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Decentralized Social Networking — Why It Could Work

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the keeping-your-face-off-the-books dept.

Social Networks 128

Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes with "a response to some of the objections raised to my last article, about a design for a distributed social networking protocol, which would allow for decentralized (and censorship-resistant) hosting of social networking accounts, while supporting all of the same features as sites like Facebook." Social networking is no longer new; whether you consider it to have started with online communities in the mid-90s or with the beginnings of sites many people still use today. As its popularity has surged, it has grown in limited ways; modern social networks have made communication between users easier, but they've also made users easier to market to advertisers as well. There's no question that the future of social networking holds more changes that can both help and harm users — perhaps something like what Bennett suggests could serve to mitigate that harm. Read on for the rest of his thoughts.

In an article last month, I argued that users would be better served by a centralized social networking system where users could store profiles on a server of their choice, rather than a centralized system like Facebook that stores everyone's accounts for them. My main point was that if you could switch your account easily between different hosting providers (preferably if the protocol allowed you to link your account to a domain name that you own, the way that website owners can easily switch from one hosting company to another if they own their own domain name), then it would be much harder to censor content in a distributed system. If a hosting provider removed your content or threatened to kick you off unless you removed it yourself, you could just migrate your profile to a new hosting provider, and all of your existing links to friends/groups/events would continue to work.

Many commenters raised objections, some of which I think can be countered fairly simply, and others that raise more complicated issues. I usually don't do follow-up articles addressing all of the objections to a previous article (unless I'm running a contest asking people to submit the best arguments against an idea of mine), but I think the migration to an open social networking protocol is such an important long-term goal, that I want to give voice to the objections and present what I think is the best counter-argument against each of them.

The skeptics' questions fell into two categories: (1) Why would anybody ever switch away from Facebook to trying out the new system? and (2) Even if people did switch, would the new distributed system be better? ("Better" both in the short term -- would trial users see enough benefit to get them to keep using it regularly? — and in the long term — would spammers and other attackers be able to undermine it?)

To begin with the question of why anybody would switch: I don't think that most people would switch because they had analyzed the arguments for and against a distributed vs. centralized system. I think the only reason most users would ever try a social networking site other than Facebook, would be because a trendy company like Google launched it and threw their weight behind it. Why else have 400 million people signed up for Google+, almost half as many as are on Facebook? Despite the hype about features like "circles", I think it's safe to say that most of people jumped on board because Google launched it and gave it a big push, and Google is cool. (As one commenter "DragonWriter" pointed out, Google had earlier launched or collaborated on some projects for open social networking -- but none of these were ever given the big push that accompanied the release of Google+. So that's probably why we never heard of those other projects, not because of any intrinsic merits of the ideas themselves. To get people using something, Google would have to launch it and promote it — but if Google does do those things, people will sign up.)

So imagine if, at the same time that Google had released Google+, they had also released an open source server package that anybody could use to set up their own Google+ node, completely interoperable with all Google-hosted accounts, and where the user could have complete control over their hosted content. Presumably those 400 million users who signed up with Google+, would have still signed up for this hypothetical "open Google+", since it does everything that the real Google+ does. Some of those users would have taken the option to run their own nodes, if it had been available. And then you'd have additional users who didn't sign up with the real Google+, but who would sign up for an "open Google+" precisely because they would have control over all their own content.

Of course, even if Google+ had been launched as a distributed platform, users would still have the option of signing up for an account hosted on Google's servers, and indeed that would probably be the default choice for most people. (This answers the objection, raised by "0racle", "Havenwar", and others, that it would be "too complicated" for users to sign up for such a service. Certainly most users would not be expected to host and maintain their own nodes in the distributed system. Most of them would just sign up for an account with the largest node, like Google+.)

So that answers the question of how to get people to try it out. The continued relative obscurity of the Diaspora Project — the largest existing open social networking system — does not mean that the idea itself doesn't have merit, or that users wouldn't sign up for such a system if it were launched and promoted by a big company. The second challenge would be to get people to stay, something that users apparently did not do after trying out Google+.

Which brings us to the next set of objections, most of which asked: Would the new distributed system really be better than a centralized one? A big enough improvement to get people to keep using it, and to withstand attacks by spammers and other abusers? In this category of objections, there are some that I think can be answered easily, and some that are hard. So, the easy ones first.

A few users ("Havenwar", "tonywestonuk", and others) said that a distributed protocol would be inferior without integrated support for games or payments. But there's no reason a distributed protocol couldn't include support for other games or other types of apps to be built on top of it. An app could be installed to your profile and, using an API supported by the networking protocol, could send data over the Internet to your friend's profile on another server, if they had the same app installed, allowing you to make "moves" in a game you were playing against your friend. And you could specify which, if any, of your data you wanted the app to have access to. Similarly, if a developer wanted to charge money to users for installing an application, they could just give users a link to a third-party payment system like Paypal where the users would pay in order to download or activate the app. (Yes, people could download pirated versions of the app from BitTorrent sites and install them to their own server for free, but that's a problem for anyone selling commercial software.)

Other users (such as "History's Coming To" and one Anonymous Coward) said that the system I've described was essentially the same as the Web or the blogosphere (perhaps focusing on how I described the "news feed" aspect of a distributed system, which would pull in updates from all of your friends, much like Facebook's news feed does today). I disagree for two reasons: (1) it's much easier to sign up for a social networking account than it is to set up your own website or your own blog, so the proportion of high school students who have their own Facebook is much higher than the proportion that ever had their own Web page; and (2) the Web and the blogosphere do not allow for the creation of objects such as "groups" that you can join and send group messages to, or "events" where you can set a date and a time and invite friends and send messages to all of the invitees, or "games" that allow you to connect your profile with those of your friends and exchange data with them in an application-specific manner. These are all features I would hope to see in an open social networking protocol (although I could live without games).

Now for the harder objections. User "Requiem18th" pointed out that in a distributed system, if you chose to share anything only with your friends (who could access it through their profiles on their own servers), then an attacker could steal the data by attacking the least secure of any of your friends' servers. Even worse, if you'd chosen to share data with "friends of friends", then the attacker could get it by attacking the least secure of the servers of all of your friends-of-friends. True, but generally if I've shared something with all of my friends on Facebook (and even more so if I've shared it with all of my friends-of-friends), I consider that data to have been "compromised" in a certain sense already. If I had shared anything that I wanted to keep private, I'd be far more concerned about one of my so-called "friends" intentionally sharing it beyond the intended audience, than about their account being hacked. We know from hacks of people's email accounts that when attackers gain control of someone's account, they generally don't go through looking for private information, they just spam all of that person's friends with some Viagra ads and then move on.

Some users might have only a limited circle of friends on this distributed-social-networking system, and would share only very private information with them, and in that case their privacy concerns would be more serious. But users who were being that cautious, could set extra privacy on their accounts so that non-friends cannot see who is in their friends list. That would make it impossible for an attacker to spider their list of friends and then try to attack the friends with the least secure servers.

What about spam, fake accounts, and unwanted porn showing up in your news feed? A few commenters ("jeffmeden", "Havenwar", and another Anonymous Coward) said that there's a good reason, after all, that Facebook removes some content and terminates some people's accounts. Impersonation is an interesting problem in this context. There would be no technical barrier to stop someone from creating an account pretending to be someone else. If the impostor hosted the account on their own server, then they would get caught if the police got involved (or their upstream provider might cut them off if someone complained). But the impostor could also just try out many different profile hosting companies on the web, and create the impostor account with the hosting company that seemed to be the most lax about responding to abuse reports. If they use an anonymizing service like Tor to create and log in to the fake account, there's no evidence trail leading back to them at all.

