What is a Decentralized Web? Part 1

In my relaunch post a few weeks ago, I raised the issue of building an open, decentralized web.

This paper launched the Decentralized Web Summit. It's signed by its author, Brewster Kahle, Tim Berners-Lee, and Vint Cerf.
This paper launched the Decentralized Web Summit. It’s signed by its author, Brewster Kahle, Tim Berners-Lee, and Vint Cerf.

As I write this, we mark the first anniversary of the Decentralized Web Summit (DWS) held at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. I wasn’t there, but was inspired by the ideas shared there. Click the link to see video of the keynote addresses given there, and much more information on what happened there. You may also find this Fast Company story from two of my favorite writers, Dan Gillmor and Kevin Marks quite useful.

It’s occurred to me that in the year since the summit, the term “decentralized web” hasn’t gained the traction among ordinary folk that “net neutrality” has.  In this and the next couple posts, I’m here to help.

We once solved a big problem with the internet

When the World Wide Web was born, most people got online through one of two commercial services: Prodigy and America Online. If you don’t remember, these companies offered dial-up access to news, games, and community — all of which were located inside the walls of each service. Both companies worked hard to keep you inside their walled garden, even after they started offering content from the open Internet.

At that time, your “online service” completely controlled what access you had to the information resources of the wider internet. They also controlled the look-and-feel of those resources, so even if they offered a gateway outside the walled garden, you might not realize it.

Eventually, demand for full internet access forced the corporate online services to acquiesce, even though they probably knew that their internally generated content could never compete with the wonders of the World Wide Web.

Today’s oligarchy

The problem today is not that far away from the early 1990s. Consider this:

Tim Berners-Lee, who won the Turing Award for inventing the World Wide Web in the first place, describes the new problem this way in this interview with The New York Times: “The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging. We don’t have a technology problem, we have a social problem.”

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times has a slightly different list; omitting Twitter and adding the operating system behemoths: he calls them the Frightful Five: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Do take his survey to see how badly you’re hooked.

In the same interview, Berners-Lee identifies the results of this oligarchical control of the Web:

“It controls what people see, creates mechanisms for how people interact. It’s been great, but spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content, taking you to the wrong websites — that completely undermines the spirit of helping people create.”

So here we are again.

One solution: (Re)Decentralize the Web

The long-term solution would seem to be breaking up the Frightful Five, and putting users in control. But that’s easier said than done. I have long advocated that writers should have an online home of their own, but Berners-Lee highlights the problem that is everyone’s.

In the interests of preserving your time, I’ll stop now. In the next couple of posts, I hope to further explain the issue of centralization, how it affects you, and show you some intermediate steps along the way.

One more thing: Another blog for the Open Web

I want to introduce you to AltPlatform.org, another blog devoted to Open Web technologies. The founders are folks I have a ton of respect for, and (like me) think the time is right to move forward on these ideas.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “decentralized web”? Does my premise reflect reality? What questions do you have? Leave a comment below, and I’ll try to answer in a subsequent post (if I don’t respond immediately).

 

Welcome Back! Let’s fight for an Open Web

A few weeks ago, I was preparing a talk on WordPress at a local university. I knew that posting here at Notes from the Metaverse was on the erratic side in recent months. Yet it was something of a shock to discover that more than a year had gone by!

When confronted with a fact like that, you have to ask yourself if it’s time to recognize that Notes had run its course, and let it slip quietly away. Maybe no one would notice after all these months. After careful consideration, I realized I still had something to say. Blogosphere: You ain’t rid of me yet!

New Focus: Defending the Open Web and the technologies that enable it

What is the Open Web?

Notes from the Metaverse has nearly always been about helping people use technology, and occasionally how to think critically about technology. Moving forward, that really doesn’t change much.

I saw a headline last week that startled me: “Can democracy survive the Internet?” Haven’t read the article yet, but one of the philosophical premises of this blog is that the Internet might be the most powerful force for democracy that’s ever been. My concern is that the technologies empowering people through the Internet are under attack, and their promise might fade — or even disappear — if we don’t pull together to preserve what we have.

Thus, post topics here may benefit from a little more focus. For the immediate future, most Notes will fall under these broad categories:

Software tools that empower

Starting with the things that won’t change: You’ll learn stuff about Linux, WordPress and other Free Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). You’ll also get news about the communities that surround the code. FLOSS represents the most empowering technologies for folks like you and me, because the goal is to put you in charge of the tools.

