Other things

Decentralized social media – Scuttlebutt

I came across this page (about Scuttlebutt) via today’s “Four Short Links” post.  Since I’m interested in the internet, and have played on Usenet since before it was part of the internet (who remembers uucp?), the idea seemed cool.  Since it also involves cryptography, Kiwis and boats, what’s not to like?  There are intermittently-connected networks in many developing (or just really large) countries.  Driving or sailing around Australia makes that very obvious, but there have been reports of neat variations on sneakernet in many places.  Motorcycle couriers with wifi and hard drives carrying e-mail and web content from village to village.  Internet infrastructure building out through the railway network in India.

Well I don’t know the answer to that question, yet, because I don’t actually know what “social media” is like.  I’m still back in the web 1.0 days of e-mail and web pages, on the grounds of “works for me”.  What does social media (or an idealized, decentralized social media that the proponents of a “decentralized web” argue for) bring that a network of individual blog sites doesn’t?

How is scuttlebutt different from other efforts with similar themes, such as diaspora, wave and mastodon?  It seems likely that all of these must have issues around scaling.  The existing, centralized social services are run by (and therefore for) companies that can afford to build or rent significant backbone-connected computer infrastructure.  This non-trivial expense is a barrier to entry for competitors, particularly if those set out to be free and “of the people”.  Domestic internet connections (in this neck of the woods) have asymmetrical bandwidth characteristics that make running these sort of services from home infeasible if there is any chance of connecting to the “general public”, rather than a specific set of known contacts.  Even this blog is a bit of a problem: loading any of the pages with photos from anywhere outside the house takes an unreasonably long time.

The usenet nodes that I’ve run, lo those many years ago, were situated on well-connected university and business sites, and were restricted to specific sets of actual discussion groups.  The traffic was never a problem, then, but that was before Eternal September.

Perhaps the narrow-casting of messaging within non-scale-able networks is really a virtue?

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