Tag: decentralisation

Microcast #080 – Redecentralize and MozFest

This week’s microcast recaps my involvement in two events last weekend.

Show notes

The world is all variation and dissimilarity

Another quotation-as-title from Michel de Montaigne. I’m using it today, as I want to write a composite post based on a tweet I put out yesterday where I simply asked What shall I write about?

Note: today’s update is a little different as it’s immediately available on the open web, instead of being limited to supporters for seven days. It’s an experiment!

Here’s some responses I got to my question:

  1. Tips for aspiring Mountain Leaders (@CraigTaylor74)
  2. Decentralised learning (@plaao)
  3. Slippers and sandals (@boyledsweetie)
  4. Carbon footprint of blockchain-based credentials (@ConcentricSky)
  5. How educators can promote their good practices without looking like they’re bragging (@pullel)
  6. Why the last episode of Game of Thrones was so very bad (@MikeySwales)

Never let it be said that I don’t give the people what they want! Five short sections, based on the serious (and not-so-serious) answers I go from my Twitter followers.

1. Tips for aspiring Mountain Leaders

Well, I’m not even on the course yet (two more Quality Mountain Days to go!) but some tips I’d pass on are:

  • Be flexible with your planned route, especially in respect to the weather
  • Don’t buy super-expensive gear until you actually need it
  • Write down your learning experiences the same day as you experience them
  • Go walking with different people (although not with anyone who’s got their ML, if you want it to count towards your QMDs!)
  • Do buy walking poles and gaiters, even if you feel a prat using them

…and, of course, subscribe to The Bushcraft Padawan!

2. Decentralised learning

Decentralisation is an interesting concept, mainly because it’s such an abstract concept for people to grasp. Usually, when people talk about decentralisation, they’re either talking about politics or technology. Both, ultimately, are to do with power.

When it comes to learning, therefore, decentralised learning is all about empowering learners, which is often precisely the opposite of what we do in schools. We centralise instruction, and subject young people (and their teachers) to bells that control their time.

To my mind, decentralised learning is any attempt to empower learners to be more independent. That might involve them co-creating the curriculum, it might have something to do with the way we credential and/or recognise their learning. The important thing is that learning isn’t something that’s done to them.

3. Slippers and sandals

I’m wearing slippers right now, as I do when I’m in the house or working in my home office. I don’t think you can go past Totes Isotoner, to be honest. Comfy!

Given I live in the North East of England, my opportunities to wear sandals are restricted to holidays and a few days in summer. I had a fantastic pair of Timberland sandals back in the day, but my wife finally threw them away because they were too smelly. I’m making do now with some other ones I found in the sale on Amazon, but they’re actually slightly too big for me, which is annoying.

4. Carbon footprint of blockchain-based credentials

I’ll start with the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, which gives us a couple of great charts to show the scale of the problem of using blockchains based on a proof-of-work algorithm:

That’s right, the whole of the Czech Republic could be powered by the amount of energy required to run the Bitcoin network.

As you can see from the second chart, Bitcoin is a massive waste of energy versus our existing methods of payment. But what about other blockchain-based technologies, like Ethereum?

They’ve had the same problem, until recently, as Peter Fairley explains for IEEE Spectrum:

Like most cryptocurrencies, Ethereum relies on a computational competition called proof of work (PoW) . In PoW, all participants race to cryptographically secure transactions and add them to the blockchain’s globally distributed ledger. It’s a winner-takes-all contest, rewarded with newly minted cryptocoins. So the more computational firepower you have, the better your chances to profit.

[…]

Ethereum’s plan is to replace PoW with proof of stake (PoS)—an alternative mechanism for distributed consensus that was first applied to a cryptocurrency with the launch of Peercoin in 2012. Instead of millions of processors simultaneously processing the same transactions, PoS randomly picks one to do the job.

In PoS, the participants are called validators instead of miners, and the key is keeping them honest. PoS does this by requiring each validator to put up a stake—a pile of ether in Ethereum’s case—as collateral. A bigger stake earns a validator proportionately more chances at a turn, but it also means that a validator caught cheating has lots to lose.

Peter Fairley

Which brings us back to credentials. As I’ve said many times before, if you trust online banking and online shopping, then the Open Badges standard is secure enough for you. However, I can still see a use case for blockchain-based credentials, and wouldn’t necessarily rule them out — especially if they’re based on a PoS approach.

5. How educators can promote their good practices without looking like they’re bragging

This is really contextual. What counts as ‘bragging’ in one culture and within one community won’t be counted as such in another. It also depends on personality too, I guess ⁠— something we don’t really talk about as educators (other than through the lens of ‘character’).

The only advice I can give is to do these three things:

  1. Keep showing up in the same spaces every day/week so that people know where to find you (online/offline)
  2. Share your work without caring about recognition
  3. Point to other people and both recognise and celebrate their contributions

Remember, the point is to make the world a better place, not to care who gets credit for making it better!

6. Why the last episode of Game of Thrones was so very bad

I’ve never even seen part of one episode, so perhaps this can help?


Do you have any questions for me to answer next time I do this?

Cory Doctorow on Big Tech, monopolies, and decentralisation

I’m not one to watch a 30-minute video, as usually it’s faster and more interesting to read the transcription. I’ll always make an exception, however, for Cory Doctorow who not only speaks almost as fast as I can read, but is so enthusiastic and passionate about his work that it’s a lot more satisfying to see him speak.

You have to watch his keynote at the Decentralized Web Summit last month. It’s not only a history lesson and a warning, but he puts in ways that really make you see what the problem is. Inspiring stuff.

Source: Boing Boing

A portal into a decentralised universe

You may recognise Cloudflare’s name from their provision of of ‘snapshots’ of websites that are currently experiencing problems. They do this through what’s called ‘distributed DNS’ which some of the issues around centralisation of the web. I use their 1.1.1.1 DNS service via Blokada on my smartphone to improve speed and privacy.

The ultimate goal, as we seek to move away from proprietary silos run by big tech companies (what I tend to call ‘SaaS with shareholders’), is to re-decentralise the web. I’ve already experimented with this, after speaking at a conference in Barcelona on the subject last October, and experimenting with my own ‘uncensorable’ blog using ZeroNet.

Up to now, however, it hasn’t been easy to jump from the regular ‘ol web (the one you’re used to browsing using https) and the distributed web (DWeb). You need a gateway to use a regular web browser with the DWeb. I set up one of these last year and quickly had to take it down as it was expensive to run!

I’m delighted, therefore, to see that Cloudflare have launched an IPFS gateway. IPFS stands for ‘InterPlanetary File System’ and is a “peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol
to make the web faster, safer, and more open”. It does lots of cool stuff around redundancy and resilience that I won’t go into here. Suffice to say, it’s the future.

Today we’re excited to introduce Cloudflare’s IPFS Gateway, an easy way to access content from the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) that doesn’t require installing and running any special software on your computer. We hope that our gateway, hosted at cloudflare-ipfs.com, will serve as the platform for many new highly-reliable and security-enhanced web applications. The IPFS Gateway is the first product to be released as part of our Distributed Web Gateway project, which will eventually encompass all of our efforts to support new distributed web technologies.

As I mentioned above, one of the issues with having a decentralised blog or website is that people can’t access it on the regular web. This changes that, and hopefully in a way where we don’t just end up with a new type of centralisation:

IPFS gateways are third-party nodes that fetch content from the IPFS network and serve it to you over HTTPS. To use a gateway, you don’t need to download any software or type any code. You simply open up a browser and type in the gateway’s name and the hash of the content you’re looking for, and the gateway will serve the content in your browser.

We’re thinking about how IPFS could be used with the MoodleNet project I’m leading. If we’re building a decentralised resource-centric social network it makes sense for those resources to be accessed in a decentralised way! Developments such as this make that much more likely to happen sometime soon.

Source: Cloudflare blog

(Related: The Guardian on the DWeb, and Fred Wilson’s take on Cloudflare’s IPFS gateway)

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