What follows are some peer-to-peer/friend-to-friend/federated forms/self-hosted services for people who worry that their favourite online service might be politically censored by state power or corporate manipulation or just dickheads. Perhaps you want communications to function without a single point of failure. Or maybe you just don’t want centralised surveillance of your friendships. If you want none of those things, you are living in a different world to me. The question is if we wish to pay the opportunity costs.
Ideally I’d like to find robust ways of participating in the social internet bidirectionally, in non-real-time, without assuming the internet is plugged in and working, and without requiring all participants be massive geeks.
For unidirectional stuff, see offline internet and sneakernets, and low bandwidth hacks. Emphasis here is on social-media-like services because chat clients and file syncing are covered elsewhere, which biases what remains.
Considered here, self-hosted, federated and P2P options. By “self hosted” I mean when I run your own server for my own stuff. In federated systems there are still servers, but anyone can run one for a community and these community servers collaborate for some kind of global coverage. In P2P every client is also a server, and therefore everyone is peers. Further taxonomising is uninteresting for the current purpose.
Solid is not so much a cypherpunk infrastructure as a set of standard for how to provide decentralised social data streams to a hypothetical decentralised social internet. Backed by WWW figurehead Tim Berners-Lee. It still uses the normal internet but it decentralises … identity?
Fediverse: Twitter run by volunteers.
This is kinda fun, but not something I’m passionate about as it’s still fragile, unencrypted and thus subject to censorship and surveillance etc. But also it’s cute and friendly and early-internet nostalgia.
PeerTube is a federated video sharing system, with a structure much like Mastodon and using the same federation protocols. Written in Typescript, if you are curious.
André Staltz explains a social media alternative, called scuttlebutt (which, to be precise, is shorthand for a complex ecology of pieces making up the “scuttleverse”, most of which, as consumers, we can ignore.)
Scuttlebutt is decentralized in a similar way that Bitcoin or BitTorrent are. Unlike centralized systems like PayPal or Dropbox, there is no single website or server to connect when using decentralized services. Which in turn means there is no single company with control over the network.
However, Scuttlebutt differs from Bitcoin and BitTorrent because there are no “singleton components” in the network. When accessing the BitTorrent network, for instance, you need to connect to a Distributed Hash Table [for which] you need to connect to a bootstrapping server [and] still depend on the existence of ISPs and the internet backbone. Also, those systems are concerned about public information. For instance, with Bitcoin, each peer stores the entire log of all transactions ever sent by anyone.
Secure Scuttlebutt is also different to federated social networks like Mastodon, Diaspora, GNU social, OStatus. Those technologies are not peer-to-peer, because each component is either a server or a client, but not both. Federated social networks are slightly better than centralized services like Facebook because they provide some degree of choice where your data should be hosted. However, there is still trust and dependency on third-party servers and ISPs, which makes it possible for administrators of those to abuse their power, through content policies, privacy violations or censorship.
In Scuttlebutt, the “mesh” suffices. With simply two computers, a local router, and electricity, you can exchange messages between the computers with minimal effort and no technical skills. Each account in Scuttlebutt is a diary (or “log”) of what a person has publicly and digitally said. As those people move around between different WiFi / LAN networks, their log gets copy-pasted to different computers, and so digital information spreads.
What word of mouth is for humans, Scuttlebutt is for social news feeds. It is unstoppable and spreads fast.
Docker image/sanity check/tutorial.
The main backend bit is the distributed data store scuttlebot. On top of that you run user-facing apps like patchwork, which is a user forum thing.
A Decentralized Social Sharing Network designed For the People with no dependencies on any corporate system or central servers.
Make strong crypto useable for the average computer user, have strong crypto in daily communication.
The right to have secrets. You decide who can receive information. Hide information from intelligence agencies and spying companies.
Freedom of speech, no censorship.
