Outernet: What Outernet Broadcasts And Why

But Outernet is not the Internet, and this is critical in understanding how Outernet works and the thinking behind our editorial decisions. Outernet is subject to the same constraints as the other one-way dynamic types of broadcasts: instead of airtime on radio or TV, our limit is the bandwidth we are able to beam from our satellites in orbit.

The pipe through which we deliver content has a finite diameter, which necessitates an editing process to make sure what bandwidth we do have is used most effectively. Whenever there is a small group making decisions on behalf of a larger group, it is important that the processes are transparent and the parameters for decisions well understood by all. For this reason, today Outernet has published a comprehensive set of guidelines covering how content is broadcast over Outernet as well as our first round of content sources for what Outernet curates. I encourage you to read both documents and make comments and suggestions. I will be hosting an AMA on Reddit on 12/19 at 2:30pm EST and have created an Editor’s Corner section of the Outernet forum that I will check in on regularly.

For the selection of Outernet’s curated content, we rely on our Core Principles as guides and require that any piece of content broadcast on Outernet, including sponsored content, fulfill one or more of our Content Goals.

Outernet Core Principles:

  1. Free access to information is a human right. No one should be denied a basic level of information due to wealth, geography, political environment, or infrastructure.
  2. Every person should be able to participate in the global marketplace of ideas, and, consequently have a say in what Outernet broadcasts to the world.
  3. The process of curating what Outernet broadcasts should be transparent in its execution and involve the input of Outernet’s constituents.
Outernet Content Goals:
  • Education. A work should enable a user to be a more informed participant in society and/or aid in moving them towards a higher plane of knowledge.
  • Truth. Outernet truth and for the right of the public to truth
  • Transparency. A work should allow a user to have greater understanding of the institutions that affect their daily life.
  • Empowerment. A work should give a user an enhanced ability to manipulate the course of their life towards their intended goal.
  • Health and Safety. A work should provide the required information to lead a healthier, safer, and ultimately more enjoyable life.
  • Quality of Life. A work should either directly or indirectly provide a means for a user to improve their quality of life.
Below I have summarized some of the issues we contended with in creating this document and the stand we have taken. Finally, I want to emphasize that this is a living document. When we say we are Humanity’s Public Library, there is deliberate emphasis on the first word. This system cannot function without a committed group of users. Thank you for being involved!

Here are some of the issues we are balancing:

The Inclusiveness Dilemma

Outernet broadcasts to everyone with a particular emphasis on those who have limited alternative means of receiving critical information. The more inclusive we are in our editorial process, which happens online, the more we move towards a system where those with Internet are deciding what those without read. While Outernet employees fall into this group, we are bound by our mission while random Internet users are not.

Current fix: User requests cannot be voted on, only the content picked to best match the request can be voted on; Transparency and general willingness to revise curated content and pathways for that content to be changed by Outernet users; Dedicated information targeted at offline populations.

Free Speech vs. “The Chilling Effect”

We value free speech immensely and see Outernet as a way to fight against those who would suppress free speech. However, the things that free speech enables individuals to say can naturally upset the values of others. If Outernet were to become associated with the fringe, offensive aspects of its content, it could make the entirety of Outernet taboo in offended areas and prevent more universally lauded content from reaching those who need it most. This is of particular concern in areas that are disconnected and would have no other means of accessing information.

Current fix: Creation of Outernet Content Goals and requiring that anything broadcast on Outernet fulfill them; Any piece of content broadcast on Outernet may be commented on and reviewed by the community.

Speed of Delivery vs. Quality of Product

When we receive a request from a user, we want to turn around a piece of content to fulfill that request in a very timely manner. At the same time, Outernet staff do not have the time to personally review every request, nor would that be the most inclusive approach. The diverse members of the Outernet community often can find a better answer than we would and sometimes it takes time and discussion for that answer to surface. We also want to avoid the misuse of Outernet, whereby an ill intentioned community member might select nefarious content for broadcast and it moves through the queue too quickly without a chance to be noticed.

Current fix: Certain content, like news and updates related to disasters, are prioritized and broadcast by Outernet as part our curated selection; Moderators may prioritize content requests when appropriate; every request, once matched with content, endures a minimum 24 hour period of public review.

Majority vs. Minority

With a limited amount of bandwidth, it is important to make sure that content selected for broadcast is useful to as many people as possible. However, such an allocation scheme is what is adopted by most systems with limited resources. It perpetuates the further marginalization of communities that are in the minority through language, location, culture, or other defining trait. Outernet is committed to serving those who are largely unserved by anyone else

Current fix: Minimizing the hegemony of English content; Providing a news source for every nation on Earth in that country’s major language; where possible, additionally providing a source of news that serves a minority group, typically through language; broadcasting active petitions and/or movements that are ongoing, especially those serving underrepresented groups; categorizing content not only by country but by language and ethnicity and assessing content curation by those standards.

Openness vs. Integrity

Specifically regarding the user management of content requests, we struggled with wanting to make the minimal level of input very accessible (e.g. voting without creating an account) while not impeding committed users by excessive participation by trolls or spam users. The system should cater to those who are novices in online community projects as well as those who are advanced users.

Current fix: Requiring a free, basic account be created for participation in content selection; Giving weight to voting, but not making votes the sole decider in content selection; increasing accountability as a user earns more privileges in the Outernet community; Moderator verification before any content gets broadcast.

For a look at how User Requested Content works, see this diagram. For greater explanation, you may look in the document itself.

For Sponsored content, the following general guidelines will be adhered to:

  • Source Transparency. A sponsor will be required to provide basic information about who they are and alongside each piece of sponsored content will be displayed the following information:
    • Name of the sponsor
    • Sponsor’s home nation
    • Time of broadcast
    • Duration of broadcast (i.e. has it been paid to be broadcast multiple times)
    • Sponsorship history (i.e. has it been sponsored before)
    • Geographies in which it has been sponsored for distribution
  • The 25% Rule. Sponsored content will never take up more than 25% of the total content being broadcast by Outernet. Due to the nature of satellite datacasting and the functioning of our data carousel, this figure may be exceeded for a given span of time, however the working distribution of data will be kept below an average of 25%.
  • Content Review. All sponsored content, like any other content broadcast on Outernet, must fulfill one of our Content Goals and adhere to our Broadcast Standards and Goals.
  • Visual Demarcation. In the condensed content display, sponsored content will be differentiated in its visual presentation.
For further discussion of any of these topics, please refer to the entire set of Broadcast Guidelines. We also need assistance in building up the curated content for each nation, so if you have a source for a particular country that you think be a part of Outernet’s regular broadcast, please submit it here.

Thank you for your support and I look forward to receiving your feedback.

-Thane Richard

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://blog.outernet.is/2014/12/what-outernet-broadcasts-and-why.html

This looks like a really promising start.

Id be particularly interested in some more details of the mobile broadcast. Specifically the expected breakdown of content per day.

Would it be something like this? Or different proportions?
25% Sponsored? = 500kb
10% Core? = 200kb
5% Disasters? 100kb
10% Curated Global? 200kb
30% Curated national (190 countries)? 600kb
20% User requests 400kb

What timeframe would you aim to broadcast the entire core archive in? A year?

Was there any scope for suggesting content for the global curated content stream? I see you have a form for the national one, but not the global?

I also spotted https://www.the-newshub.com is in the core archive? Wouldn’t that go in the global curated content?

I moved 2 posts to a new topic: Use of PiFS in Outernet projects

Outernet complements shortwave broadcasts, right? For that reason updated frequency and time schedule lists for the main shortwave broadcasters should be part of what is distributed on the Lantern system. In all remote places where internet does not exists, these people depend much on shortwave today but does not have access to updated frequency and time schedule lists. At least should these lists contain around 10 of the most important shortwave stations in the wold and if space is a consideration (as we know it is), at least should the frequency/time lists contain the English language broadcasting services for the sected stations at minimum. If possible frequeny lists of more of the most important languages should be included too. Of course such lists also needs to made “sticky”, but always updated.

These lists should be kept current at all time and will be of help related to when disasters happens. Normally shortwave lists are updated twice per year, once for the summer season and once for the winter season. The most reliable source for updated data is at http://www.hfcc.org/ In text format, such lists would take up only a small amount of space on the Lantern system.

