In the wake of recent FCC plans to repeal net neutrality regulations, people are starting to talk about decentralization, both of infrastructure and of the platforms we use to communicate on the Internet. The latter has moved more quickly than the former, since it’s arguably easier to write code than to lay fiber optic cable. In the last few months, I’ve experimented with :
- Beaker Browser
- GNU Ring
- Patchwork (SSB)
Note that those indicated in italics are more web replacement than social network platform.
That’s quite a few apps to open regularly. Wouldn’t it be nice to aggregate this content so you could follow everything from one app. There have been some attempts at this (seesmic/tweetdeck/etc.) aimed at the major commercial social networks, but , since feeding into an aggregator undermines the revenue model of the social network (remember how Twitter used to support RSS?) they were either acquired or left to wither. Since decent platforms don’t have a revenue model to protect, why can’t they be more aggregation friendly? Mike Caulfield suggested that smartphone OS’s were functioning as aggregators via notifications.
There are actually three problems to solve, reading, which is relatively easy, posting, which is harder, and social graph management, which is quite complex
Reading various streams in an aggregator would be most easily accomplished if various decentralized platforms would support stream output as password protected RSS. Twitter was on the right track before revenue growth got in the way. Subscribing to my personal timeline(s) with my favorite RSS reader would bring everything together, especially if I had a reader that listed items chronologically independent of source. The potentially difficult part is dealing with and indicating private v public messages.
Posting is more challenging. Not only does the client need to implement correctly the API’s of various platforms and keep track of what options and constraints to present to a user depending on which platforms they were posting to. It looks as if Withknown has made some progress in this area with syndication plugins.
Managing your social graph is sort of the next level. One of the disadvantages of centralized social networks is that Twitter/Facebook/etc. maintain your social graph and can therefore mine it for data and monetize it. Several years ago, VR celebrity Mark Pesce (famous for his invention of VRML) did some development on Plexus, software that he described as “plumbing for the social web.” The premise here was that your social graph would live on your device. This would be possible because you would create multiple accounts on each social network, one for each friend/follower relationship. Highly compartmentalizing your social presence is good for privacy but makes discovery more challenging, as software on your end has to parse your streams and sort out connections on your social graph.
How do we decentralize the web without so decentralizing our own social presence that it becomes unmanageable?