Independence from corporate systems and centralized servers. Central services might shut down or change their terms of services at any time. Do you remember Myspace? Or German Studivz? Remember when Facebook changed their terms of service? Skype being bought by Microsoft?
Free software. Only free software can provide free and secure communication. Developers can read Retroshare’s source code and verify the security.
Features chat, voice and video, offline mail, file sharing, distributed search, forums and compatibility with TOR, and sneakernet everything.
Beaker is based on the dat protocol for data sharing. It sounds like zeronet but a bit less shaky, if not actually better designed for real use cases.
Create and fork websites directly from your computer. You control your data. No blockchain required.
They also have pointed blockchain-mania snark:
We quickly ruled out the blockchain variants (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Namecoin) as the core network model of Beaker for the following reasons:
Proof-of-work and global ledger distribution are inefficient. So far, blockchain networks have struggled with throughput as they scale. Betting on a blockchain includes the risk that throughput may decrease over time, and/or that users will be forced to download large datasets to participate.
The requirement to use global consensus on all transactions results in a direct costs for operations in the form of transaction fees. We know that many network operations do not require global consensus, and therefore a blockchain makes a poor default for applications.
We believe Proof-of-work is wasteful, and we have ethical reservations about the expenditure of resources to sustain PoW. At this time, Proof-of-stake is still an unproven alternative, but we are interested in its potential.
We have concerns over governance models. By investing decision-making in miners, the blockchain networks have given power to the entities with the most mining resources. […]
Snark entertainment value aside, whilst I do find this model elegant, it works, for now, only for rich nerds with desktop computers and time to replace their nice corporatised internet with an ugly experimental broken DIY internet It doesn’t work on smartphones, so the people with the most tenuous internet will not use it and it will not take over the world. I don’t think the founders would claim otherwise; they are all about proof-of-concept. Perhaps some future iteration might change stuff?
Zeronet promises “Open, free and uncensorable websites, using Bitcoin cryptography and BitTorrent network”.
I am not convinced yet by this promise purely because there were too many buzzwords at once and I am grumpy today. Judge for yourself, though.
How does it work?
zeronet.pyyou will be able to visit zeronet sites using
When you visit a new zeronet site, it tries to find peers using the BitTorrent network so it can download the site files (html, css, js…) from them.
Each visited site is also served by you.
Every site contains a
content.jsonfile which holds all other files in a sha512 hash and a signature generated using the site’s private key.
If the site owner (who has the private key for the site address) modifies the site, then he/she signs the new
content.jsonand publishes it to the peers. Afterwards, the peers verify the
content.jsonintegrity (using the signature), they download the modified files and publish the new content to other peers.
This bittorrent thing doesn’t sound as nice as Beaker’s dat-based one.
Bugout by Chris Mccormick is a miniature decentralised web proof-of-concept based purely in the browser.
Build back-end web services that run in a browser tab.
Host backend services without a VPS, domain or SSL cert.
Anyone can deploy by simply opening a browser tab.
Can be “self-hosted” by leaving a browser tab open on a PC.
Client-server over WebRTC instead of HTTPS.
Amber Case argues for IPFS.
This project claims to be building an actual decentralised, internet-collapse-ready web replacement. Still geeky and badly explained, but an actual ecocystem is growing around it with many ties to the blockchain community.
Their rationale is
The average lifespan of a web page is 100 days. Remember GeoCities? The web doesn’t anymore. It’s not good enough for the primary medium of our era to be so fragile.
IPFS keeps every version of your files and makes it simple to set up resilient networks for mirroring of data.
Developing world. Offline. Natural disasters. Intermittent connections. All trivial compared to interplanetary networking. The networks we’re using are so 20th Century. We can do better.
IPFS powers the creation of diversely resilient networks which enable persistent availability with or without Internet backbone connectivity.
One interesting service is the decentralised databases such as orbitdb.
They also offer other weird decentralised hacks like filecoin, a blockchain incentivisation scheme for storing files.