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Social Networks Facebook Spam The Internet

Decentralized Social Networking — Why It Could Work 128

Posted by Soulskill
from the keeping-your-face-off-the-books dept.
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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Decentralized Social Networking — Why It Could Work

Comments Filter:
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday October 05, 2012 @11:58AM (#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?

    • 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..

      • by Anonymous Coward

        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 da

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by PieDude (2745317)

          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!

        • by todrules (882424)

          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

          • by idontgno (624372)

            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."

          • 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.

      • 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.

    • by Myopic (18616) * on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:04PM (#41559635)

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

      • by alvinrod (889928)
        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 any
        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          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 sett

          • by PReDiToR (687141)
            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.
            • by alcmaeon (684971)
              Everything Google does (search, Gmail, Google Docs, Android) is designed to collect data which Google then sells to its real customers, the advertisers, and I suspect, governments. Users of free services are not customers; they are self-organizing, self-reporting data points.
      • by coder111 (912060) <{coder} {at} {rrmail.com}> on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:28PM (#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
        • by ron_ivi (607351)

          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).

          • 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 so

          • Right now the trend is towards outsourcing email services to the likes of Google and Microsoft, simply because of the ease-of-use and low maintenance.

        • by unionmike (744421)

          * 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.

          If the servers are set us as bittorrent nodes, or something similar, with redundancy built in, that should address the issues you raise.

      • 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.

    • 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 everybo
    • by marvis (739923)
      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.
    • by mosb1000 (710161)

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

  • (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].

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

    • by 91degrees (207121)
      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.
    • by freeze128 (544774)
      If this is a consular ship, where is the ambassador?
  • I may be naive... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Iniamyen (2440798) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:06PM (#41559661)
    But don't we already have a decentralized social network called the internet?
    • 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...

    • by axl917 (1542205)

      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 hav

      • by sakshale (598643)

        My image has been more in line with a MMORPG concept. You select your Avatar and explorer your Avatar's world, which may/may not include facebook, gmail, etc... In fact, that was my first impression of Second Life (http://lindenlab.com/). Unfortunately, that didn't work out. Enthropia was another attempt that didn't quite make it. (http://www.entropiauniverse.com/).

        After all, why must the user interface be a keyboard?

    • by Empiric (675968)

      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.

    • 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

    • 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? (Score:5, Informative)

    by fluffernutter (1411889) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:07PM (#41559665)
    Wasn't this what it was supposed to be?
    • Re:Diaspora? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chrisq (894406) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:28PM (#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"

      • by dmbasso (1052166)

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

        • by babywhiz (781786)

          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)

    • 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 acquainta

  • DeCenSocNet (Score:5, Funny)

    by badford (874035) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:07PM (#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.

    • by Anonymous Coward

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

    • by PReDiToR (687141)
      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
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      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'"

  • 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

    • by xombo (628858)

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

  • 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 encou

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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

      • I was thinking more like offensive anti-religious or pornographic content. I'm sure there's plenty that would run afoul of the ToS that would be good to have.

  • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:25PM (#41559875) Homepage Journal

    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!

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater&gmail,com> on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:35PM (#41559985) Homepage

    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.

    • by tooyoung (853621)

      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.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      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.

  • by apcullen (2504324) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:42PM (#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?
  • 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 spar

    • by dmbasso (1052166)

      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.

    • 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 passwor
      • by hpoul (219387)

        i guess the obvious solution, since you are creating a social network where you are connecting with friends you usually know first hand, would be to simply split up the private key into 3 or 4 parts and give them to your closest, most trusted friends.. once you lose your key, all of those 3 or 4 friends have to verify that you are actually the person you claim to be..
        so if maybe with more knowledge about cryptography could answer the question if it's possible to split up a private key into multiple parts wi

  • 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 successfu
    • by Americano (920576)

      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

      • by fermion (181285)
        Advertisers who want to build a relationship with these people

        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

        A number in the kids in 13-20 year age range is going to buy a car or thinking of buying a car. Building up appeal in this age range can effect what they buy and can effect resale value, which will effect

  • by starfishsystems (834319) on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:48PM (#41560157) Homepage
    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.
    • 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.

      Then, like the individual about touting listserv, you're using a definition of "social networking" so radically different from the one in common use... that you might as well be discussing the best method of making yak butter tea in Pantagonia.

      • Dude, I'd like to understand your argument, but so far you haven't presented one. Which suggests to me that you don't really have one.