First off, your numbers in kb are completely arbitrary. Sponsored is 25% of X, where X is the total size of the archive. Nobody says the total archive size is going to be 2MB.

Secondly, only the sponsored content have a hard limit of 25%.

Thirdly, curated content is not static, so, for curated content, you will see a constant change in content over time. So, given a time frame (say a month), the total volume of data that goes through the curated sections will be many times the size of the data in the sections at any given point in time. So let’s say core is 100MB and curated is 10MB. And you are able to receive 110MB a day. With daily rotation of curated content, you will receive 100MB of core and 300MB of curated in 30 days.

Hi Branko. Yes the numbers are arbitary as Outernet haven’t yet said what they will be broadcasting to the devices they are selling. This was the point of my post to try and get some more info.

I understand the proportions wont be entirely fixed. and that the content in curated is not fixed.

I’m just trying to get some more info on what I can expect to recieve on the device I have brought.

On the mobile service will some content be broadcast from each catergory each day?

Is the globally curated content only going to be in English? Or other languages too?

That’s still TBD and it largely depends on legal constraints. For instance, in some jurisdictions, stripping out HTML tags is considered copyright violation.

Globally curated content has no language restrictions.

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Thanks Branko. Its good to get a insight into how internal conversations are progressing, even if things aren’t yet decided.

Have you had conversations about the broadcast frequency of the core archive on the mobile service? Obviously the lower the frequency the larger the core archive can be. I imagine once a year? Or do you think it could be every two years? Or more frequently than a year?

This is an extension of your previous question really, so I’d say TBD. :smile:

I stuck the feeds from the curated global content into this page so it was easier to see what kind of content would come through:


I saw you were looking for a feed for Africa so I added http://allafrica.com/ so you could have a look and see if it’s what you need.

Globally curated content has no language restrictions.

Do you mean that content should be available in the most used global languages so it’s useful for the largest number of people?


This is a very good document and handles the issues thoroughly and with care. However, I think the major thing I need to point out is that it gets a little too caught up in the distinction between nationally curated content and globally curated content. While the initial broadcasts will be global (or through every satellite Outernet is broadcasting through at the moment), there is really no distinction between the two - all content will be regional since the satellite coverage is inherently segmented and in fact later versions will have higher resolution of the globe. Continentally at first and then down to roughly mid-sized countries as the system evolves. Which really means that Outernet will be broadcasting some X channels to precisely the same X number of regions of the world. We could have separate content and a separate nomination process for each and every one of them.

We can and almost certainly will have global content (meaning content broadcast in all X regions) but we need to go farther than say that Global content will be globally relevant. We have to make sure that globally relevant content will be distributed in all regions with the same context, characterization and relevance as in every other regions. That’s so we don’t get into situations where slightly different versions of the same news are broadcast into different regions by different nomination or sponsorship methods (e.g. news in Hong Kong or in Ukraine being reported differently in different large regions around the globe). But we also will have to account for language differences, presentation differences and even timing differences (since one part of the world eats lunch while another sleeps).

Food for thought, I guess.


@ThaneRichard I’ve noticed that Der Spiegel only updates European news every couple of days on average: http://www.netvibes.com/outernet#General

Would you consider a news source that updated more frequently? Perhaps http://feeds.bbci.co.uk/news/world/europe/rss.xml

What did you think of All Africa? Do you think it might work as an African News source?

Were you considering any other languages?



@nada, the inclusion of shortwave timesheets, based on your description (I am less familiar) sounds like a great addition to the archive.

@Ian, the reason for the distinction is more in terms of bandwidth priority for the purposes of organization. For example, a local newspaper for Madagascar in a local language does not have global appeal so would be considered to be part of Madagascar’s nationally curated content. This is just for triaging the limited bandwidth. As we expand daily bandwidth to 10 GB/day and upwards, this distinction will become less important. We will also want to try and curate content based on satellite broadcast footprint, like you suggest.

@sam_uk I went with Der Spiegel because it is one of the more respected European papers and was one of three to receive the leaked cables. However, given your point about update frequency, I would definitely consider an alternative. I am still looking around for an Africa source. For languages, the prevailing global source will be English with regional news sources given in other languages.

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A post was split to a new topic: Disappointed that Outernet offers no two-way communication/services