If there is one thing we should learn from what is happening to WikiLeaks, it is that large and centralized services cannot be trusted to stand up to political pressure. Whether it be cloud servers, mainstream payment systems or something as simple as a pointer to your domain that suddenly Just doesn’t work any more, we need better alternatives. Just as WikiLeaks was forced to diversify and retreat, so could a number of other websites. Perhaps they are less high profile today but who can guarantee that tomorrow the won’t come to someone’s attention and find themselves a target.
Are we going to learn that lesson? That’s the question Glyn Moody asks in “Lessons from WikiLeaks: decentralize, decentralize, decentralize”
One idea the article promotes is to make hosting blind. The program is called “unhosted” and it puts a layer of encryption between the provider of hosting space and the creator of a website (a blog for example) as well as the users who fill the site with pages, posts, comments and so on.
“We need to break the one-to-one link between the software publisher who writes a web site (e.g. Google, Inc) and the ‘hostage provider’ who hosts that web site (e.g. also Google, Inc). If we create a simple grease layer in the form of an open standard between the hosted software and the servers that host it, then this is decoupled.”
“As a first step, I’m working on a prototype that I hope to launch in time for Christmas, so that web devs can play with it over the holidays. A web site’s code will need to be very Ajaxy first, so that all the servers do is store and serve json data. No server-side processing. Next, we need to switch from transport-layer encryption to client-side payload encryption, because we no longer necessarily trust the server we’re talking to. Then we need a bit of code-signing, to know we can trust everything that is running in our browser, and we’re done. The user will have the same experience (except for a one-off plug-in-prompt), but the web site is unhosted in the sense that the servers you talk to only see encrypted data and don’t even know which application you are running.”
The article also touches upon search, where google dominates today. There is an upstart p2p search engine called YaCy that is available for programmers and administrators to incorporate into their sites. It is missing a large user-base to be really effective, but then that is the problem with all software in the p2p area, the catch-22. It isn’t very useful unless it has many users and it can’t get many users unless it’s useful… Time to lend a hand here.
The payment solution which is mentioned – Bitcoin – is an interesting development. It basically allows generation of coins by using your computer’s computing muscle. Generating coins is a slow affair, and it is destined to get more and more difficult with time. According to the Bitcoin FAQ:
“New coins are generated by a network node each time it finds the solution to a certain mathematical problem (i.e. creates a new block), which is difficult to perform and can demonstrate a proof of work. The reward for solving a block is automatically adjusted so that in the first 4 years of the Bitcoin network, 10,500,000 coins will be created. The amount is halved each 4 years, so it will be 5,250,000 in years 4-8, 2,625,000 in years 8-12 and so on. Thus the total number of coins will approach 21,000,000 over time.”
Unfortunately the developer of bitcoin has set a maximum of bitcoins to ever be created, which will make this currency highly deflationary. The more users that will want to use bitcoin, the more they will have to compete for the use of a limited amount of coins. Coins will become worth more and more, meaning less bitcoins will buy more product. Those who will profit from this deflation are going to be the “first come” users, those who created bitcoins when it was still relatively easy.
I believe bitcoin is an interesting proof-of-principle for a user-generated currency, yet it is not a currency that can guarantee price stability. Because of the fixed total amount of coins to be created, the currency cannot be adapted to a growing market.
In any case, there’s more in the article. Here’s the link again: