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Motivation and Background for the User Controlled Web

Here are some background pointers:

list of projects in this space.  The Diaspora project is listed under “deployable on commodity webhosting”.  I was under the impression that they are actually more of a p2p application.

set of ideas for this space on the GNU Social wiki.

Adriana Lukas talks about the user-controlled web and the mine project.   (She coins a fun acronym: Relationships on Individuals’ Own Terms – RIOT. )

(flash video removed June 2016)

There seems to be quite a bit of activity with 20-30 projects, but the efforts are fragmented.  Different projects have different goals and approaches.  Some focus on a piece of the user experience and others focus on technology.  For example, the Mine! project is a technology piece focused on rich sharing of data (including links, photos) with strong user control.  OneSocialWeb is focused on messaging.  With Elgg you can create social networks – but it’s not really user controlled.

Diversity is great, but one or two well-thought out efforts need to win.   Critical mass is a must in order to win in this space.

The Diaspora Project and the User Controlled Web

I’m pretty excited about the Diaspora project generating a groundswell of support. They managed to raise $170K in two weeks through kickstarter (they asked for $10K).

Why am I excited? I’ve written before about walled gardens and user controlled Internet apps. It is crucial that we invert the control structure of the web if we want to be in control of our destiny.

There are some critical challenges that a user-controlled system must face:

  • Secure software distribution – users will want to install applets inside their environments.  Third party audit and signing of code will be necessary in order to keep the apps flowing, but without compromising users’ instances.  Applets will also have to be firewalled from each-other – as some will be more trusted and some less.  I’ve previously written a couple of posts about the challenges of secure software distribution.
  • Peer to peer naming and search – it should be easy to find stuff, without necessarily knowing their URLs.  A global, fully distributed naming and search system will be important.
  • A distributed reputation system will be a natural fit for a distributed social network.
  • Memory footprint – current web application frameworks are designed for high volume apps, and therefore take up quite a bit of memory to load application code. These frameworks can afford to do so, because they expect to amortize the memory over many users. However, a user-controlled system will have one user per instance. Clever memory sharing among instances will be necessary.

I can’t wait to see what the first prototype looks like.

There are some additional projects along these lines that are worth a look and are actually further along:

Maybe none of these will make it.  But the $170K is a signal – that people care about this.

On Nanotech and Economics

Tihamer Toth-Fejel writes about Productive Nanosystems and the 2009 Financial Meltdown.

The collisions between unstoppable juggernauts and immovable obstacles are always fascinating—we just cannot tear our eyes away from the immense conflict, especially if we have a glimmer of the immense consequences it will have for us. So it will be when Productive Nanosystems emerge from the global financial meltdown. To predict what will happen in the next decade or so, we must understand the essential nature of wealth, and we must understand the capabilities of productive nanosystems.