Let me first point out, though, that the same is true for email -- I can create a Hotmail or Gmail account claiming to be anyone I want, and write to friends of that person hoping that they won't notice the message coming from a new email address. In fact, it would be easier to get away with this trick in email, because if I want to pretend to be Alice and send a message to Bob, all I have to do is create an account with Alice's first and last name, and send Bob a message hoping he doesn't notice that it's not coming from Alice's usual email address. If I wanted to do the same thing on an open social networking protocol, on the other hand, I would have to create my fake Alice account and then send a message or a request to "Bob". If Bob is already friends with the real Alice, he'll think it strange that he's getting a request from another "Alice" account, or a message from a user identifying as "Alice" but where the message is flagged as not coming from someone already in his friends list. Plus, once you have a friend relationship with the fake Alice, if your friends list is public, other users may notice the new "Alice" account and warn you about them. (With email, by contrast, no one else would ever see that you're in a thread with a fake "Alice" account, and wouldn't have a chance to warn you.)

So for all of these reasons, I would think that impersonation would be a bigger threat in email than it would be in an open social networking protocol. And yet, I never even heard of any of my friends being taken in by someone impersonating one of their acquaintances by email. However much it was ever happening in the world, it certainly wasn't enough for people to propose moving email to a centralized system where everyone used the same server and rogue accounts could be shut down.

What about spam from strangers? (A good deal of the spam would be porn, so I'm considering the "porn" objection to be a subset of this. If you're seeing porn in your feed because you opted in to see it, that's a feature, not a bug!) The mechanism of the "spam" would depend on whether the open protocol would allow non-friends to send you messages. On Facebook, if you send a message to a non-friend, it gets routed not to your Inbox but to a folder labeled "Other", where it's far less likely to be seen. (The Facebook interface and phone app won't notify that user that they have a new message in that case.) The only type of Facebook communication that you can send to a non-friend that Facebook will actually notify them of, is a friend request. Now, if our new open protocol allows for messages from non-friends to be delivered to your "Inbox", then spammers would indeed probably bombard users with spam. On the other hand, if the only communication we allow from non-friends is friend requests, then the spam would come in the form of the friend requests themselves (many guys would probably accept a friend request from a hot girl, even if the social networking protocol dutifully warned them that they had no friends in common). Even if you were smart enough to realize that most "friend requests" from unknown hot women were fake, they could still clog up your friend request queue and make you more likely to miss requests from real users.

The simplest solution would seem to be that if Bob starts getting too many spam requests, he can turn on a feature that requires other users to complete a CAPTCHA before being able to send Bob a friend request. (And users would also have to complete a CAPTCHA to send Bob a message if they weren't already in his friends list.) After enabling the CAPTCHA feature, all of Bob's existing friend relationships would remain in place, but the CAPTCHA barrier would stop spammers from clogging up his inbound friend request queue. With the CAPTCHA barrier in place, we could even allow non-friends to send Bob a message without it being dumped into his "Other" folder.

What if Bob's account gets hacked and his account starts spamming his friends, where the messages would not be stopped by any CAPTCHA barrier because Bob is already friends with all of those users? Much as people's existing Hotmail and Gmail accounts often get hacked, and the perpetrator immediately spams everyone in that person's address book — and that type of spam often gets through spam filters, because it's coming from someone that you've corresponded with, from a server that you generally trust. Of course those spams are annoying, but they haven't gotten to the point of making email unusable. And if a user in this distributed social system has hundreds of thousands of friends or "fans" — so that someone who hacked their account would be able to reach a large audience — then presumably they would be able to afford the security measures to keep their accounts safe. Much in the same way that many websites and blogs get hacked every day, but if you run a blog or a website that reaches millions of people, it behooves you to use tighter security measures than the average webmaster, and most people in that position can afford to do so. Nobody thinks that Web and email are unusable (or should be moved to a centralized system) just because websites and email accounts get hacked.

In sum, I don't think of the objections raised are fatal to the whole concept, although some of the objections made me think of improvements to the original idea (e.g. an API to build games and apps that could communicate over the Internet with other installations of the same app, or the use of CAPTCHAs to stop spam). The real barrier, as I've said all along, is that nobody would join in the first place, unless the project was launched by a company so popular that they could get new users to sign up just by announcing it. So there's not much that I, or anybody else outside of those behemoth companies, can do except to sit back and wait for someone like Google to try it. All we can do is lay out the case for why, if they did, it would change everything. Not to mention, if they made their own servers the largest node for hosting free ad-supported accounts under this open social networking protocol, it would make them a lot of money at the same time.

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The reason why it won't work (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#41559563)

Why'd someone invest money to build it? How do you squeeze money from it? How do you sell demographics, how do you spy on your users?

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#41559591)

And what exactly is "harmful" about targeted ads? Especially since they can be adblocked. Though FB are also gradually changing the "pages" stuff to monetize it more too, which does start to get annoying. Still nowhere near "harmful" though..

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41559783)

My issue is with the quantity. I'd rather have targeted ads over non-targeted ads. That said, I'd rather have less ads over all. I'm tired of being the target of marketing attempts. The more commercial things become the more exhausting I find life. People are impacted by their environment and I don't think we give enough weight to the potential subjective impacts of marketing saturation. It's not marketing specifically but the sheer amount of noise it creates in our environment.

Obviously I don't have any data or studies to back up my feeling but I do think it impacts us negatively. In an online culture where any suggestions must be in essay format with peer reviewed references I may as well be pissing into the wind here but:

I'd much rather drive down a highway with no bill boards than the opposite
I'd much rather have a downtown without loud and gaudy blinking signs all over the place
I'd much rather have a social environment not constantly trying to sell me things

I'm a person first and a consumer second. I acknowledge that to live my life I need to buy services and products. I reject the idea that for businesses to provide said services and products they need to be able to saturate every piece of white space with ads and promotional material.

I remember reading about technology to allow lit marketing messages on the night sky. The day after this actually starts happening is the day I no longer want to live on this planet. If there's no other option, I'll end my existence.

Re:The reason why it won't work (4, Funny)

PieDude (2745317) | about 2 years ago | (#41560059)

If there's no other option, I'll end my existence.

Dude, don't do it! Slashdot is with you. We understand you. Don't do it. DON'T DO IT!

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

todrules (882424) | about 2 years ago | (#41560495)

I remember reading about technology to allow lit marketing messages on the night sky.

I actually think that's a cool idea and would love to see that happen. I might have to seriously look into making this happen. So, that first time you look up into the night sky and see "Eat at Joe's" lighting up the sky, you'll know that you are the reason why.

As for all the ads all over the place. I don't mind them. I just block them out when I want (yes, even in real life). Who the hell needs adblock? But I do like the information as well sometimes. Occasionally it's entertaining, but it's a good, quick way to know when something cool is coming out or a new restaurant is opening. And a downtown without loud and gaudy blinking signs all over the place? That's not a downtown! That's a ghost town.

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

idontgno (624372) | about 2 years ago | (#41560939)

I actually think that's a cool idea and would love to see that happen. I might have to seriously look into making this happen. So, that first time you look up into the night sky and see "Eat at Joe's" lighting up the sky, you'll know that you are the reason why.

"Grandpa, tell me about the old days, when the stars made the shapes of imaginary animals or monsters or people, and not ads for Nike and Coke."

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#41561259)

It sounds like you live in a big city, which might explain why you don't appreciate how amazing the night sky can be. If someone were to try and destroy the night sky for every fucking person on the planet, I'd consider that a legitimate reason to end their existence. I think that most people on the planet would be happy to pay a penny towards hiring an assassin to make sure that it didn't happen.

