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A blog for occasional writing specifically about freedom, and decentralised technologies.Follow in NewsfeedFollowing
I'm delighted to reveal that I'll be leading a new project for Moodle, the world's most popular learning management system, and one of my favourite open source success stories.
I'm working on this on a part-time basis until the end of 2017, producing a white paper which will detail in broad brushstrokes what the system is intended to do. For more technical users, I've been explaining it as a layer of libraries and APIs that connect together various elements of the Moodle ecosystem, providing just-in-time, contextualised information within the LMS itself.
Needless to say, I've been researching all kinds of technologies which, like ZeroNet, might be a great place to start - or at least provide part of the puzzle. In particular, right now I'm thinking that the following have a role to play:
There will be a blog for MoodleNet soon, and I'll update this post to point towards it!
In the meantime, if you've reviewed the MoodleNet documentation as it currently stands, and have ideas, then feel free to either comment below or reach out to me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog is now accessible via via blog.dougbelshaw.bit, thanks to the helpful people at Blockchain-DNS. They not only provided the domain for free, but gave me guidance to ensure it was set up properly.
Along with domains, they also provide an addon for Chrome and Firefox for surfing Emercoin/Namecoin/OpenNIC domains.
If you'd like to know more about how blockchain-based DNS is an important step in the future of the internet, check out this article. I'm also looking forward to seeing what comes of Blockstack, which bills itself as 'a platform for decentralised apps'.
Many thanks to my good friend (and co-op co-founder), Bryan Mathers, who drew the image which now adorns the top of this blog. It replaces my ugly mug, and was inspired by a conversation we had where I described investigating ZeroNet and decentralised technology as like falling down an Alice in Wonderland-style tunnel...
I've finally got round to reading a report from August 2017 from the MIT Media Lab's Digital Currency Initiative and the Center for Civic Media. It's entitled Defending Internet Freedom through Decentralization: Back to the Future? and is one of the best non-fiction things I've read for a while.
I'm particularly interested in the conceptual side of things and the mental models, rather than the specific examples. As such, my highlights might be different to yours. I'd encourage you to read it for yourself. While it's 112 pages long, I found it an enjoyable read.
The impetus for this research is the concern that consolidated publishing platforms have gained significant and possibly dangerous power over free speech online. As content curators, they have immense influence over civic discourse. As gatekeepers, their community governance policies have the potential to sideline important voices. In this report, we have explored two distinct, but interconnected meanings of the term centralization: 1) market centralization, where a handful of private companies now dominate personal publishing online and 2) structural centralization, where we see the consolidation in control over publishing infrastructure, such as data storage, identity authentication and data formats. (p.104)
Fast Company discusses decentralised technologies, universal basic income, and co-operativism:
Although the road to mainstream adoption is unpredictable, the quantum leap in popularity and interest that these [decentralised] technologies experienced in 2017 is very encouraging. The pace of innovation is now overwhelming, as each new level of sophistication builds directly on other recent breakthroughs. People are no longer asking if solutions can be found to the biggest problems with cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, but when.
For any of this to deliver on its promise, we have to want it to. We have to think systemically. We must recognize the social, economic, and spiritual dimensions of the polymorphous crises we currently face and commit to responding accordingly.
This will require embracing an idea that some may find counterintuitive: localization. We will not retreat back to the pre-globalization days, but we have to bring economics back to a more human and local level. We have to reinvigorate local communities. We have to stimulate and grow the informal economy upon which most of us rely in our daily lives: the caring and sharing that we automatically do with each other but which has no recognized value in the current economic paradigm because it doesn’t register as profit or loss.
Now there are two schools of thought as to how to get to that decentralized future where networks are owned by their participants and anyone can innovate on top of the network. One group believes that we need to start from scratch and build new protocols outside existing services. There are good arguments for that position, such as being able to iterate on a protocol with few users on the basis of feedback from early adopters. Another group though believes that existing services, some with millions of users, can give a new protocol immediate critical mass. They also point out that it may be possible to take a stepwise path where some centralized elements remain at first (for instance, ones that demand throughput right now that’s not yet achievable on blockchains) with a view to decentralizing those elements in the future.
I believe we should be pursuing both approaches. Getting to a decentralized future is too important to restrict right now how we are going to reach it. We will know in a decade or two what worked, but until then we shouldn’t be attributing ill intentions to fellow travelers simply for choosing a different path. We can be critical of specific steps and proposals. We can suggest how they might be improved. We can demand (increased) transparency. We can start or fund or own efforts. By all means: let’s do more, rather than less.
It's also worth checking out the comments section underneath Wenger's post, too, as there's some great links and informed opinions.
I've tweaked a section of this FAQ to make it a bit more understandable:
Bittorrent allows you to simultaneously download parts of files from 'peers' as well as a central server. That's what makes it so fast. In fact, it gets faster the more people want to access a file, unlike regular ways of downloading on the internet. (see this video)
ZeroNet is based on Bittorrent technology, so when you request a website, it goes looking for peers with the necessary files. The first file it downloads for you is an 'index' file named content.json. This includes important information such as the other filenames necessary to show the website and the site owner's cryptographic signature.
The content.json file is verified using the site address as well as the site owner's signature.
Once this initial verification is complete, ZeroNet downloads the other files required and verifies those, too.
Just as with regular files downloaded via Bittorrent, each site you visit is also seeded by you to others. Deleting your copy of a site means you stop seeding.
The site owner can modify the site because they have the 'private key' required to do so. When they do so, they cryptographically sign the new content.json file and publish it to peers. Once the peers have verified the integrity of this update, they download (and seed) the modified files.
This all happens really quickly! Because you've always got a copy of a website on your own machine, accessing it is fast, and (apart from updates) not dependent on a constant internet connection.
I've got no particular problem with this, other that it presents an unnecessary stumbling block / barrier when demonstrating the potential of using ZeroNet. Some people can't see past the current uses (a lot of porn / copyright infringement / ranting) to see future value.
It looks like I could create a public proxy on a domain I own (or a throwaway domain) pretty easily. I'll add it to the to-do list...
I happened to be in Barcelona with my father this weekend, and got caught up in the pro-unity, anti-separatist rally. There were hundreds of thousands of people chanting, marching, waving flags, tooting horns, and generally showing why Spanish people are awesome.
Predictably, a lot of the nuance of the situation is lost on non-Catalans (including myself). I almost facepalmed when I heard an older English woman say to a local holding a Spanish flag, "but I thought you all wanted independence?"
As with most things, the situation is fluid and complex. I should imagine things would have been quite different had the Catalan government announced independence on Friday. As it is, I can't see them being able to do that after this show of unity.
I can't sress enough how different this protest was to the kind of thing we'd see in England. Tourists were welcome, the mood was joyous and inclusive, and I didn't see anyone drinking alcohol.
Given I don't know enough about Spanish politics, all I can do is applaud the way the people on the ground are going about expressing their differences!
One of the great reasons to use ZeroNet for blogging is that, so long as there is one peer available, your website will always be up. There's no single point of failure.
Right now, my websites at various subdomains and subfolders of dougbelshaw.com are down. This blog, though, is always up - and, once you've synced, available offline.
Tomorrow I'm presenting at the ALL DIGITAL Summit in Barcelona. It's a short talk, and given the Catalonian referendum at the weekend, I decided to kick it off by talking about uncensorable websites, including IPFS and ZeroNet.
This blog runs on ZeroNet: