Week 1: The possibility of decentralized networks in 2021
Is it even possible to build or rebuild successful, competitive old-fashioned decentralized networks when the Internet is dominated by Big Tech?
yes, because the tools and knowledge is available. the more pressing issue is in creating a system that can compete in the attention economy and win against social media networks which are waning in growth and influence.
Assuming that one has constant and stable access to the Internet, one could spend nominal funds on hosting content in their residence using Raspberry Pi with LAMP software (or similar), and rely on either traditional DNS via a FQDN (if their IP is static), or utilize a dynamic DNS solution. In theory one might also look to a distributed dynamic DNS (blockchain?) to avoid DNS censorship. There might not be a way to get around censorship by their ISP or other operators of the various routers along the route path, unless the hosting ended up being something difficult to isolate/trace, similar to TOR.
It is more possible to make alternatives now then 7-8 years ago, because the recent actions of censorship are making users thirsty for alternatives out of necessity. Before there was a visible crisis, people were very much less motivated.
(copied from my Slack posting) Thank you very much for setting this up. Enjoying the conversation (on YouTube) a lot right now. However, I think you would have sent a much more powerful message by using a non-Goolag platform. Yes, I also succumbed and am watching-- but I can't get over a sense of feeling dirty by giving in. On the other hand, I absolutely refuse to 'sign in' and so I'm unable to contribute to the conversation going on there.
Thanks for posting on alternative platforms; I'll be following there from now on. Some quick comments:
"Centralization is inevitable"-- yes, this is human nature. But decentralization is also inevitable-- the desire to be free is also human nature. Put in simplisitic terms, there is a battle between good and evil. We can accept that, and not simply give up just because there is a struggle.
"Monetization is important": yes, because it incentivizes the production of information. Opinions are cheap to generate (not to say they can't be valuable), but some information takes research to produce, which requires resources, which translates into money.
The Goolag owns search and e-mail and obliterated competition. Let's not forget DNS; it's shocking how many individuals and businesses I've seen blindly use "126.96.36.199" without really understanding what that means.
This is me as well. I very much enjoyed watching though and look forward to further participation through this forum or another platform. On that note, is the Slack chat for tech folks primarily? Because I'm not a tech person myself, and while I want to learn as much as I can about the technical aspects, I am here because I essentially agree with what Peter said towards the end of the discussion about this ultimately not being a technical problem but more socio-political, and it's on that end where I feel I can contribute most.
@hampson I agree. This is the biggest issue and something that I brought up in the Slack comments. We have been discussing the KSF as defining the standards for a new kind of post-based network, like the blogosphere. That's all we plan to do. We then plan to let others develop readers to aggregate these posts and assemble them into something resembling an encyclopedia. The problem is at the level of these readers. Even if we succeed in defining widely used standards for information posting, we still rely on the readers to aggregate the material responsibly. But I can almost guarantee they won't. The same people who have centralized and censored now, are also the people with the biggest brand recognition. All they have to do is build the best (easiest to use, most visually appealing, etc.) reader apps, which they will. These reader apps will then simply pick and choose the posts from this network that meet their ideological needs and toss the rest. Information will not be less censored. And what is worse, they will nevertheless go on to claim that they are in favor of open source and free speech because they use the decentralized "KSF protocol", which prevents censorship. While this is technically true, their reader will in-fact censor. Most people will not understand the distinction. The situation will almost be worse than it was before we started.
Is it possible to decentralise? Possibly - but it depends on a number of factors. As I alluded to in the question on naivety, I think that the important thing is ease of use, and to a certain degree, monetisation. The devs and 'geeks' will be on board for the social purpose alone - 'freedom', 'privacy' and so on - but very few other people will join. There will be a few more early adopters that may participate if there is a sufficient monetary incentive that is not too difficult to obtain. From there, we need a 'critical mass' of users that join a cultural shift to cause a network effect-like phenomenon with respect to awareness and adoption of this. When something has become the 'norm' - and it has been shown to be 'sufficiently easy' to utilise - this is when we can think about challenging Silicon Valley.
Identifying where things went wrong is also important; we must identify and learn from mistakes and understand potential future pitfalls accordingly. One thing that I predict as being an almost certainty is that if 'decentralisation' is possible, then so is 'recentralisation' of some form - perhaps in the manner suggested during the YouTube discussion.
This is enirely possible in the context of the KSF. There is also a network effect at play here in addition to considerations of ease of use. How do people find out about certain readers etc.? Because individuals, groups or corporations will display, advertise or talk about them. As certain reader apps dominate, most regular users won't think about alternatives because it won't be convenient for them to actively search for them and they won't even think about it.
For many years, I didn't even think about switching my browser, or my email provider, or search engine, or smartphone OS. It wasn't even that I didn't know how to - these sorts of things are easy enough to find out - the point is that the thought didn't even cross my mind. In other words, the drive for ease of use with respect to the rest of the internet will work against us here as well. While the scope of KSF may not extend much further than encyclopedias, the more general ambition of decentralisation will have to move beyond this scope for us to succeed.