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

_anomaly_ (127254) | about 2 years ago | (#41561567)

I usually don't comment, but I'd be happy to pay $0.02.
;-)

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

ToadProphet (1148333) | about 2 years ago | (#41562039)

Targeted ads are fine, it's the tracking that is used to generate those ads that isn't. And until someone sets up a decent system to allow opt-in targeted ads that protects the users privacy, it's pretty tough to have one without the other.

Re:The reason why it won't work (3, Insightful)

Myopic (18616) | about 2 years ago | (#41559635)

It would work just like email works now. Why does anyone invest money in email?

Re:The reason why it won't work (2)

alvinrod (889928) | about 2 years ago | (#41559849)

Maybe you don't know this, but Google does advertising through their email. They have a computer reading your emails and targeting ads based on their content. I wouldn't be surprised if other major competitors are doing similar things. Outside of that, the majority of remaining email providers are either businesses where email is a valuable communication tool, a few small pay-for service providers, and some personal email systems run by people who either don't want to pay or don't want to have anyone or anything else going through their mail, even if it is just an automated computer program.

Most businesses don't play anywhere near as much value on social networks as a communication program, and the type of people who tend to use social networks the most probably are neither willing to use a pay-for service nor have the ability to run and maintain their own servers. So outside of a few side cases, the only group that would be really interested in running a social network is the type that's going to monetize it through harvesting user information to sell to advertisers.

Also, unlike email where it doesn't matter who the provider is, most social networks aren't cross-compatible. Given that the main sell of the social network is the network itself, anything less than a large centralized network or a smaller one that targets a specific niche isn't going to be worth much. Having dozens of small competing networks is worth a lot less than having them all as one large network. With email, it really doesn't matter.

So I don't think it will work out like email.

Re:The reason why it won't work (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560419)

Google doesn't do advertising through MY gmail accounts, because I don't access them through their web interface. The key element is that email is a protocol that anybody can implement a server (or a client!), part of the nature of 'decentralized.' If all email went through Google's services and/or all email could only be read through the gmail interface, then that would be an email-wide issue.

(It still is an issue with gmail, and I know I'm a dirty hypocrite for using gmail for everything instead of setting up my own server, etc, etc. But this problem is with Google's implementation of email, not with email itself. In fact, using proper encryption the problem can be completely removed from gmail because of the nature of email.)

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

PReDiToR (687141) | about 2 years ago | (#41561055)

Their Gmail interface could be considered a loss leader [wikipedia.org] then. Most people use the web interface do see the ads.
They are aware that even a lot of web interface users run AdBlock so they must be making enough money from the ones that see the ads to continue running the service.

On the more paranoid side, I'd bet that they read your emails anyway and use them when profiling you for doubleclick ads and other annoyances. This could be why they feel the service is valuable enough to run.

Emails? Most people are on centralized webmails... (3, Interesting)

coder111 (912060) | about 2 years ago | (#41559917)

I was just thinking the same thing. Decentralized social networking is a really good idea, but the problem is that noone will bother enough to run their own server. Like email these days, people just use most convenient option- gmail/hotmail/whatever, and don't care about security/privacy implications.

Of course you can implement it in a way that every client is also a server, but then: * If you stop your client/server, your data must be distributed 3rd party nodes, that are owned by onknown people, so you don't get 100% guarantee your data is available if you close your client. * You won't be able to use this social network if you only have a browser, or if everything except HTTP traffic is blocked. * Add the usual about network effects, about how noone will switch because all their friends are already on facebook, etc. Also, NAT and piercing NATs is still an issue, especially if you are running something like this on your mobile.

Long story short, this would make a really nice project, but I don't see how it can become widespread. Maybe we should start selling people home entertainment appliances/home servers that run social network for entire family as well as one of the features? A server for every home, that could be somewhat hardened and keep all the family email/social networking/movies/etc in place, while keeping the privacy? But only people who care enough about privacy and geeks would buy it, which is a small market.

--Coder

Re:Emails? Most people are on centralized webmails (1)

ron_ivi (607351) | about 2 years ago | (#41560841)

noone will bother enough to run their own server.

Disagree. I think almost every company and big web site would not only run their own server, they would run servers many people use (just as they all provide email); and most any tiny hobby web site would run it (just as many small web sites host blogs & RSS feeds).

Re:Emails? Most people are on centralized webmails (2)

WaywardGeek (1480513) | about 2 years ago | (#41562465)

There's soooo much to say on this topic. This is doable, on the cheap if not free, but it'll be a LOT of work. First, this system has to be made more modular to contain complexity and allow it to become more useful over time than Facebook. The bottom layer should be a generic peer-to-peer platform, one that makes writing peer-to-peer apps as simple as client/server apps. On top of that, I'd want an open-source social networking app. Games and such could be simple peer-to-peer apps that work with the social network app when present. This structure would promote security, flexibility, and enable expermentation with a whole new world of potential social applications.

Applications could be developed to help answer many (all?) of the challenges described. For example, who pays for this thing to run? Most users will simply host their data on the most popular server, privacy be damned. An advertising app could enable hosts to make a profit. How do you deal with payments? A Paypal-like service (possibly actually Paypal) could be a known identity on the system, and deal with credit card and e-money transactions. Accepting money from people should be as easy as connecting to a web site. Add a web-of-trust app to the social network, and you can do more. A super-cool P2P money system called Ripple could run on such a network. If successful, it could enable micropayments between peers for just about everything. Want to send me an e-mail, but I don't know your P2P identity? Just pay me $0.01. Goodbye spam. Want to support legal content, while discouraging copyright violation? Sign up to remove content declared illegal by a source of my choice, similar to how Ad Block Plus and spam blacklists work.

With a solid base layer managing the P2P network and applications, a lot more than social networking could move from the "cloud" onto servers we trust (like the one in my closet). Such services include gmail, Google Docs, Dropbox, multi-player gaming, group voice chat, remote backup, and website hosting. Done right, it would work with ISPs to improve network caching, reduce latency, save money, make self-hosting services easier, and enable discovery and delivery of applications under Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, and Android (all the GPL3 compliant platforms). It could support freedom of speech with secret identities, like Superman/Clark Kent, without requiring a network like Tor that primarily supports illegal file sharing, and malicious attacks.

The individual pieces are involved. However, solid separation between the P2P platform, and the social apps that will run on top, is key. Lack of such system partitioning is why I lost interest in Diaspora early on. This is an idea I've been fleshing out, which is why I recently retained the PeerWeb.net domain. I've got maybe 1/4 of a peer-to-peer scripting/debugging tool written which I'm imagining embedding in the P2P platform layer. If anyone is interested in discussing the topic, email me at waywardgeek@gmail.com, and put "social networking" in the subject. I'd love to help free services from the clould, and put our data where it belongs: on our own machines. Diaspora is cool, but it's not going to get us there. It wasn't built right.

Re:Emails? Most people are on centralized webmails (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41561783)

but the problem is that noone will bother enough to run their own server. Like email these days, people just use most convenient option- gmail/hotmail/whatever, and don't care about security/privacy implications.

That's ok. The key is being able to move your profile from one service provider to another. As long as you are able to do that, there is no problem.

Re:Emails? Most people are on centralized webmails (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41562057)

I've been contemplating how to design such a thing myself.

I think the key is not to think about it as FaceBook or Twitter or some service like that. More a glorified mailbox and phonebook that shares its data with friend's mailboxes.

My extremely naive notes can be pulled from github:
https://github.com/derickdressel/OpenBook/blob/master/brainstorm/derick/notes.html

Upcoming Javascript APIs are extremely exciting.

A javascript cryptography API is being layed out be the w3c.
http://www.w3.org/TR/WebCryptoAPI/

webRTC enables peer to peer connections over HTTP as well as media streaming.
http://www.webrtc.org/

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#41560025)

For three reasons: First, because users demand it and your system/ecosystem is much less desirable without it. Second, because you can use it for advertising. Third, because you can use it as a loss leader for your other paid products...

