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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: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30 2019, @03:07PM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30 2019, @03:07PM (#887773)

    A great example of the primary problem of making protocols. (Getting agreement and wide spread use.)
    A closed platform sidesteps this issue.

    He is talking about the differences between a fixed binary protocol NTP and something more modern with human readable text encoding.
    They both have their place.

    The fixed binary coding makes kernel and hardware processing of NTP packets for accurate timekeeping possible.
    The text encoding keeps things simple and supports extensions.

    I happen to think that for the NTP application, binary is clearly the way to go, but the article disagrees.
    (It does seem like you could have your cake and eat it to with a text based negotiation phase to decide how to communicate in binary.)

    Protocol encoding is a side issue, the main issue here how could one implement Facebook in a open manner?
    That seems a discussion of economic incentives, trust relationships, and who holds/sees what information.

    For the information part,
    In usenet, the information is broadcast and then anybody can have it.
    In E-mail, the information is unicast and only the receiver gets it.
    Facebook is somewhere in between. A more complex situation made possible by their position as a universally used (and sometimes trusted) intermediary.
    Perhaps some alternate distributed security scheme could replace this?

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30 2019, @04:52PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30 2019, @04:52PM (#887827)

    As an aside on making the next version of NTP text based: cleatly that is a stupid step backwards.
    ESR is a scripter, a dabbler, so of course he would want to make it text based so that his primitive tools and lack of software engineering background can hack something together based on strings.

    Nobody uses this guy's software -- what little he produces.

    • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Friday August 30 2019, @05:07PM (2 children)

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 30 2019, @05:07PM (#887836) Journal

      Nobody uses this guy's software -- what little he produces.

      Sir Tim Berners-Lee didn't write much software, but we are all using the results of what he did write.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30 2019, @11:27PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30 2019, @11:27PM (#887969)

        You are comparing Berners-Lee to ESR?
        Jesus! Can you even name a widely used piece of software by ESR? He is famous for his WRITING, not his software.

        • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Saturday August 31 2019, @07:35AM

          by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Saturday August 31 2019, @07:35AM (#888148) Journal
          I'm not comparing TBL to ESR - but both have made significant contributions to the world of software. You shouldn't, IMHO, judge a person on a single metric while ignoring the others. I happen to think that NTP using text is a reasonable idea worth considering. Most of the configuration files in Linux are text based. It is easy to understand and to use, everyone has the tools to view or to modify them, and they work. What are your technical objections - not just that it is 'a stupid step backwards'. Why is sending text over the internet such a bad thing?
    • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Tuesday September 03 2019, @04:53AM

      by maxwell demon (1608) on Tuesday September 03 2019, @04:53AM (#889115) Journal

      You are aware that HTML also is text based?

      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
  • (Score: 2) by legont on Friday August 30 2019, @07:29PM

    by legont (4179) on Friday August 30 2019, @07:29PM (#887889)

    As a first step, Telegram has a reasonable model.

    "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.