Defend net neutrality and universal access to the Internet

I’ve written a lot about net neutrality, because the basic principle of the Internet favors a level playing field, where everyone has equal access to every website. I use WordPress in part because it enables anyone, regardless of how much money or fame or sense they may have, to communicate with readers. If only the sites that can pay for a fast lane can find an audience, we all lose.

More on this to come, but in the meantime, do take a look at my earlier writings on the topic.

For an open, decentralized web

The fight for net neutrality is often portrayed as being between the big telecommunications companies and the big content companies like Google, Netflix, and Facebook. There’s some truth to that, but that’s not the fight I’m concerned with. The AT&Ts, Verizons, and Comcasts of the world that provide the “pipe” through which the vast amount of content arrives in our homes, offices, and mobile devices have much in common with the giant content companies who either view the average Internet user as either a pair of eyeballs to sell to, or the product whose content and privacy are for sale to advertisers.

Many of the founders of the World Wide Web, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, organized the Decentralized Web Summit in June 2016 to revive the idea that the web’s users should wrest control of the Web from the content oligarchs. Users should be able to control what information they want to receive, what they want to controbute, and not have to give up their privacy to participate in the conversation. I think this is a great idea, and will be reporting on its progress.

Details

Of course, this is a blog, so I reserve the right to diverge from these topics whenever I feel like it.

I’m hoping to return to a weekly posting schedule, but we’ll see how that goes.

If you’ve been reading these Notes for years (or even a decade), welcome back! Let me know what you think about these changes.

If you’ve come across this post through some other means, please take a look around. If you like what you see, please subscribe in the . Also check my main site at MichaelMcCallister.com.

Questions, comments, rebellion against the new themes? It’s all welcome, in the big box below.

Questions and answers: Ubuntu bq tablet – TechRepublic

After Jack Wallen’s recent review of the bq Aquaris M10 tablet, he was hit with a number of questions about the tablet. Jack addresses some of those questions to help you decide if the Ubuntu tablet is a worthy investment.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.techrepublic.com

Tech Republic’s Jack Wallen answers questions about the Ubuntu tablet, which he’s wild about.

See on Scoop.itUbuntu Touch Phones and Tablets

7 things you should know about openSUSE Leap

Leap is to SUSE what CentOS is to Red Hat and Ubuntu is to Canonical…

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.itworld.com

Swapnil Bhartiya offers another interpretation of what Leap means for both ordinary users and enterprises. Need a rock-solid enterprise server? Leap can do that. Like playing around with different desktop environments without having to install separate flavors like Ubuntu? Use Leap’s pattern system (though this has been an openSUSE feature for many years).

I’m not sure I completely understand his explanation of the update paths (the inevitable push/pull of stability vs. latest-and-greatest), but I’ll be looking closely at that while I play around.

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop

OpenSUSE Leap fuses enterprise-grade stability with cutting-edge software

Over the last year, the OpenSUSE community transformed its development process and now promises us “the first hybrid Linux distribution”—OpenSUSE Leap.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.pcworld.com

Nice review of Leap 42.1 from Chris Hoffman at PC World. Focuses on the new development process (SLE to openSUSE instead of the other way around).

I’ll be installing Leap this weekend. Looking forward to telling you what I think.

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop

Missing NaBloPoMo

For the last few Novembers, I’ve been posting at a feverish pace (for me, anyway) as part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The goal is to post every day this month as a way to jump-start your writing and building an audience.

So this year, I’ve got too much going on, I’m afraid. Got some projects that may soon come to fruition, and I’ll be able to talk about them when we get there.

Tomorrow, I’ll be downloading a fresh copy of openSUSE Linux, now called openSUSE Leap 42.1, which I’m really excited about. I’m tidying up my current copy in breathless anticipation. This follows the (coincidental) installation of Firefox v42 today. As I tweeted earlier today (with the unforgivable error of getting Douglas Adams’ name wrong):

It’s a common lament: I wish I had more time to blog. What really bums me out is that I get a real good rhythm going during NaBloPoMo, and then I lose that momentum over the holidays. So I’m going to try something different this year, though I don’t really know what that will be yet.

Just because I’m not doing it, it’s not too late for you to start! November is a great time to start (or kick-start) your blogging habit. Click here to register. There are prizes!

If you participate, drop a link in the comments below.

Go look at some of my previous NaBloPoMo posts.

openSUSE Leap Second milestone expected soon – Release schedule posted

Sourced through Scoop.it from: news.opensuse.org

Milestone 2: September 4

Package/Artwork due: September 20

Beta 1: September 24

Release Candidate 1: October 15

Gold Master (ISO ready to go): October 30

Formal Release: November 4 (at SUSECon Amsterdam)

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop

Work begins on totally new openSUSE release

Deep thought and some additional core SUSE Linux Enterprise source code have given The openSUSE Project a path forward for future releases.