That's just off the top of my head, there's probably more.

Re:The reason why it won't work (2)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | about 2 years ago | (#41559773)

It would actually be smart for Google to do this... They could provide a virtual appliance that was a completely open g+, and the appliance would have ads in it. yet another way to get eyeballs in front of ads. Those worried about their personal info, would have their info on their servers, they could inspect the code, and be confident that Google did not have access to it. Companies and interested people would just get a hosting agreement with any provider, or host it on a VM in their home, and everybody wins. The pages served would have embedded links back to google directly, not related to the server itself. People could strip out the ad services, but then it's just the traditional cat & mouse, where the patch stream would only be provided for the service with ads, or it could be a premium service... On-premise Google+ Apps, or whatever. They could earn revenue from this, the main issue is whether the revenue will offset the support costs... can they make it good enough to be easy.

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

marvis (739923) | about 2 years ago | (#41559785)

There are millions of websites that actually make money running on open source software. I don't see why this shouldn't work with social networking software - at least in principle. Some server owners might decide to monetize their service using ads, others might feel generous and pay for it out of their pockets. Pretty much the same as with other websites.

ISPs (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 2 years ago | (#41559823)

Your ISP would pay for it. It would be a value-added feature.

Re:The reason why it won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560351)

Why'd someone invest money to build it? How do you squeeze money from it?

Ads. Facebook gets paid for those ads. Competitors want a piece of that and they'll take it just as soon as they figure out how.

Making this viable isn't hard, assuming there is a distributed system that provides a degree of parity with FB. Just provide an exclusive space for 'elites' within the distributed system. When the other primates see that FB isn't where the special people are they'll seek out their own exclusivity as well.

Facebook is vulnerable. What they do isn't special or hard and their user base is full of rot with tens of millions of fake accounts and hundreds of millions of idle accounts.

Re:The reason why it won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560903)

The other reason, it'd be prone to spam. That's a lesson already learned.

Re:The reason why it won't work (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#41561271)

The "legacy" solution here is already prone to spam. There's so much crap on Facebook that I barely use it anymore. Now they want you to PAY to promote your own useful updates.

This area is overdue for a shakeup.

Re:The reason why it won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41561439)

why do people create and contribute to FOSS? Some insane people just want to do things because they can and they're passionate about the idea.

Never Heard of the Open Google Social Projects? (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#41559575)

(As one commenter "DragonWriter" pointed out, Google had earlier launched or collaborated on some projects for open social networking -- but none of these were ever given the big push that accompanied the release of Google+. So that's probably why we never heard of those other projects, not because of any intrinsic merits of the ideas themselves. To get people using something, Google would have to launch it and promote it — but if Google does do those things, people will sign up.)

Right, the [slashdot.org] first [slashdot.org] rule [slashdot.org] of [slashdot.org] Google [slashdot.org] Wave [slashdot.org] Club [slashdot.org] is [slashdot.org] you [slashdot.org] do [slashdot.org] not [slashdot.org] talk [slashdot.org] about [slashdot.org] Google [slashdot.org] Wave [slashdot.org] Club [slashdot.org] .

So code it already? (0)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#41559625)

If it's such a good design, where's the prototype?

Re:So code it already? (2)

91degrees (207121) | about 2 years ago | (#41560153)

Just what I was going to say.

You don't get anything done by designing it. Most programmers with the technical knowledge to implement could come up with a passable design for a decentralised social network.

It's not going to exist until someone actually creates it.

Re:So code it already? (1)

freeze128 (544774) | about 2 years ago | (#41560463)

If this is a consular ship, where is the ambassador?

Re:So code it already? (2)

PReDiToR (687141) | about 2 years ago | (#41561077)

We're on a diplomatic mission to Diaspora!

Re:So code it already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560773)

You assume this tard actually can do so. He's just a blowhard.

I may be naive... (5, Insightful)

Iniamyen (2440798) | about 2 years ago | (#41559661)

But don't we already have a decentralized social network called the internet?

Re:I may be naive... (1)

dubbayu_d_40 (622643) | about 2 years ago | (#41559733)

But I don't think you have used enough words to describe this concept :-P

If I had mod points, I'd give you some...

more details (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560397)

you see, the internet is like a series of tubes...

Re:I may be naive... (1)

axl917 (1542205) | about 2 years ago | (#41560105)

Well, yes, but the issue with that analogy is that just connecting to the internet doesn't make you "you". When I connect at home, I'm not browsing websites as my actual, or any, self; I will go identify (i.e. login) as "me" to Facebook, then llogout. Go next to Google+, then logout. Come to /. then logout.

Being on the internet now is to be a series of disconnected selves as you join and leave insular virtual universes. IMO that is inherently *anti*-social. I envision a decentralized social network as having a singular virtual self.

Re:I may be naive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560445)

Exactly. You shouldn't have to "join" a social network any more than you have to "join" e-mail or the WWW.

Re:I may be naive... (2)

Empiric (675968) | about 2 years ago | (#41560689)

And it's had a perfectly usable, cross-platform social communication channel since 1986. We called it a "listserv".

Apparently the competitive disadvantage that caused it to fail relative to Facebook and Twitter in the marketplace, is that it was organized by topical content, rather than personal narcissism. At least, if nothing else, I've come to understand that it is narcissism that is the main driver of the internet since... somewhere around 1995.

Re:I may be naive... (2)

stephanruby (542433) | about 2 years ago | (#41561663)

We do, and the last I heard, the Internet was still slightly larger than Facebook.

With the internet, anybody can already participate online "socially" under whatever pseudonym they wish, but may be that's the problem -- the internet gives users too much freedom to be officially associated with the term "social networking" as we know it.

Our online identities and posts on the internet are too fragmented, they're not necessarily connected to our real-life identity, and by default they're not designed to easily be found by our "friends" or acquaintances (unless we actively and explicitly make them so each time).

Re:I may be naive... (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 2 years ago | (#41561905)

I may be naive... But don't we already have a decentralized social network called the internet?

Internet is just a dumb network of computers. The thing that makes it social are the applications on top of it.

Diaspora? (4, Informative)

fluffernutter (1411889) | about 2 years ago | (#41559665)

Wasn't this what it was supposed to be?

Re:Diaspora? (4, Informative)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#41559903)

Wasn't this what it was supposed to be?

Yup. And social river [socialriver.org] , buddy cloud [buddycloud.com] , Choice Social [choicesocial.net] , freenet [freenetproject.org] and many more. I don't see why one other should "take off"

Re:Diaspora? (2)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 2 years ago | (#41560277)

And Secure Share [secushare.org] , the best design of all, in my opinion. Too bad the project is stalled.

Re:Diaspora? (1)

babywhiz (781786) | about 2 years ago | (#41561763)

Who are you people and where the heck have you heard these things? No, really, advertise outside of the metro areas. Amazing what those hillbilly people will spread around. Wait, that didn't come out right. You know what I mean. (hinthint - Pinterest)

Re:Diaspora? (1)

thePsychologist (1062886) | about 2 years ago | (#41560389)

I had high hopes for Diaspora, but the problem with it is that it doesn't replicate certain features of Facebook that would be a necessary condition for people to switch to it. For example, it doesn't have an event creation and invite feature, and that is really the only reason why I would join a social network in the first place.

Diaspora shifted focus a while ago to concentrate on organising internet discussions amongst people with common interests rather than focus on interactions with real-life acquaintances. With this goal they will never overtake Facebook, which is not what they want to do any more anyway. Now they are just closer to Google+, and in my opinion not terribly appealing especially since the interface is irritating.

It is unfortunate because I'm sure the two goals could exist in a decentralised network, but it was apparent from the beginning that the Disaspora team did not have the raw coding power to create this possibility.

DeCenSocNet (5, Funny)

badford (874035) | about 2 years ago | (#41559675)

Here is my proposal. You got a minute?

DeCenSocNet would be a Decentralized Social Network Consisting of Biological Humanoids (people) arranging themselves, more or less, in close proximity to one another. Friend requests will be made by pressing the palm of their upper appendages together and articulating upward the sides of their facial orifice.

  These biologicical beings would use auditory signals and advanced parsing to communicate with one another. Caffeinated and/or alcoholic potions would intensify the communications protocol.

Re:DeCenSocNet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41559899)

To late... already patented by apple.

Re:DeCenSocNet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560103)

Your proposal seems to forget about the security threats posed by VirusNet and STDbot.

Re:DeCenSocNet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560547)

Dude, imagine what you could do with this concept if you added natural language processing features, and geolocation, so the nodes could interact differently depending on their current location and the context of other nodes around them?

Holy shit, this is gonna REVOLUTIONIZE social networking.

Re:DeCenSocNet (1)

PReDiToR (687141) | about 2 years ago | (#41561167)

Dangerous. How can the security services monitor all passage of ideas between individuals if it happens without network communication?

I've long held the belief that the majority of the laws passed in my country (UK) are helping to make it less desirable to mingle in public places.
Several laws make it illegal to congregate in a public place with other people, and taxes on alcoholic potions mixed with the advertising of binge drinking leading to hooliganism on a large scale make consumption of alcohol lead to violence on others rather than commingling.
Caffeine is priced so highly that most of the people who talk to strangers don't frequent those outlets because of the snobbery of the middle classes who wish to remain aloof from the shoppers scurrying around.

YMMV, but my tinfoil is starting to oxidise, I must apply another layer.

Re:DeCenSocNet (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#41561529)

A quip I recently heard from a guy who's been trying to organize grassroots political action (not for a major candidate or party, but around some ballot issues):
"The button to use on a smartphone to truly change in the world is the one labelled 'OFF'"

More Issues Like CDNs and Node Sale to Advertisers (1, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#41559743)

If a hosting provider removed your content or threatened to kick you off unless you removed it yourself, you could just migrate your profile to a new hosting provider, and all of your existing links to friends/groups/events would continue to work.

In an ideal world where all you're worried about is censorship then, sure, whatever that might work. The problem is that I am virtually unconcerned with Facebook censoring me as it's never happened. What I'm concerned with primarily is Facebook selling my data to shady people. Oh, I just move my profile from that server after concerns of shadiness arise? Yeah, I bet they hurry up real fast and delete that data that they could turn around and sell to marketers.

My biggest concern arises from reading the book Beautiful Data (and reviewing it here on Slashdot) and remembering how Facebook dealt with its earliest problems of big data and content delivery networks [wikipedia.org] (CDNs).

I just watched a video of my cousin on Facebook training a horse halfway across the country. Now, let's say she or someone near her was running their Google+ node or whatever you want to call it. How would that be propagated to a CDN like Facebook has done with her media that I'm viewing?

Furthermore, CDNs have solved a lot of issues and also relieved localized strain from, say, all the traffic from NYC going to LA (and vice versa) through the Series of Tubes that stretch across the country for every imgur and flickr and youtube video out there. Isn't that a step backwards in the sense of providing snappy response times on large objects?

Re:More Issues Like CDNs and Node Sale to Advertis (1)

xombo (628858) | about 2 years ago | (#41560531)

Yeah, CDNs are a Facebook-proprietary-technology that no other website in the world could possibly ever hope to use.

Re:More Issues Like CDNs and Node Sale to Advertis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560803)

Yeah, CDNs are a Facebook-proprietary-technology that no other website in the world could possibly ever hope to use.

Um, you really miss the core concepts of CDNs. It's not that everyone can't use them, it's that you have to pay to use them and then after that, you're just handing all your personal data over to $SOME_BIG corporation and *TADA* you're back to the original problem of why you moved away from Facebook ...

Re:More Issues Like CDNs and Node Sale to Advertis (1)

xombo (628858) | about 2 years ago | (#41561841)

I guess it's too bad no one has invented a way to encrypt HTTP connections.

Re:More Issues Like CDNs and Node Sale to Advertis (1)

xombo (628858) | about 2 years ago | (#41561865)

Also, it's not like you can't host your own CDN. I do.

Re:More Issues Like CDNs and Node Sale to Advertis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41562183)

Also, it's not like you can't host your own CDN. I do.

So let me get this straight. You have your own servers collocated in NE USA, SE USA, SW USA, NW USA, Canada, Mexico, China, etc etc etc etc etc? For the sole purpose of hosting your own social networking node so that people can access your stuff faster?

Re:More Issues Like CDNs and Node Sale to Advertis (1)

xombo (628858) | about 2 years ago | (#41562833)

Presumably any site that receives enough traffic to necessitate a CDN is going to be able to afford to do just that, or even as-is-needed.

In fact, I do use a CDN (albeit a paid 3rd party in this case) to run a social networking site: http://rok.yt/ [rok.yt]

And I run another myself where I have servers in Europe connected via a VPN to the application servers, whose resources they cache.

In either case, it's trivial and low-cost.

It isn't just about you. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560805)

In an ideal world where all you're worried about is censorship then, sure, whatever that might work. The problem is that I am virtually unconcerned with Facebook censoring me as it's never happened.

In a world where you weren't a selfish prick, you'd be worried about Facebook censoring *other* people, exposing users to stalkers, to governments and other entities which object to criticism and/or oversight, controlling who can interact with their families or not, and puncturing the anonymity balloon in general.

But it's all me, me, me, isn't it? Never mind, that was purely rhetorical.

critical massing (1)

Onymous Coward (97719) | about 2 years ago | (#41559871)

The real barrier, as I've said all along, is that nobody would join in the first place, unless the project was launched by a company so popular that they could get new users to sign up just by announcing it. So there's not much that I, or anybody else outside of those behemoth companies, can do except to sit back and wait for someone like Google to try it.

Getting critical mass would be difficult, but large company promotion isn't the only way it could happen. Using the "killer app" concept, you might encourage usership by providing a feature that Facebook or Google+ don't provide, or better yet, can't provide. Figuring out what that is I'll have to leave as an exercise for the reader because I haven't figured it out. You would probably want to spend time contemplating the unseemly side of possibilities.

Killer apps (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560109)

To encourage users to join, I recommend implementing the following killer features:

-enable user to run faster than a speeding bullet
-enable user to leap tall buildings with a single bound
-enable user to shoot laser beams from eyes
-free sex with hot chicks
-free money spigot

Slashdot: Now with 50% more Bennett Hassleton (4, Insightful)

Gizzmonic (412910) | about 2 years ago | (#41559875)

When Slashdot needs a meandering wall of text, there's only one man that can get the job done!

[female singers] BENNETT HASSLETON!

(A smart car vrooms through an intersection, crushing JON KATZ who is walking across the street at the time). BENNETT jumps out of the car and pushes his huge nerd glasses back up on his nose.

BENNETT: 'Sup, motherfuckers? I heard you needed some BORING-ASS NAVEL-GAZING! (winks at camera)

[female singers] BENNETT HASSLETON!

Re:Slashdot: Now with 50% more Bennett Hassleton (1)

multicoregeneral (2618207) | about 2 years ago | (#41560819)

I didn't think it was that bad. A little naive if he seriously thinks captchas solve anything, but not that bad.

Handwaving and smokescreens (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#41559985)

When I read the following, I started to think the author might not be quite connected with reality:

Why else have 400 million people signed up for Google+, almost half as many as are on Facebook?

Failing to account for the vast disparity between signups and activity is a serious flaw in his argument - especially when he charges to growth to "marketing"... rather than the forced conversion and signups from people who already had Google accounts and those who obtained them via Android phones. (He does mention, dismissively, the lack of staying power later... and the lets this critical issue drop.)
 
But when I read this the following, I really should have stopped as he's clearly headed off into cloud cuckoo land.
 

So imagine if, at the same time that Google had released Google+, they had also released an open source server package that anybody could use to set up their own Google+ node, completely interoperable with all Google-hosted accounts, and where the user could have complete control over their hosted content.

But they didn't. And there isn't going to be a decentralized social networking system that allows access to anything resembling Google's ecosystem. He also claims that most people won't switch because of an analysis of the value of distributed v. centralized - but then sets up and knocks down a set of strawmen that require potential users to to make such an analysis.
 

In sum, I don't think of the objections raised are fatal to the whole concept, although some of the objections made me think of improvements to the original idea (e.g. an API to build games and apps that could communicate over the Internet with other installations of the same app

I'll just put this bluntly - if don't know enough to think of a game or apps API, or how users interact using them... You shouldn't be answering objections about a social networking system, because such interactions are part and parcel of social networking.

Re:Handwaving and smokescreens (1)

tooyoung (853621) | about 2 years ago | (#41560931)

Failing to account for the vast disparity between signups and activity is a serious flaw in his argument - especially when he charges to growth to "marketing"... rather than the forced conversion and signups from people who already had Google accounts and those who obtained them via Android phones.

You're right, this is the major hole in the author's argument. By his logic, everyone who has iTunes installed is a Ping user and everyone with a spam Hotmail account is a Microsoft Live user.

Re:Handwaving and smokescreens (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 2 years ago | (#41562591)

Failing to account for the vast disparity between signups and activity is a serious flaw in his argument - especially when he charges to growth to "marketing"... rather than the forced conversion and signups from people who already had Google accounts and those who obtained them via Android phones. (He does mention, dismissively, the lack of staying power later... and the lets this critical issue drop.)

For someone who claims to have RTFA....
Three paragraphs later:

So that answers the question of how to get people to try it out. The continued relative obscurity of the Diaspora Project -- the largest existing open social networking system -- does not mean that the idea itself doesn't have merit, or that users wouldn't sign up for such a system if it were launched and promoted by a big company. The second challenge would be to get people to stay, something that users apparently did not do after trying out Google+.

It's alright though, the ends of paragraphs tend to get ignored when you're powering through an article instead of reading it closely.

Decentralized social networking tool (2)

apcullen (2504324) | about 2 years ago | (#41560089)

I use a decentralized social networking tool called email

It lets me send out a message -- with pictures and all!-- to a bunch of friends. And they can all see it and comment on it and share it with other friends. Pretty cool, huh?

Not decentralized enough (1)

TehZorroness (1104427) | about 2 years ago | (#41560095)

I have been thinking about this for months now. If I were to build a decentralized social network, I would construct it as a peer to peer network, where your account information is mirrored by enough peers to be accessable around the clock. Public key encryption would be used to protect account details that are only visible to friends, that way people can mirror your private info without being able to read it. This design would make it difficult to sensor, difficult for big brother to sift through, and spare people from needing to run a dedicated server for their account. Unfortunately, I have a lot of reading (about encryption) to do if I were to persue this project, but if anyone is interested, we can toss some ideas around here.

Re:Not decentralized enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560275)

Use GPG and the Emule network.

You subscribe to your friends' feeds by putting in their public key to the easy-to-use glue program. The emule client searches for a small cryptographically signed file based on the hash of the public key and the current date truncated to one hour (this behavior limits search load, but also limits maximum posting rate and allows for retrieval of missed posts), and this signed file points to the hash of the real encrypted payload which might by very large in size (this small file -> big file behavior makes denial of service slightly more difficult, though not impossible as people can spam fake links into the feed and require that you download them to know they are fake).

Re:Not decentralized enough (1)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 2 years ago | (#41560477)

What you want is Secure Share [secushare.org] . I've been toying around with this idea too, I even made some tests with the gnutella protocol (as the AC before me suggested [emule network is really gnutella]). The problem with Secure Share is that things seem to be halted... I emailed the main author, but didn't even receive a reply.

Re:Not decentralized enough (1)

DuckDodgers (541817) | about 2 years ago | (#41562895)

I've thought about this, but you have the risk of data loss:

1. If you use only public and private keys with no key recovery mechanism, some users will lose their private key. It only needs to happen once for them to abandon the entire social network.
2. If you encrypt the private key using a password and store that with user backups, then you either need to enforce very strong password rules or risk privacy being lost due to weak passwords for encrypting the private key.
3. If you force strong password rules for private key distributed backups, then you're back to the original problem - some users will lose their private key on their own server and forget their strong password to decrypt their private key from a friend's server, and be out of luck.

It's possible I've missed an obvious solution, but I don't think so. I think a peer-to-peer public key encryption network will only work with relatively technical members. Regular people will have too many problems.

While we're dreaming about fantasy features, I'd like to add a requirement that the peer to peer network is written in C, Objective C, or something similarly efficient so that casual computer users can run their personal node off of the junk PC or old smart phone. Diaspora, for example, is built in Ruby which means anyone hosting their own Diaspora node without a half decent personal server - and that's most of the population - will have scaling issues much faster than with something well written in a more resource efficient but dramatically less productive language.

Already exists: GPG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560099)

We already have a decentralized social network, it's called GPG/PGP. The only problem is that not everyone wants to use the emule network to get their friends' updates.

Facebook has critical mass despite being a puss bucket, there needs to be a reason that common people can understand for them to migrate to p2p and public/private key encryption.

Check PeerSoN (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560127)

The PeerSoN project (http://www.peerson.net/) did some research on this topic already, but not all problems are out of the way yet for a feasible implementation.

The kids run the world (1)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#41560151)

First there are many social network companies. Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, Path. All of these have enjoyed some level of success. Implying Google+ has any significant number of active users is simply active fibbing. Google has users because people who use Google to search are often forced to join Google+. Google active users are on the order of 100 million, about 50% less than even twitter, or 1/10th that of facebook. So simply being big does not mean that one can push a successful social network product. The problem with Google is that is complicated.

Second, I have seen the progress of these networks. Facebook, in my experience, took over from myspace because kids in middle school began to create facebook accounts instead of myspace accounts. This meant by 2010 that firms that wanted to reach the 18-24 demographic had better have a presence on facebook. It is that simple. Kids that want to keep up with friends from high school or college are going to have a Facebook account. Advertisers who want to build a relationship with these people who do not necessarily watch as much TV as the older generation are going to go to facebook as an alternative option.

Oh, and in case it was not clear, most middle school kids have not funds, ability, nor do they care, about acquiring a domain name. They are just looking for cool stuff that is free and allows them to do stuff without parental permission. They are experimenting with a new freedom, but not yet secure enough to actually defy the parental unit. One is free to build a social network for adults, but it won't compete with facebook based on the decentralization.

So what are the problems with facebook? First, their demographic is aging, in other words moms are signing up to monitor their kids, socialize with their friends, and generally make facebook uncool. This not only makes kids less likely to sign up than they would be a few years ago, but also dilutes the demographic. There are cheaper ways to reach moms than facebook, and even dads.

Second is the lack of mobile platform. Kids are more likely to interact with the internet using a small screen, and facebook does not know how to leverage that. So the kids are not being monitored as they used to be. Decentralization will not solve this problem.

So any new platform is going to have give the 13-20 year old kid a better product. If someone did, in four years Facebook would as much toast as myspace. Decentralization is not going to do this.