        In what sense do you think Usenet does not qualify as social networking?
        • Dude, I'd like to understand your argument, but so far you haven't presented one. Which suggests to me that you don't really have one.

          When someone points at a fish and calls it a bicycle - there's no argument to present because that person is so disconnected from the language everyone else is using.

          (Hint: Networking is generally considered to be linking individual nodes to other arbitrary individual nodes.)

          Try educating yourself, the Wikipedia article on Social Networking would be a good start.

  • 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 th

    • by gedw99 (1597337)

      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

  • 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.

  • by Ghostworks (991012) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:21PM (#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

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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

  • by Guru80 (1579277)
    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.
  • Multimedia Decentralized Social Networking will be the real next step.
    And scientists are already planning for the "3D Mobile Multimedia Decentralized Social Networking".

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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,
  • 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.

  • Google+ looked great at first, but then they did a complete overhaul of the interface and messed it up so bad that nobody I know uses it anymore. Lessons to learn:

    1. Make social network UI changes gradually-- a complete overhaul is guaranteed to piss off a lot of users, no matter how much YOU like it. Change is a bad thing for many people. Facebook has already learned this one, for the most part.

    2. Clean chronological sorting is a necessity, and if you can't decide whether to use the OP date or the
  • A distributed social network without any central server would certainly work: just look at Bitcoin.
    When you start up the Bitcoin client, you can securely transfer Bitcoins to other clients. The Distributed social network client would instead of transfering Bitcoins, transfer social information (pictures, messages). Instead of replicating transactions as Bitcoin does, it could replicate the state of all of the connections ('friends') of the person running the client. That friends could replicate the state of

    • by RobinH (124750)

      Ok, so in the bitcoin model, everybody has everybody's data. How is this better? The problem they're trying to solve is to allow you to control who has access to your data.

      Which is dumb anyway. If you put it on the internet, you shouldn't be trying to keep it private.

      • Everyone has everyone's data, but the data is encrypted and pseudo-anonymous - meaning you can't get information on someone's transaction without knowing a long bitcoin-address. The latter you can recreate for each transaction for added security. For more information, use a search engine like this one: https://www.google.com/search?q=bitcoin+introduction [google.com]

        What makes the encryption/privacy issue for BItcoin easier is that the data that is stored are just numbers with little or no value on them own: data like 1

  • I have already made a wonderful core for a system like this, in a completely unexpected and terribly useful form, and plan to come out with it shortly! I don't know what our exact strategy for approaching the public is (out of many), so i haven't revealed any details publicly. We are a two person company built around this concept, so we felt it best to complete the thing before we started waving it around (or at least, get close enough to see the end, which is why i can even post this, today).

    We would like

  • "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."

    Should be "decentralized" or "distributed".

    See also my post here:
    "Raising the bar to a Social Semantic Desktop"
    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3161201&cid=41545181 [slashdot.org]
    "Here are some general thoughts about how Diaspora might relate to the Seman

  • It won't work because there is no money to be made in it. Who will invest into development of this? And even if a group of enthusiasts will spend their time to implement something like that, implementation is the least of the problems. Who will spend millions promoting altruistic system where you don't own anything and can't sell anything? Solve this problem and options will follow...
  • The original post is 1/3 of the entire page!

  • More or less everyone connects to the internet through an ISP. Besides basic internet connectivity, most ISPs also offer webmail, POP3 mail, and some free web space, which most people never use. These ISPs are the ideal type of companies to host nodes of the Decentralized Social Network (DSN): they can thus provide more value to their customers, they get to route a decent amount of traffic internally, (many people's friends are on the same ISP,) they gain revenues from advertising, and they get the chance

  • God damn, I got mentioned in a featured article and didn't notice until 2 days later (ages ago by Internet standards).

    Soulskill, your answer is unsatisfactory. If I just wanted to have "something like facebook" the best and less painful way is to get on facebook. The motivation here is to stay away from facebook. I'm explaining you about ways my posts/profile information can leak to facebook. You dismiss my claim as a non-issue:

    True, but generally if I've shared something with all of my friends on Facebook

  • somebody's going to do it, eventually, if it hasnt already been done (and just not taken off yet). The person who does it probably wont be concerned with monetizing it, at least first, just like many other great creations.

    There was (its been apparently abandoned) a low level research project called DSNP that sought to create the core of a distributed social networking system with a protocol that used encryption and public keys to allow secure, distributed social networks. Its a shame it has not gone anywh

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