Redecentralize.org is an effort to find and promote projects that will help bring the internet back into its ‘native’ state, which is that of a decentralized, distributed network dominated by its users, not by central servers or grotesquely overgrown data silos.
The original Internet was decentralized. Anyone could set up parts of it. That’s why it won.
For various reasons, control of our information technologies is increasingly falling into a few hands. Some big companies and Governments.
We want it to become decentralized. Again.
The group, consisting of Irina Bolychevksy (@shevski), Ross Jones (@rossjones) and Francis Irving (@frabcus) has done several video interviews – 14 so far – which are posted on their site. The videos of those interviews (google hangouts) are about 20 minutes long and each one asks a developer of a distributed or p2p software project to explain what it is they are working on, and how it will help bring the internet back to being more distributed than it presently is.
The interviews are all linked from redecentralize.org/interviews/
There is a tremendous wealth of information in those interviews, so if you’re interested and have some hours you can dedicate, it’s worth listening. Here are some very synthetic summaries of what is being discussed.
Aral Balkan talks about the Indie Phone which will be a mobile phone that is projected to be as feature rich and attractive as anything out there, but that is also secure and running its own original operating system.
Richard Bartlett explains Loomio, a discussion software with a de-centralized decision-making process built in.
Michiel de Jong talks of Unhosted, which is an effort to separate the user meta-data from the server.
“… the idea of Unhosted web apps is that they are websites that don’t store your user data.”
Benjamin André, a French developer, introduces Cozy, a platform that puts all your web apps under a common umbrella and makes them talk to each other. Cozy Cloud is a private home server that can securely host all your personal data and make them available to you for use in your daily internet activities.
Daniel Silverstone, a Debian developer, is the creator of gfshare, a tool to split up important sets of data (documents) into parts, which can be stored in different locations, on computers or other storage devices. A certain number of those parts are needed to re-construct the data (the secret). Anyone who obtains less than the minimum number needed for reconstruction is out of luck. Their parts reveal nothing.
Daniel Siders introduces Tent, a protocol that allows to keep your data in one place – you choose whether you want them on your own computer or hosted somewhere. Tent lets your applications and your data interact.
“Like email and the web, Tent is protocol, not a platform. There is no central authority. No one can change the API terms of service or limit access. Build the apps you want, no one can shut you down…”
Tent is really a format for your data and media that allows sharing and publication. Your stuff will survive changes in hardware and software, far into the future.
Bjarni Einarsson from Iceland is creating an email client intended to allow people to migrate away from centrally hosted services like gmail or hotmail. Mailpile will make your email searchable, secure it by user-friendly encryption, and let your mail be hosted on your own computer, even on a small machine like the Raspberry Pie.
Jeremie Miller introduces TeleHash, intended to establish secure direct connections with other persons’ computers or data. Everyone has a ‘fingerprint’ or hash name and TeleHash turns that information into a secure, direct connection. Any content that is sent is encrypted.
TeleHash “is about creating a trusted path to the people you know.”
Christopher Webber has developed Media Goblin, a free software media publishing platform that anyone can own and run themselves. Two strong plus points of Media Goblin are that it can handle many kinds of media (images, video, documents and others) and it’s under your control, meaning it won’t “go away”, as publicly accessible places for your media sometimes do. An artist’s portfolio of works would be a common use case for Media Goblin.
Jacob Cook talks about arkOS, which is a lightweight Linux-based operating system that provides a simple interface which makes it easy to securely self-host your websites, email and files.
“arkOS is a framework for hosting different services that you would want to host, whether that be a website, a blog, your email, your calendar, your contacts, anything that is traditionally hosted on the Internet by a platform service, even up to social networks. All of these can be done at home with your own server.”
It’s not quite ready for prime time, which means you shouldn’t use it to host anything important just yet … more development is needed.
Paul Gardner-Stephen describes the Serval Project, which lets mobile phones make calls without a cell tower.
“Serval Mesh is an Android app that provides highly secure mesh networking, voice calls, text messaging and file sharing between mobile phones using Wi-Fi, without the need for a SIM or any other infrastructure like mobile cell towers, Wi-Fi hotspots or Internet access.”
The serval project wiki also describes a hardware “mesh extender” which helps phones link up in a mesh network covering a wider area.
Tony Arcieri is the creator of Cryptosphere, an open-source P2P web application platform for decentralized, privacy-preserving software which keeps users in control of their own content. Encryption of data is done on your own computer, before the data gets sent.
Adam Ierymenko’s ZeroTier One allows for the creation of flat virtual Ethernet networks of almost unlimited size.
“Ethernet virtualization is perfect for startups without fixed abodes, highly mobile consulting teams, companies spread across several offices, collaborative research groups that span academic boundaries, groups of friends who want to share files and play games, or anyone else who wants a local area network that isn’t so… local.”
Nicholas Tollervey has created drogulus, a programmable peer-to-peer data store. Nicholas also describes how a Distributed Hash Table works and how it can be used to enable distributed, decentralized storage of data by peers. Like most of the other projects that have been described here, drogulus is a work in progress.
What about the hardware?
The solutions being worked on and that are described here are all software solutions. But what about the question of hardware, how do we replace the centralized servers that hold our data, and that make it easy to intercept our communications?
Wired has an article on a hardware solution that is being developed now.
The Indiebox is a capable home server that can hold (and protect) all your data. With two 1 terabyte hard drives that mirror each other to have a backup, and an Intel Atom processor as well as 2GB of RAM, this family personal server will run several of the software solutions that are being developed right now.