Zapatistas Online News Project
"Zapatistas Online" (ZO) system, built by John Jacq and Marilyn Davis, is a powerful system of mail sorters, unix accounts and scripts distributed among various machines to allow collaborating editors in any part of the world to produce edited news about events related to Chiapas.
News is gathered from many sources and selected messages are forwarded to four email lists:
Chiapas95@eco.utexas.edu -- wide view of the news, all languages
Chiapas95firstname.lastname@example.org -- selected posts, all languages
Chiapas95-English@eco.utexas.edu -- selected posts, all English
Chiapas95-Espanol@eco.utexas.edu -- selected posts, all Spanish
The power of the system is held in check by democratic process. There is an eVoted email@example.com where readers are welcome to establish rules for the editors to follow.
To produce the four news lists, there are volunteers stationed at four "language stations" on the internet. A language station consists of a telnet-able login where editors read and forward mail; and an eVoted email list, where each station's volunteers meet to coordinate themselves.
There is also a special language station, the "practice" station for training new volunteers.
Critical to the scheme are a family of computer programs at the "source address", firstname.lastname@example.org which prepare incoming news items for publication and sort them by language and then ships then on to the language stations.
Also, the language stations have scripts that provide a certain measure of security, beyond the password, as they ask the participant to identify him/herself and a message is automatically sent to the corresponding email list that announces who has just logged onto the station.
All incoming news items are sent to email@example.com. This is an "open" address in that anyone can send messages there. Additionally this address is subscribed to several relevant email lists so it collects lots of news.
The mail system at eco.utexas.edu has the following alias for chiapas-i:
chiapas-i: "|/usr/local/majordomo/wrapper unequal unhtml deaccent sorter \
-er firstname.lastname@example.org -en email@example.com -es firstname.lastname@example.org \
-it email@example.com -o firstname.lastname@example.org sendmail -t", \
This directs incoming mail into:
-er must be followed by an address where errors should go.
-en must be followed by the address of the English station.
-es must be followed by the address of the Espanol station.
-it must be followed by the address of the Italiano station.
-o must be followed by the address of the Babel station, where unrecognized languages are sent.
"sendmail -t" is the command for mailing from the eco.utexas.edu site.
The processing at email@example.com happens automatically. No human intervention is required and the time required to accomplish this processing is negligible.
The language addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org*, Espanol Station; email@example.com*, English Station; firstname.lastname@example.org*, Italiano Station; and email@example.com*, Babel Station, receive the messages and, at these stations, the messages wait for volunteers to process them.
(*) Note: The addresses have been changed to preserve their anonymity. The domain names are correct.
At each language address, volunteers read the incoming mail using Pine. Pine's addressbook is set at each site so that the volunteer chooses one of three possible operations on each message:
At the English station, choosing the "cl" address for a message sends it to the Chiapas95, Chiapas95-lite, and Chiapas95-English lists.
The volunteer also edits the subject line, adds comments, and, most importantly, edits out the top set of headers so as to not reveal the address of the language station itself.
Special Case: Italiano
The Italiano Station has a special arrangement with our Italian editors. Instead of sending the incoming Italian messages to firstname.lastname@example.org, the Italiano Station, they are sent to email@example.com, a special list for this purpose. On this list are two people in Italy who collaborate at the same physical site to move the mail along.
Mail from the stations arrives at the various list addresses at eco.utexas.edu. Although the subscription and other administrative requests are handled by majordomo, the actual shipping of messages to the list members is handled by "postit", a program written at the University of Texas.
Postit only allows messages that arrive from the language stations to be posted to the lists.
Incoming mail from other addresses are not posted to the list. A message is automatically sent to the sender that explains that mail for the news lists should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and that subscription requests should go to email@example.com.
The "Practice" station is a special email list and login for new volunteers, so that they can learn the ropes without the pressure of having their mistakes go to the big news lists.
The Practice address, firstname.lastname@example.org has a special script that refreshes the messages every time someone logs on. The new volunteer gets an assortment of mail: the fresh mail copied from the English Station early that morning, and some "canned" mail that presents the new volunteer with some common problems.
When the volunteer "posts" a message, i.e., uses the "c" or "cl" address alias, instead of going to the big lists, it only goes to the Practice list for critique.
The whole scheme is supported by a family of special eVoted email lists at deliberate.com. eVote allows anyone on the list to propose a poll for the members to vote on.
Most important among these is the "under-zo" list, where readers are invited to participate in the articulation and ratification of rules for the editors to follow.
The procedure for establishing rules is given in the info file for this list:
-- This list is for technical and organization issues around Zapatistas Online. Technical/organization changes to the ZO system require: 1. A [-10,10] poll describing the enhancement/addition/correction requested. Please choose your subject line carefully as it will be the key to the discussion and polling on your idea. Please start your subject with the keyword, "Request:" so that the results of the "eVote list" command will be a nice list of pending requests. 2. Polls for requests must be open for at least 2 weeks, gather at least 3 votes, and have at least 2/3 of the voters voting positively. Then any volunteer, or group of volunteers, who has signed the "I can" poll on the ZO list and who is capable of implementing the request is authorized to do so. When a volunteer claims the responsibility of implementing of the request, the poll is closed. When the implementation is complete, poll is deleted. In this way, an "eVote list" command will list all the projects in process as closed polls, and the projects under consideration as open polls. If your poll remains open for 2 months without gaining the required voter approval, please close and drop the poll from the data. Besides being initialized as "Requests:", polls may also be initialized as "Rules:", seeking approval for rules of conduct for people when they are acting as agents of Zapatistas Online. Other categories of polls may develop.
There are the "english", "espanol", "italiano", "babel", and "practice lists, for the editors of the specific stations to discuss their particular concerns. Whenever someone logs onto the English station, for example, a message reporting that fact is automatically sent to the email@example.com list. Therefore archives of these lists contain a log of who enters each station and when.
In addition, there is the "firstname.lastname@example.org" list, the central discussion list for the editors. Here they discuss the details of their philosophy and editing practices.
On the zo list are two always-open polls, "I will" and "I can". Before a new volunteer is given a password to a list, s/he must vote "yes" in the "I will" poll, indicating her/his willingness to edit the news "according to the guidelines established by the group".
Or, a technical volunteer can vote "yes" in the "I can" poll indicating that s/he volunteers to do technical work according to the collective will of the group.
Finally, there is a email@example.com list where technical details and proposals are discussed.
We believe it is possible to completely secure this system with the addition of a few more programs:
The relevant program and data files are backed up along with this documentation. They are in the following directory structure. (D) indicates a directory as opposed to a regular file.
We are grateful to azteca.net, deliberate.com, foco.org, eco.utexas.edu and nanospace.com for generously supporting this project with computer resources.