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I talked a little bit about the new plan for Operator post-Kickstarter, but I wanted to discuss more in depth what the new vision is going to be.

The idea behind Operator has always been targeted interventions against Internet censorship. Most of the work in censorship circumvention has focused on general purpose tools. This approach has created tools like Tor and PGP. They’re good tools and they’re very useful. However, when making a totally general tool you make design tradeoffs that limit how effective and usable it can be for a specific use case. I think that we can do better if we develop more narrowly targeted tools.

The Operator news reader was the embodiment of this idea, a news reader which just works even if you’re on a network which is blocking access to news. The state-of-the-art crypto is in there, the cutting edge protocol obfuscation technology is the core of the application. However, by focusing on just reading news, the user experience can be simplified. There is no need to configure proxies or install and manage processes that run in the background. To the user it just looks like a normal news reader.

News was the first application that I wanted to make resistant to Internet filtering, but it’s just one of many. Mail could work better if you had a dedicated email client for encrypted email rather than trying to take a generalize purpose email client and make it secure by installing and configuring plugins. Wikipedia could be made to work on networks that block access to certain articles. Twitter would be enabled where it is currently blocked. Every censored Internet service could be augmented with an censorship-resistant one.

In addition to targeting specific services, I also want to address the needs of specific user groups. Apps should be localized to fit the needs of the users. For each application, we should focus on distributing it to the users that actually need it, which includes prioritizing language translations to the most relevant ones.

So the purpose of the new Operator is to engage in tactical interventions against instance of Internet censorship as they occur. We’ll tailor what application we develop to what’s going on the world, whether it’s news, mail, or any other form of communication over the Internet.

In order to accomplish this, we need funding, so please take a look at the donations page and consider donating or becoming a patron.

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Thank you to everyone that supported this Kickstarter campaign. It was a very exciting and educational experience. We raised almost $10,000 from nearly 200 backers. I was really moved by all of the support that was shown by my family, friends, and people I’ve never met from the Internet. It makes me feel very hopeful for the future that people really do care about Internet freedom. Working on this research can sometimes feel like I’m alone fighting against the overwhelming force of Internet censorship, but I’m not alone. We’re all in this together. There’s just one Internet, and it’s important and it’s worth fighting for, so let’s keep at it!

Unfortunately, we did not make the Kickstarter goal of $35,000. This is not entirely unexpected. Everything I’ve read about Kickstarter says that it’s really a platform for raising $10,000 or less. You here about all of the big projects that raise $100,000 or $1,000,000 or more, but in reality most projects raise $10,000 or less. This is indeed how much we raised, so in terms of the average Kickstarter project, this one was quite successful despite not meeting our funding goal.

Throughout the Kickstarter I’ve talked to lots of people and one question that comes up a lot is whether I should have set the funding goal lower, for instance at $10,000. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that this software can be developed on that budget. The budget of $35,000 is realistic and many Kickstarter projects have had things end badly because the project succeeded, but with an unrealistic budget insufficient to actually finish the project.

So we can’t do the Operator news reader at the moment. We need more funding than we were able to raise through Kickstarter. However, all hope is not lost. Here are the plans for the future of Operator:

  • We’re going to form a 501(c)3 non-profit, the Operator foundation.
  • The Operator foundation will turn donations into applications.
  • Rather than just large application (the news reader), we will make many smaller applications.

This new approach is more compatible with crowdfunding as the budgets can be lower if the projects are smaller. We’ve also found ways to reduce the budget for future projects:

  • With a non-profit, the tax overhead of accepting donations is reduced
  • Several people have offered to volunteer their time, reducing labor costs
  • We received a donation of a Mac computer capable of doing OS X software development, eliminating a significant part of the Operator budget!

So things are looking bright for the new Operator project. We’re going to focus on smaller projects, delivering tactical strikes against instances of Internet censorship as they occur.

If you’re like to support Operator, you can see all of the ways to pledge your support here: http://operatorrss.org/donations

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Now that the Kickstarter is over, we’re going to provide additional options for supporting Operator. You can find all of them nicely collected on the donations page. You can donate directly with PayPal. If you prefer cryptocurrency, you can donate Bitcoin, Litecoin, or Dogecoin. You can also become a patron and pledge a certain amount for the release of each Internet freedom tool that we create using Patreon.