A bit of an aside (food for thought, rather than anything else):
On a final ethical note, there is one more thing that concerns me that I was reminded of on reading this comment - perhaps this is going off on a tangent a little, but I don't quite know how else to put it (perhaps it is viewing the above comment in a more abstract sense?). When we talk about censorship, infringement on privacy, and so on, there will be many people that invoke images of Orwell's '1984'. However, what if this is not the dystopian vision we have been sliding into? In many cases, the information we want/need is somewhere on the internet despite the attempts at censorship. The issue is that we are presented with so many other things that people do not care to look for said information, or to support its dissemination, or to comprehend the importance of it when we find it.
This is the hypothesis I humbly submit when I speak of people searching for convenience, or being inherently lazy. It is my belief that not only is this a part of human nature, but that this is even more true today than it has previously been due to the way that the internet has developed over time. In particular, I ask whether there is a further risk in combatting the infringement on our digital freedoms (particularly via decentralisation), that we may be bombarded with so much information that we don't know how to make sense of it? Neil Postman's 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' comes to mind (foreword here: https://bit.ly/2Yn8mJS ). Is there a way of avoiding this? If not, I fear that 'recentralisation' may be easier than we think.
All, thanks for diving in! I'm enjoying your answers and looking forward to weighing in. I thought I'd stay quiet at first, but I'll answer the questions and respond to others soon.
... the more pressing issue is in creating a system that can compete in the attention economy and win against social media networks...
This really is the challenging part (as many are pointing out)!
I think it's possible, but anything anyone comes up with has to actually be "better" for the user than just decentralized or that wont happen. Additionally, anything that is relatively "good" (as measured by end user), is going to have it's reputation attacked by those who's businesses this would harm (if at least their hand couldn't somehow be forced into not censoring?). That *could* fall under any press is good press, but not if it's just the same old same old, but decentralized.
As I said before, I think the key niche to fill there is an open filter based on decentralized data, and if it is not the KSFs goal to create such a filter / *auto* ranker / 'smart?' reader, then I think it is worth recognizing that the customer is the filter creators and not as much the end user.
Very much agree with @lacroix here, information overload is a MASSIVE problem, and one that I would add is getting exponentially worse without really any user controllable counter weight. This will only help if that problem is mitigated ('solving' it even possible?).
@heksterb as I understand it, 188.8.131.52 is a public service. What am I missing? We have to live within the technologies at the bottom. Domains need to be registered, and IP addresses need to get resolved. I am aware of no problems with 184.108.40.206. KSF is an early adopter of unstoppabledomains.com (ksfound.crypto), FWIW.
@tbc0 220.127.116.11 is a DNS service provided by Google - it's possible they could exclude websites from their DNS and prevent your access to those web addresses, or track your activity using the internet - not sure of any examples of this but it's a privately owned routing service https://developers.google.com/speed/public-dns/docs/using
i couldn't find any instances of this taking place online, but somebody offered an open source DNS solution: https://www.opennic.org/
Hi @tbc0 ; happy to be here and hopefully contribute in a positive way to the conversation. The problem with “18.104.22.168” as I see it is twofold:
Clearly, having the Internet's uber-search in the hands of one organization (even if it is an organization that has promised to “do no evil”) is problematic. Whether or not they are using such power for ill purposes right now at this moment is sort of irrelevant. The question to me is whether it's a good idea even to place the temptation of so much power into any one entity's hands— we are discussing decentralization, after all.
Second, don't forget that They are essentially a data collection organization. I can only imagine what kind of profile you could construct of somebody just by amalgamating their DNS queries. And no need to worry anymore about pesky browsers blocking third-party cookies!
We have been discussing the KSF as defining the standards for a new kind of post-based network, like the blogosphere. That's all we plan to do. We then plan to let others develop readers to aggregate these posts and assemble them into something resembling an encyclopedia.
Would the encyclosphere be a "post-based network"? Maybe, not sure. The way it would be like the blogosphere is by having distributed hosting of content which is all formatted similarly, making it easy to create readers. A widely-distributed assortment of encyclopedias are found around the world, with widely divergent ownership, and I propose to begin there, by making at least the open content and public domain content available according to the same, shared standards.
The problem is at the level of these readers. Even if we succeed in defining widely used standards for information posting, we still rely on the readers to aggregate the material responsibly. But I can almost guarantee they won't. The same people who have centralized and censored now, are also the people with the biggest brand recognition. All they have to do is build the best (easiest to use, most visually appealing, etc.) reader apps, which they will. These reader apps will then simply pick and choose the posts from this network that meet their ideological needs and toss the rest. Information will not be less censored. And what is worse, they will nevertheless go on to claim that they are in favor of open source and free speech because they use the decentralized "KSF protocol", which prevents censorship. While this is technically true, their reader will in-fact censor. Most people will not understand the distinction. The situation will almost be worse than it was before we started.
I appreciate that you've nicely stated the problem, and the problem as you've stated it is a good example of the skepticism that lies behind the original question. But that's one reason why the KSF aims to create not a single reader of its own, but rather "white label" reader software. In other words, different organizations will easily be able to roll out many different competing apps and websites, each offering its own selections of articles. My guess is that the most successful ones will not censor and allow people to "choose their bias." Particularly if this reader software is open source and is well-made (especially if it's competitive in terms of UX), we'll be in good shape. Look, if it's just a matter of making reader software nicer to use, that's a solvable problem.