I am a strong proponent of free software. Free as in freedom, not price. Please watch this short video if you have not encountered the notion of free software before. It saddens me that many academic institutions are adopting proprietary software without questioning the implications with regards to the corporatization of academia. The latest addition to this is the adoption of Zoom. This is in spite of the fact that there are free, open source and overall better quality software solutions available: https://jitsi.org and https://bigbluebutton.org. To help spread awareness about the problems associated with using proprietary software such as Zoom, I will collect here links to articles that I came across that point out these problems. Please e-mail me if you notice other sources that highlight these problems. Here is a list of freely available jitsi servers around the world that you can use without creating any account or installing any software. We do not need proprietary software in academia. I am confident that if as academics we do not resist, we will see companies like Zoom profiting from our video lectures, not dissimilar to the way companies like Elsevier are profiting from our manuscripts. They get our manuscripts for free, they get them refereed by us for free, and they sell them back to us for exorbitant amounts. This fraudulent model should not be repeated when it comes to video lectures. We should use video servers set up by our departments or organizations whose role is to provide for academia rather than steal from them.
Jitsi There is a public server of Jitsi that's available at https://meet.jit.si. This is a completely free service and works for small meetings but has a limit of 75 people. You can just go there, create a room by one click completely anonymously. You can then invite people to your room by copying them the web address and your audience will be able to join. If you want a service that will accommodate more people, then you need to set up your own server. I suggest to do this anyway, so that you don't depend on a public server which may get busy during certain times and this way you have complete control over the trajectory of your communications. If you know what you are doing, this takes about half an hour and here are some quick instructions on how I set it up. It would be best if you can convince your IT department at your university to do this. I was not able to do that. I set up mine at a cloud server rented from linode for $10 a month. It can also be just a computer at your home or your office which has sufficiently fast internet speed and CPU power depending on the number of people that you want to host. Once you have a computer that will be your server, you need to make sure that you have a domain name that resolves to the IP address of your computer. I got a domain name from namecheap. The domain freemath.xyz was available for rent for one year for $1. Next, you need to install the Jitsi Meet server software. It is important to get the domain name first, as you need to enter that during the installation of Jitsi. I did this on a Debian 10 system installed on the computer. The installation takes about two minutes and for that I suggest following the steps given in the quick install guide. That's it! You now have a fully functional server on which you can host your video conferences and you have complete control of your data. If you want to engage with the community of people using and fine tuning this wonderful free and open source software, checkout community.jitsi.org. Big Blue Button BBB provides a more advanced platform. It has fancier features such as sharing of slides, polls, breakaway rooms and a white board! However, it requires a stronger machine on the server side. Minimum 4 core CPU and 8GB memory is strongly recommended. In return, it demands less from the client machine which is a good thing. Again, I set this up on a cloud server rented from linode. The installation is a bit more involved compared to Jitsi but following the instructions given in installation guide worked fine. This installs a bare minimum and one has to also install a frontend interface called Greenlight for which the instructions are here. We currently have a weekly seminar running on this. Join us at freemath.xyz.