Starfish – A User Owned Distributed Network

Raffael Kéménczy (http://kemenczy.at/) is proposing a roadmap towards a distributed net that will populate what has been called by someone else the “last square mile”, with our own wireless links. The network so established between our computers and phones will first of all function to interconnect us locally, stimulating local activity, exchange and interaction. It will also be linking us into what today we know as the internet, through dedicated, high bandwidth connections that can be acquired by the cooperative representing the participants in the local net.

Control of both hardware and software will be with us, the users, not with those large corporations that want us to be “consumers” of their offerings while collecting our identifying details and preferences to more efficiently target their advertising.

(http://kemenczy.at/index.php/starfish) The most prominent internet services such as search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing), public information repositories (Wikipedia) and social networks (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) are highly centralised. Blogging platforms, cloud computing and online storage add to the amount of information and processing power which is not under direct user control but entrusted to third parties. This makes internet users dependant on suppliers of all these services in addition to their internet service providers. Furthermore, it raises concerns about security, privacy, network neutrality and freedom of speech, all of which might be violated intentionally, by accident or even by design.

The majority of internet users is unaware of the basic logic behind the seemingly all-knowing search engine Google, and its exact algorithm is a well-kept secret. Yet if information is not being listed on the first page, few users will ever stumble upon it. The world’s biggest social network is being entrusted with private details such as addresses, phone numbers and birthdays. Due to its very nature it also contains detailed information about any contacts and networks one belongs to. Upon including private pictures and the propensity of users to share their current location one might start wondering about the use cases of this veritable Face-book. Other examples of centralised services include Flickr, YouTube and blogspot.

The business of having users cede their sovereignty over information sources, publishing methods and private information is highly lucrative but renders users dependent and potentially vulnerable to exploitation by such entities. However, there is an alternative.

The goal of Starfish is to enable the creation of a world-wide user-controlled network based on a distributed mesh architecture. This is to be achieved through developing the necessary software and hardware which allows users to form such networks in an ad-hoc fashion independent of any centralised control. Its conceived advantages are the strengthening of net neutrality while diminishing the digital divide, improving local communications and resilience, increasing network capacity and renewing personal responsibility. Many of the required technologies are already available, so it is mainly a matter of developing and integrating them into a coherent structure to achieve these goals. The project is currently in conception, exploring the most viable methods of implementation and realisation. The current concept version includes information on goals, available technologies as well as ideas on implementation and motivation for people to build and join such a distributed network. While a non-profit method is preferred, it includes ideas on limited commercialisation to catalyse initial growth. The project is looking for people and organisations recognising the need for the development of such a distributed network and the will to contribute to its realisation.

To find out more abut the Starfish project concept, you can access the following documents:

Concept Overview

Presentation

Presentation (Video)

The Complete Starfish Concept

It seems to me that Kéménczy’s proposal is substantially in line with what we have been proposing and discussing here for some time now. There is a great need for establishing a user-controlled net and Kéménczy’s concept seems to be a well thought out and clearly presented roadmap to get us there.

While the Starfish project is still largely in the theory stage, a similar – perhaps a bit more practice oriented – approach is being taken by The Connective. Join the conversation on how to establish a user-owned local network, which you can find here:

http://theconnective.net/fire/

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