2nd Decentralized Web Summit Brings Piles of Working Code

Honestly, for a while there, I thought the movement for a decentralized web was quietly fading away. There wasn’t a followup to the 2016 Decentralized Web Summit, and hardly anyone outside of a television sitcom seemed to be talking about these ideas, much less building alternatives.

Well, I am here to happily admit I was wrong. Truth is, it takes time to build software that might change the world. The second Decentralized Web Summit happened at the beginning of August, again in San Francisco. I didn’t go, but followed it intensely from afar. The sponsoring Internet Archive promised “working code” as a theme, and it delivered. The summit opened with a “science fair,” where 70 different projects showed off what they’d been working on, and there were enough people to walk around and see the presentations!

Wendy Hanamura of the Internet Archive reported that 800 people registered for the conference. I don’t know what expectations organizers had, but that sounds like a lot of people to this observer!

Time to follow Mozilla

It’s really exciting to see how heavily involved folks at the Mozilla open-source browser project are with solving the problem of decentralization.

Before the Summit began, the Mozilla Hacks blog for developers started a series of posts “Introducing the DWeb.” Since then, every Wednesday the blog features a developer of a decentralized project describing the project. As of this writing, three projects received exposure:

Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker also gave a keynote address at the Summit, “Revitalizing the Web.”

I am really looking forward to a version of Firefox that supports the decentralized Dat protocol that Beaker uses.

Where was the tech media?

Startling that more mainstream journalists weren’t there. Vanity Fair profiled Tim Berners-Lee the week before, but as I write this, there were no reporters like Dan Gillmor and Kevin Marks writing stories for Fast Company as in 2016. I could be wrong, of course.

In the meantime, I can point you to a pair of good conference summaries:

Computing.co.uk: A nice summary from John Leonard

TheNewStack

More summit resources

As you can see, a lot happened. As I watch more video and otherwise catch up with what happened in San Francisco, I’ll keep reporting here. I’m also looking forward to playing with MIT’s Solid protocol, which I almost didn’t mention!

In the meantime: You can pretty much watch the whole conference in bits here. You can also spend some time following the #DWebSummit hashtag on Twitter.

Two more keynotes to bring to your attention:

  • Cory Doctorow always gives a thought-provoking talk, this one focusing on the question of “big tech.” I would have loved to seen any interaction he had with Tim Berners-Lee during the summit.
  • Host Brewster Kahle (founder of the Internet Archive) gave a laid-back talk about how we got ourselves into this mess, and how we can get ourselves out.

This is all to say that I am more confident that we may be at the dawn of another age on the Web than I was six months ago. I’ll still be writing about it, here and elsewhere.

Were you at the Decentralized Web Summit? What’s the most important thing I missed? If you weren’t there, do you wish you had been? Thoughts on the prospects of decentralizing the web on a mass scale are also appreciated.

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More Thoughts on a Decentralized Web

Last week, Tara Vancil from the Beaker Browser project posted a timely set of tweets about how supporters of a decentralized web talk to people about it.

In Plain English…

Some good ideas here, especially when aiming to win developers over to the cause. I truly hope this doesn’t come off as “mansplaining,” but in more common terms, more people might understand the benefits she raises in the first tweet:

  • Algorithmic transparency: You should be able to describe why you see what you see online. Content providers (including social networks) should also be able to describe what the rules are when they display some posts over others. Algorithms used in web development should be based on open standards. It should also be transparently easy to determine whether Internet Service Providers are providing fast lanes for preferred sites.
  • Customizable apps: You as a user should have control over what your software does. You should define what information you share and with whom.  The providers of a web service should not collect information about you that you don’t explicitly approve. The same terms go for Internet Service Providers, should you choose to use one.
  • Member-defined communities: In a decentralized web, you don’t need a service like Facebook or Google Plus to engage with other people like you. If everyone has a website, and used web standards to Mention and Comment on posts made by friends, colleagues or total strangers, that’s a decentralized community. In the early days of the Web, people set up “WebRings” of sites sharing similar topics. Rings helped users to find information on things they cared about. These sites often engaged in conversation with each other.  Sounds a bit like what people use Facebook for today.
  • Permissionless publishing: This is the essence of the Open Web. Anyone can publish anything online without getting someone’s approval first. Of course, this central value is a mixed blessing when some people, companies, and political entities (parties, interest groups, governments and the like) are not morally committed to publishing the truth. We need to remember that this has always been true. There’s a reason “It has to be true!  I read it on the Internet!” is a cliché.

Descriptive Names

Of Vancil’s more descriptive names, I’m OK with all of them, with a slight preference for “person-first.” All of them might get a befuddled reaction (“huh?”) at first, but should spark further conversation. The idea of putting people first will generate more smiles at first hearing, and may generate more ideas for how to put people first, which makes for a more productive discussion about what the web means with either developers or other persons.

Good News: Second Decentralized Web Summit

Speaking of conversations, there’s a venue for that! A second Decentralized Web Summit is happening this summer! As you may know, the drive to (re)decentralize the web gained a bit of public attention two years ago when some of the web’s founders convened the first Summit at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. The same folks are preparing a second gathering at the Internet Archive on July 31 – August 2. Visit the conference site to get on the Updates mailing list.

Announcement of the 2nd Decentralized Web SummitI hate when conferences skip a year, especially after the first time. It seems like nothing is moving forward. I’m glad to be proven wrong. The theme for the conference is “Global Visions / Working Code.” Certainly a hopeful theme. The conference founders (not-so-coincidentally present at the web’s creation) will give keynote addresses, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Mozilla Board Chair Mitchell Baker, and Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle.

They will be joined by some of the people building that working code: Juan Benet, the founder of the Interplanetary File System (IPFS), and leaders of the DAT Project, a data sharing protocol, on which you can build applications (like the Beaker Browser) and connect with other people. While none of these leaders are named in this announcement, I suspect (and hope) that Tara Vancil will be among them.

Assuming the conference will follow a similar schedule as its predecessor, the keynotes will be followed by workshops and other opportunities for participants to learn, discuss and collaborate. I hope more can come out of it.

Do these new terms help you understand the promise and the value of a decentralized, “people-first” web? What stumbling blocks do you foresee? Is this the future, or a futile bid for a world that has become hopeless? Thoughts, critiques, support and well-reasoned denunciations welcome in the Comments section. 

 

 

BarCamp Milwaukee 9: Another Useful Day

Last month, I went to BarCamp Milwaukee 9 for a daylong exercise in stretching my mind. I’ve written a lot about BarCamp over the years (I’ve only  missed two of the  nine events), and I’ve always found it useful (the attending AND the writing about it). Let me share some of what I learned. These are some notes on the sessions I attended with about 70 folks, a nice crowd.

Open Source Ecology

Some days before BarCamp, I received an invitation to join a new Meetup in Milwaukee called Open Source Ecology. It was the first time I’d heard the term, but as an “open source guy” with an environmental bent, the idea was pretty attractive. I needed to learn more before signing up, so when a group of folks showed up and introduced themselves as from Open Source Ecology, I was very pleased, and said so when it came my turn to introduce myself.

Here’s the elevator speech description of Open Source Ecology, from their website:

We’re developing open source industrial machines that can be made for a fraction of commercial costs, and sharing our designs online for free. The goal of Open Source Ecology is to create an open source economy – an efficient economy which increases innovation by open collaboration.

It’s an intriguing idea, and begins with what they call the Global Village Construction Set, a set of 50 machines designed to build other industrial machines to reconstruct civilization independent of today’s global capitalist economy.

English: Depiction of the 50 machines composin...
English: Depiction of the 50 machines composing the “Global Village Construction Set” by the “Open Source Ecology” project (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Milwaukee, they are working to build a machine that can turn buckets of ordinary dirt into bricks that are strong enough to build housing that meets modern building codes. Someday, instead of the old rural barn-raising festivals, we could see brick-house-raising parties for genuine Habitats for Humanity. Community building at its finest!

The Milwaukee group is also trying to partner with local educators to create a course focused on building the LifeTrac tractor, which sure sounds cool!

The discussion focused on the practicality of realizing this idealistic vision of building a new economy beside the existing institutions. Side note: they’re keen on finding better technical writers to help non-engineers build these machines.

These are good folks, and I’ll be following their progress. You can too, on their Facebook page.

Qt on Android and iOS (And windows, mac, linux)

Qt Logo
Qt Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BarCamps are by and for various types of geeks, but inevitably, there are sessions about programming. Sometimes I get attracted by these, despite not being a programmer. I actually tried one session about building a boot loader (software that allows you to run multiple operating systems on different hard drive partitions), but found myself drowning fairly quickly. I wasn’t the only camper who invoked The Law of Two Feet on this session, I’m afraid. This is the BarCamp principle of “if you’re not getting what you need from a session, walk away and find something useful.”

In the next session window (what turned out to be my last of the day), I was excited to learn that someone was giving a talk on using the Qt development framework to build applications for multiple mobile devices. Why get excited? Well, among the mobile devices that has adopted Qt as its default platform is Ubuntu. Technically, I’m writing a book on Ubuntu mobile devices (on hold until such a device appears in the US), and finding what programmers find cool, useful and unique about this framework is very helpful for writing that chapter.

So I watched this talk with keen interest, and learned much about how to work with the Qt Developer integrated developer environment. This young man had written an app to deliver dynamic schedules for Chicago Metra trains using Qt’s QML language (as does Ubuntu), and shared his process. If the book project resumes, I think I’ll be in pretty good shape.

After that session, I was dismayed to learn that I’d developed an ear infection and needed to get home. But BarCamp Milwaukee did help me yet again. I’ve always said that I would not be who I am if not for BarCamp, and look forward to next year!

Big Linux Day: openSUSE 13.1 and Ubuntu Dev Summit

Tux, the Linux penguin
Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy to report that I’m typing this little missive from my freshly updated Firefox web browser on openSUSE Linux 13.1. While I do that, the YaST Software Management module is busily adding an array of new software from community repositories located all over the globe. As I’ve noted 1000 times before (most recently in this post), YaST stands for Yet another Setup Tool, and remains the most wonderful thing about openSUSE.

Release News

Here are the inevitable set of links:

And here’s your download link

Meanwhile, Ubuntu Developers Meet Virtually

While most of the excitement may have surrounded the new openSUSE release, Ubuntu developers gathered around their computers for the November Ubuntu Developers Summit (UDS). I missed most of Mark Shuttleworth’s opening keynote, but hope to catch up with it later. It appears that he took some probing questions from attendees (when I came in to the feed, Shuttleworth was “denying the premise behind your question;” but I don’t know what the question was.) You can see the video (link above) at the UDS site.

I also lurked at the Documentation team round-table, where some planning got done. I will likely have more to report on this in the coming days. The Summit goes through Thursday.

Got questions about openSUSE, or Ubuntu Touch? Always happy to answer them here. Have you attended a developers conference (or hear Shuttleworth ranting)? Feel free to share your experiences!