The change is so phenomenal that the project is building a whole new release.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: news.opensuse.org

Douglas Adams told us that the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything was “42.” The openSUSE team wants you to start thinking that by this fall, you’ll find that you’ll find the answers to your computing problems in its “42” release.

Actually, the number represents the project in the Open Build Service, but it certainly resonates nicely with the “geeko” community that openSUSE has been building over the last decade.

Release manager Stephan “Coolo”” Kulow says the first milestone will be ready “soon.” I’ll be psyched to see it.

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop

Digital Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

Been reading a lot lately on one of my favorite topics: How to realize the democratic promise of the Internet.

You have to do more than vote periodically to call yourself a citizen. Especially true when it comes to the Internet, where no one really votes to decide on the critical issues.

That’s why the impending US Federal Communications Commission vote on net neutrality is so important — because we all had a role in moving the bureaucrats toward the right answer.

That’s not what I’m on about today, though. There’s a convergence of coincidences to tell you about.

Consent of the Networked

Sunday, I finished Consent of the Networked, Rebecca MacKinnon’s book from 2012 (and an update for the 2013 paperback edition) about the “worldwide struggle for Internet freedom.” MacKinnon is a former CNN correspondent in China that now manages Global Voices Online. This is a good, if occasionally dated, outline of the various battlegrounds facing human right activists when taking their struggles online.

centre
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As is typical of these types of books, it closes out with a manifesto intended to describe the perfect online world. These are usually quite inspiring, but lacking in ways of getting from here to there. While I don’t agree with everything MacKinnon wrote in these pages, she does indeed realize that without a social movement, we won’t ever get her manifesto realized, or anyone else’s vision. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.

(Something else I’m not on about today, but might be some other time: In a perfect world, the global Internet might be rightfully managed by a global organization that might have a name like the International Telecommunications Union. MacKinnon persuades me that in this world, that’s a really bad idea.)

MacKinnon proves her commitment to this principle (of action) by maintaining the book’s website consentofthenetworked.com, years after its publication. She blogs actively there, but more importantly she maintains a directory of digital democracy activist organizations on the Get Involved! tab of the site. I know it’s real and current because some of the listed organizations weren’t born yet when the paperback came out.

Building a Bottom-Up Internet Movement

Monday, I was going to begin working my way through the list to find places for information and the best places to channel my own energies, but then this piece on Medium showed up in my news feed. It’s called “Building an Internet Movement from the Bottom Up” by Tim Karr, one of the leaders of Free Press. Fabulous essay, with a couple of very important reminders:

It’s a fight not playing out between smartphone packing protesters and security forces, but among the Internet governance community — a globe-trotting tribe of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international agencies, world leaders and corporate CEOs.

For as long as the World Wide Web has existed these groups have debated its control and administration. What rules should govern a network that transcends national boundaries to connect people everywhere?

It’s a discussion — replete with international agency acronyms and jargon (“multistakeholderism” anyone?) — that leaves the rest of us scratching our heads.

and there’s a new coalition of civil society organizations:

The coalition is organized on the belief that the Internet must evolve in the public interest with the full participation of the billions of Internet users who aren’t in the mix at Davos.

It plans to build a global network of grassroots groups that can better organize and amplify the concerns of those people often on the wrong side of the digital divide. The group plans also to convene the first Internet Social Forum later this year.

And hey, there’s going to be another manifesto developed! But not just out of a single mind, this will be (theoretically) the result of a crowdsourced process over the coming months. With a global coalition of organizations that (theoretically) will commit to realizing it.

I hope there’s some way for folks like me to get involved in this process, though. Seems focused (for now) on organizations.

Will follow this process closely. Let’s make it work!

Notepad++: A Very Special Software Update

I opened my Notepad++ text editor and got a most interesting surprise. It told me there was an update available, and did I want it? That’s not unusual; but what happened next certainly was.

The software quickly updated, and (again as usual) asked me if I wanted to run it. When it opened, the following text magically typed itself into a fresh file:

Notepad++ Je Suis Charlie ediiton
Notepad++ Je Suis Charlie edition

Pretty darn cool. I salute the Notepad++ team, and all who have taken a stand for free speech, free press and free expression.

Apparently the Notepad++ developers paid a small price for this tiny bit of courage. Read the linked article and the Related Articles below.