Donate Now

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Nerd Nite expresses support for Operator

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Some folks have expressed to me that Operator sounds cool, but they’re not sure what exactly it actually does. Let me break it down for you.

In many places in the world, there is no access to news coverage about things happening locally or in the rest of the world. People therefore turn to the Internet to get their news. The primary means of obtaining news on the Internet is through blogs because major news websites don’t always cover what’s happening in other countries. You can of course read blogs by visiting their websites in a browser. However, a popular alternative is what’s known as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news feeds. This is a file format which allows you to download news items from a blog. RSS news feeds are downloaded and managed by a software application called an RSS news reader.

There are several advantages to this approach. You can read news offline. You can also download news from many blogs and read it all at once rather than visiting each website separately. Your news reader automatically downloads new articles for you and also keeps track of which articles you have read and which are new. Using a news reader is a very popular way to read news if you get most of your news from the Internet. I personally subscribe to perhaps around a hundred or so new feeds. I haven’t actually counted, I just add anything interesting I find on the Internet to my news reader.

Unfortunately, in places where news is blocked, Internet news such as RSS news feeds are also blocked. Internet filtering technology is installed that inspects all Internet traffic and blocks access to targeted content, including news sites. Therefore the people that most need access to Internet news feeds are also unlikely to have it.

Operator is an RSS news reader. It’s a desktop application that manages your news feeds. The main difference with Operator is that unlike other news readers, it actually works even if you are in a country which blocks access to news. Operator achieves this disguising RSS news so as to get it past the Internet filtering devices which block access to news. This is advanced, state-of-the-art technology which has been tested against the popular Internet filtering devices currently deployed around the world for the purpose of blocking Internet access. Fortunately, because of it’s user-friendly design, people that just want to read news won’t have to understand the sophisticated technology powering their news reader.

So what’s what Operator does. Let me know if you have any other questions and I’ll add them to the FAQ.

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I spoke about Operator at Nerd Nite last night to a packed house of 300 enthusiastic supports of Internet freedom. There was literally a line out the door because the venue was at capacity. Of course, many of them probably game to hear the other talks about Transformers: The Movie and twisty puzzles, I like to think that at least some of them were they because they love the Internet and want to protect it like we do. Certainly the organizers of Nerd Nite do because they donated 10% of the drink sales for the night to the Operator Kickstarter!

It was a fun talk to give even though right before I got up to the mic I found out that I only have 20 minutes to go through 40 slides. I made it through okay, but I feel bad for the ASL interpreter who had to sign everything I said as fast as I was talking. ASL interpreters are the true heroes of Nerd Nite.

Some folks have expressed a desire to see more of the more technical details of how Operator will circumvent filters. Well as it so happens I have several videos on this subject. So if you have a couple of hours, get yourself some mate and enjoy.

Nerd Nite Austin: http://vimeo.com/83801515 

 Defcon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z56andRyCY 

  UIUC Reflections|Projections: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfLh3tr2amk#t=1754

If you have any other questions about how Operator works technically, please send me a message and I’ll add it to the FAQ.

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One of the things we want to do with this Kickstarter is provide high quality rewards made by artists that support Internet freedom. By supporting this Kickstarter, you’re helping get news to people that need it and you’re saving the Internet from tremendous peril. That’s a pretty good start, but we’d also like you to make sure that your swagger is well taken care of so that everyone that sees you knows that you love the Internet as much as we do.

To further this goal of maximizing the Operator merchandise you get to take home at the end of the Kickstarter, I’d like to announce two exciting changes to the rewards.

First, the Operator Poster tier which was $150 is now only $125. That’s only $25 more than the t-shirt to have a high quality silk screened poster that you can frame and hang above your fireplace. I have a lot more to say about the poster and the fantastic artist that’s designing it, but that’s for another update.

Second, I’m excited to introduce Operator Lucky Packs. For only $150 you can get all of the shipped rewards. That’s the CD, the t-shirt, and the poster. As with all of the CDs, the download is now included as well. So you get one of everything we’re making. But wait, there’s more. Lucky packs will include an extra secret item not available separately. Of course you will also receive 1 invite to the Operator service.

So if you’ve pledged at the soundtrack download, soundtrack CD, or t-shirt level, consider upgrading to the poster or the lucky pack and get more Operator in your life.

Check out the Operator Kickstarter: goo.gl/YfidYH

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Here is a video I shot with Jacob Weiss of TX Chip. He talks about the Operator soundtrack, chiptunes, and Internet freedom.

