P2P Foundation

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Building a Distributed, Decentralized Internet - A Roadmap


In an email discussion about building a distributed, decentralized internet, the question came up whether it is better to use facebook with all its inherent controls and dangers to privacy, or whether it would be a better choice to abandon it. My view, which I stated, was that for now, I prefer to communicate, but I am conscious of the dangers. 


Someone proposed various alternatives, to which I replied: "

What I am saying is that there is nothing out there that can viably be proposed to people who aren't geeks and who are not really internet savvy, to use instead of facebook.


Patrick Anderson then added:

Facebook is not just software and data, it is also HARDWARE needed to *host* that software and data.


The problem we face has far more to do with the *hardware*.


We are losing because we refuse to address the hardware issue except in solitary confinement.


The central issue is that we must learn how to share the costs of

co-owning the hardware.


We, the users, already pay for all the costs anyway AND we pay Profit.


If we, the users, were to co-own the hardware for our collective

benefit we would still need to pay the costs.


But we would not, and even could not pay Profit since we would not be buying bandwidth and storage back from ourselves, but each would own the % they already paid for - as a result of the % of ownership in the Sources of that product and that they had paid* their recurring portion of the operational costs.


(*) A user can 'Pay' by achieving goals (working) needed by subgroups of the collective others, or by committing land or tools or buildings to the collective others, or even by using regular old debt-based currency to pay for things we cannot yet supply for ourselves. As we grow, we will integrate vertically - buying or building electricity production facilities, factories to make computers, foundries to forge parts, and even mines and factories, tools, land etc. needed to build the tools to make the tools, and also the land and water rights and seeds and eggs and spores needed to supply our bodies with energy and shelter, recursively through the entire tree of production.


This elicited a request by Venessa Miemis to tell if there was some kind of a plan on how to achieve this:


have you drafted any type of plan / roadmap of the steps involved in co-owning the physical sources, and how to begin?



Suresh Fernando agreed with Venessa's question and asked for some more specifics: 

Patrick - I second venessa's request for some specifics relating to a transition plan from current ownership models to what you envision. 

My guess is that the spirit of your proposal resonates with quite a few people but your challenge is to map pure idealism and theory to something actionable. 


This will require at the least the following:


1. Identification of a specific case where your model is applicable. Maybe the municipal broadband project that Isaac is interested in is one such opportunity. 


2. The articulation of the Transition Plan that involves understanding that the transfer of assets from a corporation to whatever you propose. This will require the formation of a legal entity to actually BUY those assets - there is no other way.


3. The identification of a Process by which we can come to a determination of what/who constitutes the legal entity that buys said assets. 


4. A step by step description of the disbursement of assets from the legal entity that purchases said assets to the 'commons' as you propose. 


Admittedly I have no visibility or sense for any of the specifics of how to pull something like this off. 


which really gets us to the point of this post. Isaac Wilder jumped in with a reply, saying that as far as he is concerned, we should start out building and owning the physical layer of our communication facility. He outlined it as follows:

A Roadmap

I know that I'm not Patrick, and I don't pretend to speak for anyone but myself here. I just want to say that I share Patrick's belief in the radical necessity of humanity's co-owning the physical layer. As I see it, this is the only path to freedom.

To that end, I *have* a roadmap. It has five stages, and follows hot on the tail of this preamble. I see this roadmap playing out over the span of a decade or more, but it does include actionable steps for the present day. (On our way to freedom-land, as Mahalia Jackson said).

Stage 1: The Co-op
Stage one consists of the emergence of network access cooperatives. Stage one has already begun, so instead of speaking hypothetically, I will tell you what it looks like on the ground. I'm not entirely sure of the legality, but I am sure of the justice. Here in Grinnell, IA, the Free Network Movement has built a mesh network that we call grinnellMIND. It allows us to share a single internet connection amongst many physically disparate locations. I live on Broad Street, Dylan lives on Main Street, Martin lives on Park Street, and Anna lives on East. We and many others are able to purchase Internet access cooperatively, thus driving down the amount that each of us pays. This works especially well because of the asynchronous nature of network usage - if we each bought our own connections, they would lay dormant much of the time. We imagine that some day, the entire town of Grinnell might purchase access cooperatively. That day has not yet arrived, but we think it is on its way. This struggle for collective purchasing will have to happen in many towns and cities, the world over. It will have to happen for city blocks and subdivisions, in residential towers and intentional communities. This won't be easy to accomplish, especially when telcos catch wind of what's going on. Still, the obvious economic advantage to the end user (reduced cost) makes this an easy sell to the people.

