Tag: decentralisation

The punk rock internet

This kind of article is useful in that it shows to a mainstream audience the benefits of a redecentralised web and resistance to Big Tech.

Balkan and Kalbag form one small part of a fragmented rebellion whose prime movers tend to be located a long way from Silicon Valley. These people often talk in withering terms about Big Tech titans such as Mark Zuckerberg, and pay glowing tribute to Edward Snowden. Their politics vary, but they all have a deep dislike of large concentrations of power and a belief in the kind of egalitarian, pluralistic ideas they say the internet initially embodied.

What they are doing could be seen as the online world’s equivalent of punk rock: a scattered revolt against an industry that many now think has grown greedy, intrusive and arrogant – as well as governments whose surveillance programmes have fuelled the same anxieties. As concerns grow about an online realm dominated by a few huge corporations, everyone involved shares one common goal: a comprehensively decentralised internet.

However, these kind of articles are very personality-driven, and the little asides made the article’s author paint those featured as a bit crazy and the whole idea as a bit far-fetched.

For example, here’s the section on a project which is doing some pretty advanced tech while avoiding venture capitalist money:

In the Scottish coastal town of Ayr, where a company called MaidSafe works out of a silver-grey office on an industrial estate tucked behind a branch of Topps Tiles, another version of this dream seems more advanced. MaidSafe’s first HQ, in nearby Troon, was an ocean-going boat. The company moved to an office above a bridal shop, and then to an unheated boatshed, where the staff sometimes spent the working day wearing woolly hats. It has been in its new home for three months: 10 people work here, with three in a newly opened office in Chennai, India, and others working remotely in Australia, Slovakia, Spain and China.

I get the need to bring technology alive for the reader, but what difference does it make that their office is behind Topps Tiles? So what if the staff sometimes wear woolly hats? It just makes the whole thing out to be farcical. Which of course, it’s not.

Source: The Guardian

Decentralisation 2.0

What this article calls ‘Decentralisation 2.0’ is actually redecentralising the web. There’s an urgent need:

A huge percentage of today’s communications flows through channels owned by a few entities, which in turn do all they can to influence these communications. Google alone comprises 25 percent of all US internet traffic right now, and has access to millions upon millions of users’ personal information. Where the internet was once seen as a tool for more societal freedom, it has come to represent the opposite.

The author takes aim at the so-called ‘sharing economy’ which, sonewhat paradoxically, actually entrenches centralisation, as companies like Airbnb and Uber exercise a lot of control over their platforms:

Counterintuitively, this is only possible because of a high degree of centralization: the company owns the identity of its participants, the transportation logistics, the payment mechanisms, the pricing, and the rules that govern the marketplace

The author has experience of bottom-up activism in Russia, usurping dominant players promoting unfair practices. I like his optimism about blockchain-based technologies. I don’t necessarily share it, but we can hope:

True decentralization is fast approaching. Before long, we will see it in public administration, finance, real estate, insurance, transportation, and other key areas — often enabled by the blockchain technology. Its purpose is not to destroy centralized systems, but to create extra relationships on top of them. While maintaining the advantages of conventional platforms, decentralization 2.0 will reduce people’s dependence on mediators.

Source: The Next Web

Cool decentralisation resources from MozFest

I missed the Mozilla Festival at the end of October 2017 as I’d already booked my family holiday by the time they announced the dates.

It’s always a great event and attracts some super-smart people doing some great thinking and creating on and with the open web.

Mark Boas co-curated the Decentralisation Space at MozFest, and recently wrote up his experiences.

Sessions incorporated various types of media, from photography and other visual artforms, through board games to hand assembled systems made out of ping-pong balls and straws. Some discussions dove into the nitty gritty of decentralising the web, many required no prior knowledge of the subject.

His post, which mentions the session that was run by my co-op colleagues John Bevan and Bryan Mathers, is a veritable treasure trove of resources to explore further.

Source: maboa.it

Venture Communism?

As part of my Moodle work, I’ve been looking at GDPR and decentralised technologies, so I found the following interesting.

It’s worth pointing out that ‘disintermediation’ is the removal of intermediaries from a supply chain. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple specialise in ‘anti-disintermediation’ or plain old vendor lock-in.  So ‘counter-anti-disintermediation’ is working against that in a forward-thinking way.

Central to the counter-anti-disintermediationist design is the End-to-End principle: platforms must not depend on servers and admins, even when cooperatively run, but must, to the greatest degree possible, run on the computers of the platform’s users. The computational capacity and network access of the users’ own computers must collectively make up the resources of the platform, such that, on average, each new user adds net resources to the platform. By keeping the computational capacity in the hands of the users, we prevent the communication platform from becoming capital, and we prevent the users from being instrumentalized as an audience commodity.

The great thing about that, of course, is that solutions such as ZeroNet allow for this, in a way similar to bitorrent networks ensuring more popular content becomes more available.

The linked slides from that article describe ‘venture communism’, an approach characterised by co-operative control, open federated systems, and commons ownership. Now that’s something I can get behind!

Source: P2P Foundation

The benefits of decentralised decision-making

I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions of this article, as I don’t agree with the (made-up) premises. At least it begins well:

As Henry Mintzberg noted in The Structuring of Organizations in 1979, “The words centralization and decentralization have been bandied about for as long as anyone has cared to write about organizations.” And that is a pretty long time, at least since 400 B.C., when Jethro advised Moses to distribute responsibility to various levels in the hierarchy.

The author, a ‘strategic advisor’, introduces four qualities he claims most managers wabt. I’d question this, and certainly ‘perennity’ which I think he’d be better off replacing with ‘resilience’. In fact, the whole article, by the time you get to the end, seems to be an attempt to explain why decentralisation is a bad idea. But then, he would say that.

In an age where the concept of “self-managed organization” attracts much attention, the question of centralization versus decentralization does not go away. Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein argue in the article “Why Managers Still Matter” that “In today’s knowledge-based economy, managerial authority is supposedly in decline. But there is still a strong need for someone to define and implement the organizational rules of the game.”

The trouble is, I think the rules of the game may have changed.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Decentralised projects to explore in 2018

This is a great post, giving an overview of lots of projects focusing on the decentralisation of technology we use everyday, as well as that which underpins it:

It’s becoming gradually clearer that the Facebook-Google-Amazon dominated internet (what André Staltz calls the Trinet) is weighing down society, our economy, and our political system. From US congressional hearings in November over Russian social media influence, to increasing macroeconomic concern about productivity and technology monopolization, to bubbling user dissatisfaction with digital walled gardens, forces are brewing to make 2018 a breakout year for contenders looking to shape the Web in the service of human values, opposed to the values of the increasingly attention-grubby advertising industry.

Source: Clutch of the Dead Hand

Photo: NASA