To the EFF: a Tor Challenge proposal

Hello Electronic Frontier Foundation,

In mid 2011, the EFF started a “Tor Challenge” which encouraged more than 500 people to run their own Tor relays.

It was a brilliant way to bring awareness to the project and expand the Tor network. A year later, it seems that 90% of those relays are no longer operational. The Tor Challenge does not seem to be designed for long-term Tor support, which would be ideal. I am writing to you in hopes of re-initiating the Tor Challenge, but also wanting to add some new functionality. I believe that an EFF sponsored program such as the Tor Challenge can be highly successful for two reasons. First, it is a not-for-profit with the ability of collecting tax-deductible donations. Second, it is a legal/rights-oriented organization which can help alleviate the possible perceived worry in regards to running Tor nodes. With the EFF putting its name on this program, it helps remove the possible drama of uneasy emotions while simultaneously promoting a willingness to contribute to the Tor Project.

  1. Lead by example
  2. Create a community
  3. Award the community

# Lead by example

Looking at Torstatus.blutmagie.de, I see two EFF-run Tor relays. I am really happy to see them, but I’m disappointed by how “slow” they are, and the fact that neither of them are Tor exit-routers.

  • observatory5.eff.org [173.236.34.122]
  • tor1.eff.org [64.147.188.11]

In order to make maintaining EFF-run Tor nodes more sustainable, the EFF should make the Tor Challenge into a dedicated program. Not knowing the internals of the EFF, here are some suggestions:

  1. Make the Tor Challenge a formal program within the EFF, even if it is solely supported by new volunteers (like me!).
  2. Re-initiate your social-media and outreach for the program, but also give the program its own home page, as an example, Torchallenge.eff.org.
  3. Expand the bandwidth of your two current Tor nodes (100 Mbps+), but turn at least one of them into a Tor exit-router.
  4. Rename them for self-branding (for example: Exit01.torchallenge.eff.org and Relay01.torchallenge.eff.org)
  5. Allow volunteers of the Tor Challenge to ask for EFF donations, specifically for funding EFF maintained Tor nodes.
  6. The Tor Project currently has a wiki page of Tor-friendly ISPs and hosting companies. Expand their work and actively engage with US-based companies to educate and identify them. This has the added benefit of looking for companies to donate hosting/bandwidth to EFF for the expansion of EFF maintained Tor nodes.

On one of my Tor exit-routers web page,Tor.anon.is, I specify how much traffic the router has processed since its inception. I do this because it enhances my interest for keeping a node online. It is simply amazing to realize how many people I am actually helping through general-quantification. I would encourage the EFF to devise a real-time tool for displaying the same type of information on your relay’s web pages, and to make those tools available to the Tor Challenge community. You might take the opportunity to perform research (simple surveys) to identify why people run Tor nodes. That might also allow you to devise new ways of enhancing the Tor Challenge community for long-term engagement.

# Create a community

Torchallenge.eff.org (example) should be a one-two punch for educating and highlighting the contributions made by the numerous individuals and organizations that run long-term Tor nodes. It might make people feel as though they are part of a greater community. As a Tor exit-router operator, I would feel very alone if for not hanging out in the #Tor IRC channel. What finally made me push myself to running my own Tor exit-router was the University of Washington hackathon. For me, it was a sense of wanting to engage with these many amazing people. By encouraging in-person meet-ups, even if sponsored by related organizations, I strongly feel that this would enhance one’s sense of community. Without that sensation of connection, there is certainly a higher learning-curve to become at ease when taking the risk of running a long-term Tor exit-router.

The Tor Challenge home page should be social (to some extent) so that people can share their own achievements and to see the successes of others. Torstatus.blutmagie.de does have a fair number of metrics available, as does Atlas.torproject.org, but what is missing is the long-term documentation of who has done what, including the amount of traffic and uptime that people and organizations have contributed. It is also limited by the focusing on the tor node, not on the people and organizations behind them.

  1. The Tor Project currently has a fair amount of material for both educating people about Tor and how they might use and/or support Tor. Certainly expand on these ideas but also find specific ways to engage people who want to run their own Tor nodes.
  2. Devise metrics for contributors so that people can identify with their contributions, but also the contributions of others via that shared connection.
  3. Create a blog so that people can tell their stories – from those of whom who use Tor, but also from those who contribute to Tor.
  4. Create hash-tags and other ways for people to share via popular online social networks.
  5. The social aspects of the Tor Challenge home page should not be limited to people and their contributions. Let people create their own “guilds” or TorChallenge clubs that bring awareness to hacker spaces as well as university clubs and/or organizations.

# Award the community

The amazing people who maintain their own Tor relay likely already have a strong understanding of why they support the Tor Project. However, some people are still learning, want to learn more, or want other ways of making connections. An award system might be a good way to provide needed feedback loops. Mozilla has initiated an “Open Badges” program, and it seems ideal for this type of knowledge development and community building.

  1. Create a Tor Challenge OpenBadges authority, and provide direct feedback to the individuals and organizations who have earned achievements.
  2. Research and develop new metrics and new ways to award badges.
  3. Create ways for people to share their badges on social networks as well as blogs/personal pages.
  4. Automate the delivery of awarded badges, detailing the next steps and/or additional ways to get involved with either the Tor Project or the Tor Challenge.
  5. Send out monthly newsletters to the Tor Challenge community alerting all of Tor updates, issues, news stories, and of course, the new achievements awarded to community members.

I hope that the ideas that I present above are useful to you. I understand that these ideas may already have been implemented to some degree, and I hope that you understand that I do not want to step on anyone’s feet, especially the amazing people at the Tor Project. Feel free to reuse or republish any of the above verbiage, and please contact me if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you for your time.

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