Re:The kids run the world (1)

Americano (920576) | about 2 years ago | (#41560791)

First, their demographic is aging, in other words moms are signing up to monitor their kids, socialize with their friends, and generally make facebook uncool.

in case it was not clear, most middle school kids have not funds, ability, nor do they care, about acquiring a domain name.

Do you see the problem with these two statements? And do you understand that this is exactly why the "free" social networks keep failing, but Facebook MAY have finally gotten it right, at least in such a way that they can build a sustainable business?

If you chase unemployed teenagers with your advertising, you're going to have an awful lot of trouble turning that into a successful business - because the buying habits and tastes of teens is notoriously fickle. All they can do is pressure their parents into buying things for them, and as soon as one teen decides "that's not cool anymore," the rest of them will soon follow.

How many kids dream of owning a GE refrigerator? How many homes have at least one refrigerator in it?
How many kids dream of owning a sensible Honda Accord? How many homes have at least one sensible mid-size sedan parked in the driveway?

Lots of very profitable businesses are built through advertising to the "boring" demographic that is actually employed and has disposable income that they're willing to spend on Hondas, and refrigerators, and Ikea furniture for their houses, and Apple laptops for their home offices, and vacations in Florida with their families.

Teens can generate buzz, but that's about it. When it comes time to paying for something, they're stuck with, "MOM, DAD, PLEASE BUY ME THIS ALL THE KIDS LOVE IT." Facebook's embrace of older age groups may make it "suck" for teenagers, but it's sure not going to suck for all those companies who want to advertise to the suburban 30-50-years-old demographic that's actually spending its money on all those "boring" but practical things that we use every day.

Some new platform will certainly arise that the 13-20 year olds will flock to because it's the new hot thing. I think it's far from a foregone conclusion that that platform will substantially disrupt facebook's advertising revenues.

Nothing new (2)

starfishsystems (834319) | about 2 years ago | (#41560157)

Social networking is no longer new; whether you consider it to have started with online communities in the mid-90s or with the beginnings of sites many people still use today.

I consider it to have started with Usenet. Based originally on UUCP, it was first connected to the ARPAnet in 1980 and flourished at an exponential rate along with it. It was not only a distributed social network but a fully decentralized, fully replicated one.

It was emphatically not supported by advertizing. The most infamous attempt to exploit its open nature for advertizing purposes was by American immigration lawyers Canter and Siegel in 1994, who managed to offend everyone on Usenet and were rapidly quashed. Still, a track record of 14 years of civilized use of a digital commons tells us that such projects can be eminently successful on their own merits.

Easy migration from FB .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560293)

Without an easy migration from FB and Tewwter any solution is DOA.

An interoperable layer is needed to post to those other systems and slowly wean end-sheep off the services to the decentralized versions.

I really like the idea of not giving up my privacy controls to some 3rd party trying to sell my information or "page views."

I will happily run my own server and allow 50 friends and family to use it. They will be able to trust that their data isn't stolen or sold unless they setup the privacy to allow it.

Running the server will be easy for me. I'm not using FB or Tewwter today, so there isn't any migration necessary. I'm already running 15 other servers, so the financial aspects aren't any issue, though I will probably ask for $2/month from each user to cover normal expenses. Mom doesn't have to pay. My network blocks most ad networks completely and many web crawlers. We don't want 3rd parties to see this data anyway. In fact, perhaps a white list of allowed subnets would be a better way to go.

Hummmm.

sell it with the hardware (1)

gedw99 (1597337) | about 2 years ago | (#41560303)

if the organisation or some other hardware company sold a super cheap board with open source federated social networking software on it and supported it they would do very well perhaps.

they are basically value adding.
its easy for people.
they buy the hardware, its delivered and they plug it in and then fill in a few details and thats it.

i really think this is the way to get it of the ground.

Raspberry Pi foundation of some other foundation can do this.

--

Other hardware makers will see it take off and can do the same.

---
Will there be forks by other hardware companies ? Sure there will.
But in order to be attractive to end users, people will buy a fork that is HTTP API compatible with the other forks.
I think one of the web standards is the Social API or something ??
https://wiki.mozilla.org/Labs/SocialAPI [mozilla.org]

If they dont, then there offering will be much less attractive.

Eventually things will just work,

g

Re:sell it with the hardware (1)

gedw99 (1597337) | about 2 years ago | (#41560331)

The Social API is very active over at Github
https://github.com/mozilla/socialapi-dev [github.com]

This could be installed on your phone with Fire OS and sync with your home box

If Mozilla included this as standard in Fire OS it would take off.
Especially if Fire OS can also be installed on your no name box at home too.

g

Re:sell it with the hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560845)

35 commits by 3 users in the last 4 months is "very active?"

I think we have different definitions.

Tonika / 5ttt et. al. (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 2 years ago | (#41560479)

Some of these concerns have already been addressed and solved. Check out Tonika [mit.edu] which uses crypto front-to-back, for example. They've already solved problems I'd never even understood to be present.

Just put it in the email client... (2)

Ghostworks (991012) | about 2 years ago | (#41560539)

...email servers and clients pretty much handle the technical side already. All you need is a new "social" interface.

This about it. A social network needs first and foremost a list of contacts, their unique identifiers, and lists that partition your big "everyone I know list" into smaller lists like "friends" or "coworkers" or "SPAM/blocked/ex-friends/people I know but just hate". The address book is also the most basic, not-strictly-necessary feature of any email client.

You would like to be able to push data (updates, tweets) to everyone who matters instantaneously, or in a very quick, timely manner. This is the main point of email. A social network website just stores your mailing lists and fills in the "to" field for you.

In a distributed version of such a network, there are additional complications and benefits. You have to have background processes to poll other servers (nodes) to fetch data, to make sure that all archives stay in agreement and don't lose data, that there are fail-over and reconciliation mechanisms for when communication is not possible (there may or may not be new data that I'm missing). This isn't trivial to implement, but it's also not foreign ground. It's not too different from what a news group client does, with a little torrent-like dynamic peer management. Newsgroup readers are generally built and bundled with the software that had the most interface and back-end similarities to it... the email a client. You would have a lot of data to collect from new friends, but the fact that you actually know each poster means that the more of the data pulled will be relevant to you than it was back in the newsgroup days.

You would like to be reminded or actively informed of certain information (birthdays, events). Calendars are built into every modern mail system, as is the ability to invite/require people at meetings and events.

You would like to play games and compare scores with people you specifically know. All of Facebook's games are flash-based (run on the local machine anyway) with some state information (scoreboard) tied to a third party server. Other than the fact this is a browser job more than a mail client job, this is already mundane, and nothing would change on a new system except for better visibility into the API, and control over what servers you connect to and what data you release. You could store a small, cookie-like fie for each game which friends could compare to their own to dynamically generate a "my friends only" scoreboard for them to compare to, if you for some reason don't want to expose your friend list to a particular game. In other words, games are "least facebook-y" aspect of facebook.

You would like to be able to set up "public" pages not tied to any person (groups, events). To continue the email metaphor, this is just a mass email chain with a specific subject line. The network makes sure that reminders are enforced, people don't "fall off" the chain (the only valid reply to a group-style message is "reply all"), and you have a body of data (history) that you want to be available to people who join later. The last bit produces some overhead, as the group is essentially a "pseudo-friend", whose friend list is identical to the member list. In a distributed system, multiple nodes will have to have to responsibility of maintaining this data, so that it's not lost if some large number of nodes decide to drop it simultaneously -- for example, if every such node is actually a user running his own server, and all of them leave the group simultaneously. This is not trivial, but is also not impossible. It will take some basic management (no more members = no more group) and perhaps some interface changes ("This event is two years old. Can we delete this stuff yet? )" or "do you want to archive this event to your local machine permanently?") but it can be done.

