The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Decentralized net services

Also mesh nets and other things that people will mistake for blockchain

Perhaps you live in a jurisdiction where political speech is censored or substantially manipulated, and you want communications to function without a single point of failure for the state to target. Aside: Who, today, does that not described? Serious question.

Or maybe you just don’t want centralised surveillance of your friendships.

Ideally I’d like to find robust ways of participating in the internet bidirectionally, in non-real-time, without assuming the internet is plugged in and working.

For unidirectional stuff, see offline internet.

The Web as we know it is not especially well suited to this, so this might be a hard sell to Joe Suburbia, but I imagine not so bad for Indonesians with smartphones or others in the internet badlands, say, Reza Desakota.

What follow are some sneakernettish decentralised forums/ social media for people who worry that their favourite social network might be politically censored by state power or corporate manipulation or just dickheads.


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 time Berners-Lee.


PeerTube is a federated video sharing system, with a structure much like Mastodon. Written in Typescript, if you are curious.


The classic; not really great for live and updating documents though.


André Staltz explains one such 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 a consumer, you 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.


Retroshare is…

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:

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?


Retroshare is…

Features Chat, Voice and Video, offline mail, file sharing, distributed search, forums and compatibility with TOR, and sneakernet everything.


Zeronet promises “Open, free and uncensorable websites, using Bitcoin cryptography and BitTorrent network”.

I am not convinced yet by this promise because it looks especially hacky. But YMMV.

How does it work?

This bittorrent thing doesn’t sound as nice as Beaker’s dat-based one.


Bugout by Chris Mccormick is a miniature decentralised web based purely in the browser.

Build back-end web services that run in a browser tab.