When you think about social networks, do you even realize how centralized and compartmentalized the prevalent systems are? Neither centralization nor artificial borders are inherent traits of a network though. Imagine you could only talk to customers of the same phone company you use. Or you could exchange emails only with customers of the same service provider. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? And yet this lack of interoperability is the reality with most social networks today.
Blogging -> wordpress
Blogging is about the only category here that is fairly decentralized. You can host your own blog without any problem. Even though wordpress seems to have the lion’s share of feeds, rss and atom are open standards. And indeed lots of products and platforms offer that functionality. And most important: you can freely choose the software that fetches all the news for you. The same system is also used for podcasts, videocasts and various other content you can subscribe to. Lately, wordpress is even used increasingly to build regular websites. It is also what powers the blog you’re currently reading.
Microblogging -> twister
Everybody knows twitter. People who use it say it was great before they had to start pleasing their share holders. It was used for communicating in the North African revolutions. Sounds ironic, given it’s centralized nature. It’s easy to revoke free speech with centralized systems. Nobody is astonished when it happens in turkey. Lately I read that even in the UK they think about blocking twitter when things are going out of control.
There was a more open alternative called identica, but I don’t know if it’s still used a lot. I saw twister mentioned a while ago, and thought that’s something I should have a closer look at. Only last week I installed it and started playing with it. It triggered new interest in the whole topic. It is based on BitCoin and torrent systems, thus completely decentralized. A blockchain is used to register users, and torrents to distribute the content. Installing is as simple as adding a ppa (personal package archive from launchpad.net) and apt-get install it. As I don’t use twitter, I don’t know for sure, but I think the user experience should be similar except for ads. And while twitter provided rss feeds a long time ago, but stopped due to monetization, it is no problem with twister. While they say it’s in alpha stage, I had no issues, and the experience is better than with many commercial software. One downside it currently has is that a lot of handles for big company names or celebrity names were reserved early on by hwo knows whom. There is no mechanism to transfer a handle other than sharing the secret key. Maybe an expiration model such as with namecoin would be appropriate here. My handle is @ulrichard, if you want to follow me.
Social networks -> diaspora or gnu social?
I never really got it why I should be on facebook. You could describe their business model as a man in the middle attack. You chat with friends and there is always someone nearby who listens in and takes notes. Then he sells the information he gathered. And if he pleases so, he can even block you from chatting with your friends altogether. Sounds over the top? Think about it.
I do have a google+ account, but I actually never used it. It was forced on me to be able to keep uploading videos to youtube. The same criticism as for facebook also apply to google+. But the worst thing is that they are not interoperable. Why do people have to be on the same platform to interact? That is a huge step backwards.
Diaspora was touted as an alternative for a long time. I wanted to give it a try, and I routinely check the packaging status. Usually I only use software that I can apt-get install, and thus is automatically updated, cleanly uninstalled, and I can check what files belong to it and where they go. If it is written in a language and environment that I’m familiar with, I might compile it to give it a try. I’m not familiar with ruby at all. Apart from that, I make very few exceptions from my apt-get rule. So, I’m still waiting for the diaspora packages.
Then I recently learned about gnusocial. It also looks viable, but again, no deb package. So I’m waiting here as well.
Messengers and Video calls -> Tox
Skype used to be great before it was sold to Microsoft. We used it a lot to phone home on our South America trip in 2007. Then GoogleTalk used to be even better until they terminated xmpp federation, and subsequently even switched to a proprietary protocol.
For text messages, xmpp is still perfect, but for voice calls it was difficult for a while. I once tried mumble, but can’t remember at the moment, what I didn’t like about it. My SIP VoIP experiments didn’t lead anywhere. And all the proprietary apps like WhatsApp really don’t cut it for me.
Only through twister I learned about tox. It’s still a mystery to me why I didn’t know about it sooner. It is easy to apt-get install from a ppa, and just works. They say it’s at an early stage and can be buggy. I had no issues so far. Nothing more to say… other than my tox id : 75A6B5F621BF142FA836E58A96023EE8F51AE0446FD85B2FBAFB378F4034E265EFF16B919A7A
Chat -> IRC, BitMessage, TorChat
I almost forgot to mention chat. IRC has been there forever. In my early chat experiences in the nineties I didn’t know about the technology behind, but in retrospect I assume it was powered by IRC. I still use IRC regularly, mainly on freenode to discuss about OpenSource software.
There is BitMessage which uses some ideas from BitCoin to run a fully anonymous stealth communication network. I like the idea and the concept, but getting a message through can sometimes take it’s time.
And recently I learned about TorChat. It worked fine the one time I used it. It makes use of the tor onion router to hide the communication, but appart from that it’s not associated with the tor project.