Posts tagged: decentralized net
I wrote about Ethereum, next generation cryptocurrencies and distributed autonomous corporations for Wired:
Most people think of bitcoin as a form of money, if they think of bitcoin at all. But 19-year-old hacker Vitalik Buterin sees it as something more — much more. He sees it as a new way of building just about any internet application.
The bitcoin digital currency is driven by open source software that runs across thousands of machines around the globe. Borrowing code from this rather clever piece of software, independent hackers have already built applications such as the Twitter-style social network Twister , the encrypted e-mail alternative Bitmessage , and the unseizable domain name system Namecoin . But Buterin believes that many other applications can benefit from the genius of the bitcoin software, and that’s why he’s joining forces with several other hackers to create something called Ethereum .
He envisions Ethereum as an online service that lets you build practically anything in the image of bitcoin and run it across a worldwide network of machines. At its core, bitcoin is a way of reliably storing and moving digital objects or pieces of information. Today, it stores and moves money, but Buterin believes the same basic system could give rise to a new breed of social networks, data storage systems and securities markets — all operated without the help of a central authority.
Becky Kazansky writes:
Through a mesh network first launched in November 2011 through a local nonprofit, residents after the storm were able to alert people to their needs over social media and check up on relatives. Access is limited and the network could, at the time, support only about 100-150 connections simultaneously. But in the wake of a disaster that created a new camaraderie in Manhattan around cellphone charging stations and free wifi, New Yorkers can appreciate that when the neighborhood goes dark, even a scrap of a link to the outside world is better than nothing.
My interview with The Doctor is here.
See also: Government-less internets
According to the Associated Press’ sources, Osama bin Laden routinely typed e-mails on an Internet-less computer in his compound, saved them to a USB thumbdrive and had a courier e-mail them from cybercafes in nearby towns. Apparently this went on for years, undetected. According to the AP, Navy SEALS found about 100 flash drives that apparently contain series of these e-mail communications.
This is what’s referred to as a sneakernet, and as Internet crackdowns occur all over the world, it may become an increasingly popular way for people to communication.
A couple years ago, in these very pages, Trevor Blake wrote:
Now is a good time to establish lines of electronic communication that are not entirely (if at all) reliant on the Internet as it currently exists. Hand delivery of a stack of media is still one of my favorites. At a certain point it the best bit-per-second value known, it has certain privacy features that can’t be beat and it requires very little technical know-how or fancy equipment or money. For all the gnostic freakout of The Matrix, the scene where a disreputable character knocks on Mr. Anderson’s door and passes him a data disc might be the most prophetic.
Learning about cryptography, fidonet and the postal system won’t do anyone any harm. Nothing beats trusted person-to-person connections established in many only-partially overlapping social / professional circles.
Contact is an unconference organized by Douglas Rushkoff on the subject of building new, government-less Internets. The event will be held in New York City on October 20 2011.
Here’s part of Rushkoff’s explanation of the event:
At the epicenter of CONTACT will be the Bazaar - a free-form marketplace of ideas, demos, haggling, and ad-hoc connections. If you have visited the Akihabara, Tokyo’s ultra-vibrant open-air electronics market, or the under-the-highway open-air jade market of Kowloon, or even the Burning Man festival, you understand the power of combining commerce, physical location, and serendipity. A decidedly unstructured counterpart to the convened meetings, solo provocations, and the MeetUpEverywheres, the Bazaar will bring p2p to life, encouraging introductions, brokering, deal-making, food-tasting, and propositions of every kind. It is where the social, business, political, and spiritual agendas merge into one big human agenda.
Contact will hope to revive the spirit of optimism and infinite possibility of the early cyber-era, folding the edges of this culture back to the middle. Social media has come to be understood as little more than a marketing opportunity. We see it as quite possibly the catalyst for the next stage of human evolution and, at the very least, a way to restore p2p value exchange and decentralized innovation to the realms of culture, commerce and government.
Content was never king. Contact is. Please join us, and find the others.
I did a follow-up to my story last week about wireless mesh network projects, adding four more projects to the original list of three.
Also, I’ll be on This Week in Cloud Computing tomorrow around 3:45 PST talking about wireless ad-hoc networks.
I wrote about three different projects that are working to create a government-less Internet over at ReadWriteWeb:
In Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel Little Brother, the protagonist starts an wireless ad-hoc network, called X-Net, in response to a government crack-down on civil liberties. The characters use gaming systems with mesh networking equipment built-in to share files, exchange message and make plans.
The Internet blackout in Egypt, which we’ve been covering, touches on an issue we’ve raised occasionally here: the control of governments (and corporations) over the Internet (and by extension, the cloud). One possible solution, discussed by geeks for years, is the creation of wireless ad-hoc networks like the one in Little Brother to eliminate the need for centralized hardware and network connectivity. It’s the sort of technology that’s valuable not just for insuring both freedom of speech (not to mention freedom of commerce - Egypt’s Internet blackout can’t be good for business), but could be valuable in emergencies such as natural disasters as well.
Here are a few projects working to create such networks.
I also wrote a piece on how some Egyptians are getting around the Internet crack down.
Glenn Greenwald reports that the U.S. has subpoenaed Icelandic member of parliment and WikiLeaks supporter Birgitta Jónsdóttir’s Twitter history:
What hasn’t been reported is that the Subpoena served on Twitter — which is actually an Order from a federal court that the DOJ requested — seeks the same information for numerous other individuals currently or formerly associated with WikiLeaks, including Jacob Appelbaum, Rop Gonggrijp, and Julian Assange. It also seeks the same information for Bradley Manning and for WikiLeaks’ Twitter account.
The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope. It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the “means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards. It seeks all of that information for the period beginning November 1, 2009, through the present. A copy of the Order served on Twitter, obtained exclusively by Salon, is here.
The Order was signed by a federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, Theresa Buchanan, and served on Twitter by the DOJ division for that district. It states that there is “reasonable ground to believe that the records or other information sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation,” the language required by the relevant statute. It was issued on December 14 and ordered sealed — i.e., kept secret from the targets of the Order. It gave Twitter three days to respond and barred the company from notifying anyone, including the users, of the existence of the Order. On January 5, the same judge directed that the Order be unsealed at Twitter’s request in order to inform the users and give them 10 days to object; had Twitter not so requested, it would have been compelled to turn over this information without the knowledge of its users.
It’s possible other companies like Facebook, Google and Skype were subpoenaed and complied with the requests silently.
The fact that Twitter is being targeted by the government is another sign of how important the network has become as a real-time publishing platform, and also of how centralized the service is — something that could spark interest in distributed and open-source alternatives such as Status.net, just as the downtime suffered by the network early last year did. It is another sign of how much we rely on networks that are controlled by a single corporate entity, as Global Voices founder Ethan Zuckerman pointed out when WikiLeaks was ejected from Amazon’s servers and had its DNS service shut down.
See also this post about Douglas Rushkoff’s call to abandon the corporate Internet and the supplemental links I supplied there. I’m tagging further links on the subject of a decentralized Internet with decentralized net.
I just interviewed J Chris Anderson, the CFO of CouchOne, for ReadWriteWeb. CouchOne is the corporate sponsor of an open source database and programming language called CouchDB. Anderson recently started hosting a demo/proof of concept app called Twebz - a decentralized Twitter Client - built with CouchDB and node.js. Anderson explains how CouchDB could be used to decentralize not only Twitter, but most other web applications as well. It’s pretty geeky but could have big ramifications: This tech could help build a more resilient Internet in the face of disasters, cyberwarfare and censorship.
The aim is to allow you to interact with Twitter when Twitter is up and you are online. But if Twitter is down for maintenance or you are in the middle of nowhere, you can still tweet. And when you can reach Twitter again, it will go through.
If lots of folks are using it, then they can see each other’s tweets come in even when Twitter is down.
Mostly the goal was to show the way on how to integrate CouchDB with web services and APIs.
So if you did release this, and people started using it, and then one day Twitter decided “We’re done. We’re going to go raise pigs in the Ozarks,” Twebz would actually still be up and running fine basically forever and everyone could keep reading each other’s Tweets.
Yep. And as a side effect you have a complete personal Twitter archive of the folks you follow.
There’s even a feature to pull in the complete history of a user, so you can get the back fill of your closest friends if you want. […]
Could CouchDB and Node be used in conjunction to create some sort of decentralized darknet? Something along the lines of Freenet?
Node is a good fit for CouchDB because Couch encourages asynchronous background processes, but people also use Ruby / Python / Java for the same purposes. But yes, eventually the plan is that CouchDB will make web applications a lot more robust because they will no longer depend on a centralized point of failure. E.g., even if Twitter goes out of business, people can continue to share messages.
The turnover of Web 2.0 startups is so fast that I think users get discouraged from signing up for services. Why bother with a new photo share if there’s a chance it won’t be around in a year? But when those are CouchApps, users can continue to use them even if no one is maintaining them, which makes it more rational to invest time in using them. Imagine if Pownce or Dodgeball were still being run by fans.
For another example of how CouchDB is useful in low-connectivity settings, check out this case study on how Better Health Outcomes through Mentoring and Assessments is using CouchDB in rural Zambia.
Installing the software takes barely a couple of minutes and requires minimal computer skills. You find the Freenet website, read a few terse instructions, and answer a few questions (“How much security do you need?” … “NORMAL: I live in a relatively free country” or “MAXIMUM: I intend to access information that could get me arrested, imprisoned, or worse”). Then you enter a previously hidden online world. In utilitarian type and bald capsule descriptions, an official Freenet index lists the hundreds of “freesites” available: “Iran News”, “Horny Kate”, “The Terrorist’s Handbook: A practical guide to explosives and other things of interests to terrorists”, “How To Spot A Pedophile [sic]”, “Freenet Warez Portal: The source for pirate copies of books, games, movies, music, software, TV series and more”, “Arson Around With Auntie: A how-to guide on arson attacks for animal rights activists”. There is material written in Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Italian. There is English-language material from America and Thailand, from Argentina and Japan. There are disconcerting blogs (“Welcome to my first Freenet site. I’m not here because of kiddie porn … [but] I might post some images of naked women”) and legally dubious political revelations. There is all the teeming life of the everyday internet, but rendered a little stranger and more intense. One of the Freenet bloggers sums up the difference: “If you’re reading this now, then you’re on the darkweb.”
(via Atom Jack)