp.os.Linux.anuncios (announcements) , though it doesn't hold much traffic as of now.

In the year 2000, some active es.comp.os.Linux users created a first version of the escomposLinux web page, hosted at Linux-es.com. Not long after that, a group of five ecol users, bought the escomposLinux.org domain and the web page got moved to its actual location, at www.escomposLinux.org. Those Linux users who were especially active at the newsgroups, received web hosting space and FTP access, so they could have a place to display all their Linux documentation and personal projects. Everyone interested, can access to a @escomposLinux.org mail account. I'd like to note that, in Spain, things were hard even in the year 2000, and having an email account was not as easy as it is nowadays.

These "Five Good Men" started the project writing a manifesto about the guidelines to be followed. All initial the costs were assumed by those volunteers, who never asked for financial help. Step by step, the escomposLinux.org project gets bigger and bigger, as new services are added and more people gets involved. Luckily, DSL become relatively affordable. On October 2001, all the services provided at the time are moved to machines run and maintained by regular es.comp.os.Linux.* users. This is when the escomposLinux.org project becomes EcolNet.

What's EcolNet?

Technically, EcolNet is the escomposLinux.org network, a bunch of computers spread all over the country. EcolNet is run, administered and defrayed by volunteers who have in common their passion for Linux and the regular use of the es.comp.os.Linux.* groups. We are not "37337 gurus". We enjoy learning how Linux works. Plus we are happy to help the Linux community.

What was the motivation behind EcolNet? Basically, the terrible management by the Spanish ISPs of the newsgroups, including es.comp.os.Linux.*. Slow services, lost messages... We thought we could do better. Also, the first place that hosted escomposLinux.org was very resctrictive, data storage was expensive and FTP was limited. As soon as we thought we could take care of the services we needed, we moved escomposLinux.org to our home servers.

What's EcolNet current goal? When someone wants to start a project (say a little program, a big one, a documentation project, a game) he doesn't have at hand all the tools he might need. Usually, you'd have your code at sourceforge, maybe freshmeat, an IRC channel at openprojects.org, an FTP in some university lost in some lost place of the planet, and so on. With EcolNet, s/he who starts a project has all the support he may need, and everything centralized: www space, FTP, IRC channel, etc. That's basically what EcolNet offers. But of course, EcolNet is much more than that. EcolNet is a bunch of people who have become good friends enjoying Linux and its philosophy.

Where are the servers located? A map showing these EcolNet machines' location is shown here. You can see the machine's name, its IP, the volunteer's name, their email address and what kind of Internet connection the box has: [Click for image].

This is a nice example of what can be done with Dia. You can find more details about this diagram in the end of the article if you are interested.

So the idea is easy: we take a few computers with a relatively decent Internet connection and create a network providing services. Adding resources and allocating necesities and responsabilities, we have achieved a network which works on small computers and basic DSL Internet connections, depending just on ourselves and our capability to keep the boxes working. EcolNet also allows us to experiment the management of a Linux server, having fun with it, and puts on our shoulders the responsability to keep things working, which is sometimes a bit stressing. But that's what the root life is like, isn't it? ;)

What services do you run at EcolNet?

The list is quite long. EcolNet offers to the Linux community in Spain (completely non profit) the following services:

Besides those services, www.escomposLinux.org holds a lot of information, like Linux related links, book reviews and helpful documentation. And constantly growing.

The services distribution varies from time to time, either when some machines join the EcolNet or when someone experiences problems, like too much bandwidth consumption or some real tragedy. One of our primary servers had a terrible crash featured by the electrical company not long ago. We learnt a few things from that.

We are specially proud of these "Star" features:

Who takes care of the whole thing? Is there something like a president? Do you have an EcolNet king?

There's a lot of people involved in EcolNet, which makes things "interesting". Fortunately, EcolNet volunteers are always talkative and very nice, and it's more a pleasure than a hasle to deal with them. Nevertheless, whenever there's people involved, there's a need for some kind of structure. At EcolNet there's a core of people, basically the "Five Good Men", who take care of the baby. They hold the experience and the know-how. If you want, you can see them as Primus intern Pares, First among Equals.

I've already talked about censoring in Libertonia, and I'll keep on reviewing "nasty" words. Next one is "dictatorship". Let me tell a story I especially like. Plato the philosopher said in The Republic that the perfect form of government is the dictatorship of a wise man. Unluckily, that's not possible in real life, or is it? Well, I think we do have that: we have a few people that have never been elected, that usually say what's to be done or they just do it, and everybody's happy with it. And it's been like that for many years and we keep rolling on, better and better each day. The rest of the volunteers of course have an opinion, and it's taken into account. Everything is pretty democratic, or at least it looks like it. It's hard to fight when everybody is nice and has the same goals. We all know we ride the same boat. We want to keep the boat afloat and we know who is the most capable, so everybody works together, rowing in the same direction.

How does EcolNet's decision-making process work? We have the admin mailing list, the users mailing list, an internal weblog and an online poll. Usually, infrastructure stuff gets discussed in the admin mailing list, because users don't need to know or be bothered with technical details. The users mailing list is for when things affect all the EcolNet population, both those running machines and users who have projects or documentation hosted. For minor discussions, we tend to use the internal weblog and its poll.

In Memoriam

The EcolNet project is dedicated to Tas, one of the original "Five Good Men", now staying with $DEITY.

Written by Javier Malonda.

There's a lot of people who should be listed in the credits, but they want to be anonymous. Just read http://www.escomposLinux.org.

If you're curious, you can find the Dia source XML code of the diagrams, as well as the diagrams themselves, at http://helvete.escomposLinux.org/ecolnet/ .


Copyright © 2003, Javier Malonda. Copying license http://www.linuxgazette.net/copying.html
Published in Issue 86 of Linux Gazette, January 2003

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