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posted by janrinok on Friday August 30 2019, @12:08PM   Printer-friendly

Mike Masnick, usually editor for Techdirt, has written an essay on a technological approach to preserving free speech online in spite of the direction things have been heading in regards to locked-in platforms. He proposes moving back to an Internet where protocols dominate.

This article proposes an entirely different approach—one that might seem counterintuitive but might actually provide for a workable plan that enables more free speech, while minimizing the impact of trolling, hateful speech, and large-scale disinformation efforts. As a bonus, it also might help the users of these platforms regain control of their privacy. And to top it all off, it could even provide an entirely new revenue stream for these platforms.

That approach: build protocols, not platforms.

To be clear, this is an approach that would bring us back to the way the internet used to be. The early internet involved many different protocols—instructions and standards that anyone could then use to build a compatible interface. Email used SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). Chat was done over IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Usenet served as a distributed discussion system using NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol). The World Wide Web itself was its own protocol: HyperText Transfer Protocol, or HTTP.

In the past few decades, however, rather than building new protocols, the internet has grown up around controlled platforms that are privately owned. These can function in ways that appear similar to the earlier protocols, but they are controlled by a single entity. This has happened for a variety of reasons. Obviously, a single entity controlling a platform can then profit off of it. In addition, having a single entity can often mean that new features, upgrades, bug fixes, and the like can be rolled out much more quickly, in ways that would increase the user base.

Earlier on SN:
Re-decentralizing the World-Wide Web (2019)
Decentralized Sharing (2014)

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by fadrian on Friday August 30 2019, @01:07PM (2 children)

    by fadrian (3194) on Friday August 30 2019, @01:07PM (#887740) Homepage

    The protocols he mentions as solutions are still out there for people to use. Why he thinks that something that's less pleasant to set up and use will be used over things that are already set up and easy, I have no idea. Plus the network effect. The bottom line is that most people will always take actual product over protocol - even if they are the product.

    That is all.
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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by mobydisk on Friday August 30 2019, @05:47PM (1 child)

    by mobydisk (5472) on Friday August 30 2019, @05:47PM (#887845)

    Why he thinks that something that's less pleasant to set up and use will be used over things that are already set up and easy

    It didn't have to be that way. The problem is the geeks didn't make it easy. And then the next generation of geeks forgot what protocols were, and so they made their own. Let's see how this happened:

    End user has a picture that they want to send to a photo-sharing site. Applications written in 2003 would have a button that says "Upload via secure FTP" They would enter a URL, and type in their login and password. This is great because it works with any service whatsoever. But it was hard because they had to know how to type in the address of the site. Is it Or was it We aaaaalmost had a good standard protocol here. What was missing was a way for the end-user to lookup the correct URLs. There's 100 solutions here, we just never implemented them. Geeks were happy memorizing and typing in URLs.

    If the program was made in 2015, the "Upload via secure FTP" option is gone. Instead, there are options like: "Send to MySpace" "Send to Facebook" "Send to Twitter" "Send to Instagram." Something very bad has happened. Now another provider can't enter the market without partnering with every photo editing app in the world. Or they have to make their own and convince everyone to use it. And the programmers have to implement a proprietary authentication and upload protocol for each one, so they are disinclined to do that unless it will make them money. The user can't send the picture to your own home page, or to a CMS, or to a dropbox, or... anything else. The user is now in a walled garden.

    In 2019, the problem got worse: Today the application that takes the picture is directly tied to the service. So if you want to send a picture to Facebook, people use the Facebook app. To send it to Instagram, they use the Instagram app. And so on forever. So now 50 apps replaced 1 app.

    But wait ... it gets worse. The operating system vendors (Microsoft, Apple) are now removing support for standard protocols from their OSs. Of course, Microsoft never really had decent FTP, SFTP, SSH, SCP, or anything like that anyway.

    Here's another way to look at this: Try to configure an email program like Thunderbird. Your email address is Thunderbird wants to know the incoming SMTP server name, the outgoing STMP server name, the login, the port number, and the TLS/SSL settings. That's idiotic. It is this way because the authors asked the end-user for information instead of discovering it themselves, and because the creators of the server software did geeky things expecting geeks to use the system. Thunderbird should have prompted the user for the email address then queried thE MX record to get the server name. And it should connect to see what the SSL settings are instead of asking the user. And the user name damn well should have been the email address, but all too often it was something else.

    • (Score: 2) by jmichaelhudsondotnet on Saturday August 31 2019, @09:37AM

      by jmichaelhudsondotnet (8122) on Saturday August 31 2019, @09:37AM (#888164) Journal

      This is awesome well said. lol

      Every tier 1 email support tech in the world hears you. I have been in those trenches, and you sit there thinking because oh will you have time to think while doing this over the phone, why is this literally poor grandpa having to type in port 25 and port 993? Is there really no automated way in this day and age?

      This trade off with going lower level most people face is yeah, FB is easy and free and everybody is doing it but perilous to your immortal soul, or an alternative that is expensive and difficult but gives you a magic internet book. This is where we are clearly stuck at the moment so I think it's great these people are working on it.

      I love my static site though(even though for the moment I rely on wordpress's cloudy blobware, I am so tired of caging my words in morphing, opaque, spooky, shafty T.O.S.,corporate bullshit. Decentralized marketing will be something to behold, I hope they pull it off. Content creators like me really need it.

      FB, goo and co are censoring everybody up in here and devising new and backhanded ways to outlaw thought itself.