Stage 2: The Digital Village
The unseen benefit of the aforementioned co-ops is that they wrest the terminal nodes of the network away from the control of the telco/ISP hegemony. This provides for the opportunity of network applications that are truly peer-to-peer. At first, this will only be able to happen within each isolated cooperative community. Imagine that Grinnell (or some other town) makes shared use of a few pipes, whose flow of information is distributed accross the last mile via mesh. Now imagine that each node of that mesh network is a Diaspora pod running a codebase that is specifically designed for use in mesh networks (this is in development, but a ways off). People will still have to rely on the big pipes for access to the wider internet, but to pass each other messages and participate in social networking, at least within the town of Grinnell, we will have achieved a truly peer-to-peer architecture. Thus arises the digital village. What used to be just a co-op for purchasing access has suddenly become a community that is able to share information directly with one another. It takes only a little more imagination to see that Diaspora is one of many applications that could run on this architecture. I happen to believe that the social network is the network's 'killer-app,' and so I have chosen to use Diaspora as an example.

Stage 3: Towards Unity
Stages 2 and 3 are seperated here for clarity, but it seems likely that stage 3 will begin shortly after stage 2, and take place concomitantly. Stage 3 is quite simple. Using packet tunnelling (something like Freenet or TOR, to give an idea) in concert with the existing global network, we can simulate the contiguity of geographically disparate digital villages. Suddenly, people all over the world are able to share with one another directly. Specify a user@a_node@a_network and you've got a unique address for each network user. Of course, the corporate giants still own the backbone at this stage, which is why we can only say *towards* unity. No uprising until Stage 4, please.

Stage 4: A Backbone of our Own
Stage 4 is when the dream of true co-ownership becomes a reality. We are already starting in on what needs to be done here, because it's a pretty tall order, and will take some time. (You gotta do what you gotta do). In Stage 4, we replace the corporate-owned fiber backbone with a backbone of our own. We believe that this will be accomplished via either a constellation of telecommunications satellites or the construction of HF or Whitespace radios . This won't come cheap, but as Patrick was saying, the upfront cost is all that we'll ever have to pay. Satellite dishes or TV-Band towers would replace the pipes that used to come from the ISP, and their connectivity could be distributed throughout every digital village. The only cost that anyone would ever have to pay for network access would be the cost of a mesh node (could be integrated into a PC, or shareable stand alone). Not everyone will be able to afford a node, which is why the roadmap doesn't end with Stage 4.

Stage 5: A Human Right
Once the Mesh Interface for Network Devices is global, we can focus our energies towards providing a node to anyone who wants one. We believe that access to the network is a human right, and this is our vision for supplying it to all of humanity.

A Few Notes:
A common counter-argument to this proposal is that mesh technologies don't scale beyond a few thousand nodes. Our rebuttal is that they won't have to. The federation of digital villages means that no single mesh would have to grow larger than some optimal number. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that mesh routing protocols will improve rapidly in the near future. The wide release of B.A.T.M.A.N. will provide for a significant improvement in performance of O.L.S.R. Just because something hasn't been done doesn't mean that it can't. We just need to focus our mental energies.

This roadmap comes from the work of the Free Network Movement. We are online at www.freenetworkmovement.org

I am a developer for Diaspora. We are online at www.joindiaspora.com

I am an ambassador for an organization called A Human Right, which is currently at work fundraising for the procurement of satellite bandwidth and equipment. We are online at www.ahumanright.org and www.buythissatellite.org


- - - end of the roadmap - - -


I apologize to all participants in the discussion that I could only take a snapshot of what is being said in a much more extensive discussion. But I do believe that this merits going outside the confines of the discussion group. Anyone seriously interested should get on the mailing list. It's a Google group:




As a personal comment, I would like to add that just last night, I attended a meeting here in Rome discussing the formation of a user cooperative in exactly the sense Isaac has described. We're envisioning a WiFi network among a number of users who collectively acquire the bandwidth to access the internet, but who are also able to communicate among themselves - including the free use of VOIP telephones - for a price that is a fraction of what each one of us pays separately to some telco, just to access the internet. 


This effort here in Italy is called Progetto Ragnatela or Project SPIDERWEB.


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