Furthermore, everyone today has an email client. Each of those is tied to a server that receives and stores data even when the client is not connected. So long as each message is below a certain size, has a header, and the total mail is below another certain size, most of these mailboxes don't care _what_ the data being mailed says or means, making them a good fallback for data intended for your friend if his node is temporarily knocked offline. Plus, it gives you a way to stay in touch with people who _aren't_ part of the network, leaving the door open to bring them in later. If you get the social network client integrated into the mail clients, eventually setting up your identity on the network becomes no more painful for newbies than setting up a new email address.

There are other technical challenges to a distributed network, such as managing public/private keys to validate data on a public network, the need for a system of discardable "addresses" (so you can de-friended people), and keeping encrypted mappings between "addresses" and real key for user data on what is essentially a public system. These will take people familiar with at security to design and shake-out.

But the sheer possibility of making it work? That's a pretty small question. We know it can work, because we've made pretty much every piece work before, on a large scale, 15 to 20 years ago. We know people will come, because people actually do want off facebook. None of the "problems" with a new system would be unique to it, or worse than problems we already face on similar media.

Didn't the internet start out with... (1)

3seas (184403) | about 2 years ago | (#41560587)

Usenet in regards to social interaction. So maybe its time for an upgrade from text based???

The down side, unlike facebook that only allows "like" biasing it towards the positive, usenet history is filled with negative bias... Message boards can also result in negative interaction.... showing the maturity level of the social network perhaps needs positive bias type of constraints to offset the kids egos.

CAPTCHAs? (1)

multicoregeneral (2618207) | about 2 years ago | (#41560767)

Dude, Captchas don't really accomplish much. They're sloppy security, and they're hacked around all the time. In China, they have whole rooms of people that do nothing but fill out captcha forms all day for spammers. Sure, it's useful for the one off, but it's not a long term security fix. It's invasive to your user experience, and it's fundamentally flawed in that it only stops pure, script based robots. You're leaning on Captchas as a security solution, but you're making a serious mistake if you do that. If you're popular, someone will either figure out a way around the captchas, or they'll figure out a way around your captchas. Either that, or you create a captcha so good, that no human can read it either. And then you have no problem at all, because you'll have no users.

I really wish people would get more creative with this, and realize that captchas are not a silver bullet. They're a makeshift solution, that's good for when your site is getting bombed by bots. Beyond that, you need to think about real solutions that don't hurt your user experience, but still keep spammers gone. There are many of them out there. There are other practices that work. Slashdot has a marvelous system of limiting spam. The only time you ever see a cpatcha here is when you sign up. Why not learn from that?

Build the protocol, implement in blogging platform (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560861)

I'd love a distributed social network, and yes the Internet is supposed to be that. There are two things missing with the Internet as a social network:
* Stream aggregation
* Publishing to a circle only

Stream aggregation is easily overcome, simply use an RSS feed reader and implement a single stream algorithm like a Goolge+ does or a facebook does. Done!

* Publishing to a limited circle means you need to authenticate (exchange securely some keys) and authorize (add the key holder to a circle). and then publish the limited content in a separate feed authenticated by the key. As long as the keys are protected on the recipient side by a key management with a secure pass(word/phrase) you are good agains intrusion and stealing in most cases.
** By the way, you could set up the feed you share with circle member, so that there is a cache flag, which means the partner is not supposed to cache the content but always read it when needed from your serve. That way an intruder to the weakest link can only see some hooks into your content, but not access it w/o unlocking the exchanged key. You could also store the content encrypted, having mostly the same effect.

In terms of making this popular? Don't create a new system. Integrate it instead into existing publishing platforms, such as Wordpress, etc. You reach the most serious audience, serial publishers that publish publicly and I'm sure would see the value in having exchange circles and using integration between reading their social feed and writing in their publishing tool. From there it'll spread automatically and Wordpress.com or Tumblr would love to replace a central facebook or Google+

Another feature that is needed is to integrate the different identities one has on the web, such as the guest posts on a company blog, the personal blog, the article author in a magazine, the commentator on slashdot, etc.

Re:Build the protocol, implement in blogging platf (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560927)

P.S.: Cheap security against loosing one's disks, one's hosting provider or account access, could be achieved by sharing the content in a private encrypted form with all readers (limited amounts, distributed) and the ability to pull it back when one has the right key to request it. It's like a distributed backup.

400 million G+ users (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560899)

So now there are 400 million Google Plus users?

I had no idea the number was so high. Surely now they are a big threat to Facebook?

A lot of people are very annoyed with Facebook's constant alterations to their privacy settings, sacrificing the happiness of their users for some short-term growth. If Facebook concede number 1 spot to Google, they are gone in the same way as Myspace.

tl;dr (1)

Guru80 (1579277) | about 2 years ago | (#41561013)

Holy wall of text, I'm not reading that. Quick, someone give me a two sentence summary so I can make broad generalizations without having to know the details.

Re:tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41562355)

Basically instead of hosting your profile on facebook.com, you host it in .com
Then you get some nifty software to link up all the servers to form a social network.

Re:tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41562379)

Fuck you slashdot for eating my comment.
The second one should have been <yourdomain>.com

why it wont work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41561239)

hollywood gets to be into it from the get go...it is one reason public torrenting is pwned....
all that stupid writing and you are already lost....go back to letting hollywood see you are the pirate bay hosted on PRQ that likes advocating child molestion advocacy groups

Decentralized Social Networking is just the start! (1)

aglider (2435074) | about 2 years ago | (#41561303)

Multimedia Decentralized Social Networking will be the real next step.
And scientists are already planning for the "3D Mobile Multimedia Decentralized Social Networking".

Replicating Twitter (1)

LihTox (754597) | about 2 years ago | (#41561309)

Facebook is rather complicated, but I think Twitter would be easier to replace due to its very public nature. Everyone sets up their own RSS feed (on whatever server they like) with an interface that makes it very easy to add to, and then your Twitter feed is simply an RSS aggregator which sorts entries chronologically and displays them inline.

Wall of text (1)

Svartormr (692822) | about 2 years ago | (#41561357)

Dude, edit it down.

Start with a summary short paragraph. No more than 3 paragraphes with 9 reasonable sentences. Link to a well written white paper for those who want more.

Time to develop Open API's for Social Media? (1)

hAckz0r (989977) | about 2 years ago | (#41561587)

What if a user had the choice of being on Facebook or Google+ and could simply migrate their content seamlessly to the provider of their choice? Would this not mostly satisfy the core desire to be distributed? If any media provider could implement a core set of web utilities/API to make it possible to connect between Social Media sites then the users would have more choices and the media providers would be merely services trying to get you to reside inside their user base. No content could be held hostage, or censored. If you didn't like any service provider you could simply boot your own service providing that same API and serve your own profile and send your own events to the other providers users to whom you are linked. Everyone could connect to anyone, on any system, and no provider would have the upper hand to force users to do anything undesired or even censor their content beyond what they were willing to do. Don't like Facebook any more? Push a button and migrate to another provider in less than 10 minutes!

I suggested this a long time ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41561737)

Not only should a social networking platform be decentralized, but also peer to peer (ie serverless). It is possible, and you can make it happen (yes you)

bring back Fidonet!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41561955)

I miss nightly sync'ing, and modem chirps... Bring back Fidonet, I want to post on my SIGs.
Hell, Agora would be great... Social Media... Heh...
If it's private... then should it be social?

Sounds cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41562117)

But my Mom is on Facebook...

the right way (1)

andsand (112531) | about 2 years ago | (#41562169)

Going back brom big data to small shared data is the way to go. There are many ways that this could be done. The discussion of distributed trust could be an long (and good) and be taken from any Bruce Schniders latest books. If you read them then you have a good start on how the problem can be solved. TIP: Technology is not always the answer.

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