The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Alternative social networks

90s style! V. cypherpunk!

Usefulness: 🔧
Novelty: 💡
Uncertainty: 🤪
Incompleteness: 🚧 🚧 🚧
Do it but be excellent

(Noisebridge on do-ocracy)

Corporate social network harm minimisation not getting the monkey off your back? Indeed! I am part of various communities that claim to want to leave the surveillance factory for somewhere else. Here are some notes I am writing for these communities on alternative ways we could be organising ourselves. They have various pluses (e.g. less advertising, less centralising profiling of us, less weaponised addictiveness) and various minuses (e.g. higher barrier for entry, higher cost, less polish).

Financing and governing your DIY social network

I don’t have much to say here, but I’m interested in knowing more.

Financing and paying costs

The first example I ran into of doing this explicitly is. Social.coop, an Oregon-based social network. They document their toolset for barnraising a local, accountable community network including governance. Their actual site runs on the federated mastodon system. Open collective gives them transparent community organising for the governance and expenses. They use loomio for decision making. I don’t know how they keep these systems all in sync.

Mastodon itself uses patreon to fund itself.

Governance

Keywords: do-ocracy Group membership norms.

Calendars

🚧 rant here about how no one but Facebook facilitates IRL gigs, events and meet-ups and since that is a major priority for me and many of my communities I am unlikely to actually use any of these options until I (or more realistically, someone else) can fix this problem.

Using turnkey infrastructure

There are turnkey technical solutions designed to do this for various use cases.

Or, dunno if it really fits here, but look at this attempt to provide the some of the features of the social network in terms of telling you not to forget birthdays, Monica the open-source personal CRM.

If you just want something efficient for your purposes but don’t care about the NSA reading it any of those will work, and they offer varying degrees of guarantees about not data mining you.

Keybase, Wire, Wickr and (partially) Riot claim to be host-proof, so in principle it should be hard for adversaries to spy upon.

Mike Hoye divulges Mozilla’s evaluation of some otions, which gives this some perspective.

Host your own social network

Run your own social system! On (possibly) your computer or (probably) someone else’s cloud!

Various of the turnkey options above also allow you to self-host, plus there are extra ones.

Of the above ones, only Riot is AFAICT host-proof encrypted; unless you control access to your own hosting, this host-proof thing is nice to have.

Plus also the following that AFAIK don’t have their own turnkey hosted options.

These fun DIY systems are good simple starting points. They are presumably sharing less information with the Facebook marketing and profiling machine. They may not satisfy the truly paranoid.

For AFAIK all of these options, apart from possibly the host-proof ones, the servers can still be subpoenaed and spied upon and presumably blocked by malevolent interests either through legal mecahnisms (by the state) or by hacking you (criminals and/or the state). Or to put it another way, in every centralised social network system there is one extra machine apart from the all the particpants’ - the server, which is one should probably consider suspect. To reduce the risks of that machine being interfered with, you could one-up everyone and use decentralised encrypted networks which try to eliminate the server. Then, of course, you still have to secure the users’s machines, but at least they have autonomy.

Fediverse

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 evokes early-internet nostalgia, which is sweet.

Mastodon

A.k.a. cozy twitter. This is what I thought social media would be like in the 90s, for better and for worse. 🚧

Peertube

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.

Others

Idk. Diaspora, I guess.

Solid

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?

Decentralised social networks

Long story short, there are no servers because everything is run on the computers of the network participants. Here are some social media examples.

The theory of decentralised is discussed elsewhere. NB a decentralised system is not necessarily also an encrypted one, but in practice there don’t seem to be people who are only interested in decentralised networks and not cryptographic guarantees, and there are certain problems that cryptography certainly helps with in a decentralised setting.

Scuttlebutt ecosystem

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.) The flagship application here seems to be Manyverse.

This started as the übergeek social network for survivalists. Run it from your bugout yacht after a climate apocalypse, while malevolent totalitarian states try to censor your messages and steal your stockpiled tinned food!

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. …

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.

In practical terms, the main backend bit, which users can probably ignore, is the distributed data store scuttlebot. On top of that you run user-facing apps like patchwork, which is a user forum thing, or Manyverse, which looks like a nice network although it only runs on Android phones.

Docker image/sanity check/tutorial.

SocialX

So far it’s not real, but socialx claims to be a blockchain-ish social network with integrated payments for popular content. Closed source AFAICT. Had an ICO already.