You can learn more about Jacob and TX Chip here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TXChip

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TXChipMusic

Bandcamp: http://txchip.bandcamp.com/

Jacob’s band Chalkboards will almost certainly be doing a track for the album. You can also here a Chalkboards track off of TX Chip Compilation #1 in the Kickstarter promotional video. You can buy this track right now on bandcamp! http://txchip.bandcamp.com/track/whitewash

Chalkboards also has a whole album, an EP, some beautiful silkscreen printed CDs, and fantastic posters all available right now. http://chalkboards.bandcamp.com/music I personally bought all of these things as soon as they were available!

I’m a big fan of Chalkboards and the entire Texas chiptune music scene, so it’s amazing to me that they’re going to be putting together the Operator soundtrack. It’s going to be a full album of all original chiptune music about love, friendship, and Internet freedom from artists that support a free and open Internet.

I also have a special announcement to make, which is that we have decided to upgrade the Operator Soundtrack CD reward tier to include a download copy as well. So if you chose the download only tier, consider upgrading and for just $10 more you can get a physical CD shipped anywhere in the world as well as download access. If enough people order the CD, we’ll be able to afford high production quality printing similar to the beautiful Chalkboards CDs.

You may be wondering what this really cool, unique soundtrack has to do with bringing news to people that have filtered Internet access. Well if you watch the video then you’ll see that we’re trying to provide some cool rewards for people that want to support the project but don’t feel like they personally need a sophisticated censorship-circumventing news reader. This is going to be an album that you can jam out to whether you’re hacking code, installing Tor, or teaching your friends how to use PGP. It’s a collection of anthems for the post-cyberpunk times in which we now live.

So if you’re thinking of pledging at the Operator Updates level, consider taking the next step and getting the soundtrack in downloadable or CD (with downloads included) form.

Check out the Operator Kickstarter: goo.gl/YfidYH

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Operator Launches Censorship-Resistant News Reader on Kickstarter

AUSTIN, Texas (January 3, 2014) - The Operator news reader project was started in order to protect the most censored content on the Internet: news. Internet news has become a primary means of obtaining information in areas where broadcast media is censored. However, the increase prevalence of Internet filtering technology and its use for blocking access to news means that the people that are most dependent on Internet access for news are also the least likely to have it.

Operator News is an RSS news reader application which uses an adaptive cryptographic communication engine to circumvent Internet filtering which blocks access to news sources. Using covert communication channels, news content can be disguised as other sorts of traffic such as email, Skype, or chat. This is done automatically and requires no configuration from the user. The user simply sees their news appear in the application just as you’d expect.

The Operator project has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $35,000 for the programming, user interface design, translations, and documentation needed to provide critically important access to news to people around the world. Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Everything from films, games, and music to art, design, and technology. Since its launch on April 28, 2009, over $850 million has been pledged by more than 5 million people, funding more than 50,000 creative projects. Through crowdfunding, anyone that supports access to news will be able to support the development of this open source software and in return receive fun rewards such as the project soundtrack, t-shirts, and posters designed for the Kickstarter backers by artists that support Internet freedom.

To find out more about Operator, please visit the Kickstarter page at http://kck.st/1caLwzG or the website OperatorRSS.org.

Contact:

Brandon Wiley

press@blanu.net

(512) 630-2616

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You may have noticed that for rewards that require shipping, only US shipping is available. I know that there are many potential users and supporter of Operator that are not in the US. The reason that I have not allowed for international shipping of rewards is that it’s easy to end up spending all of the Kickstarter funding on shipping and have the project fail due to the Kickstarter being too successful.

Fortunately, I have spent all week in Europe talking to people about (among many other things) my hopes and challenges for this Kickstarter. I have good news for international backers. Moritz of TorServers.net fame has offered to help set up a European manufacturing and distribution center for Operator Kickstarter rewards. By printing and shipping the CDs, t-shirts, and posters for international backers from Europe instead of the US we will be able to drastically reduce shipping costs. Therefore I will now be opening up all reward tiers for international backers!

Thanks so much to Moritz for being a super nice guy and supporting the project. All of the rewards for this project are being produced by courageous volunteers that believe in Internet freedom. All I really do is write code, so without them there would be no Kickstarter.

Check out the Operator Kickstarter: goo.gl/YfidYH