One year ago I launched a proposal, with related fundraiser, for an alternative to Facebook, Gmail and similar services really usable by normal people, the percloud. That fundraiser did not succeed, which is no problem at all for me, because I do have many other things to do. I am writing this post only because I believe that something like the percloud is still sorely needed, and the sooner anybody does it, the better. Seriously. Here’s why.
The current conversations around Ello confirm for me what I said in 2013: not only Ello, but Diaspora, FreedomBox, arkOS, Mailpile and all the other “Facebook/Google killers” I’ve seen so far don’t see the right problems, at least not in the right order. One great example is this exchange I had last week on Twitter, here edited for brevity:
“Can we get a little vocalness from #Diaspora users out there? There’s a big FB exodus going on….to #ello! #WhatAWaste
Are you saying diaspora is too complex?
@mfioretti_en: yes. For avg FB user #diaspora is waaay too complex & lacks email. That’s why I say percloud
Diaspora has messaging, and um, have you even used diaspora? Its 1000 times more simple, settings, privacy, etc
“Yadda yadda?” Conversation over. Learn to speak with respect.
Of course, I meant no personal attack. Really! Here is what I meant but didn’t convey accurately in tweets: what I DO find “minor detail or boring and repetitive” are not those projects, or their developers, in and by themselves, only basing their whole promotion, urgency or general necessity on the specific arguments and lines of reasoning mentioned in the tweets above. This is another explanation, which I do owe to those people and everybody else, of why I say so.
Geeks can shout from the rooftops till they faint that “Diaspora is 1000 times more simple, settings, privacy, etc”. It doesn’t matter. The other 95% of humankind will continue to call Diaspora & friends “a clunky user experience…Even signing up feels like a rigmarole compared to other networks”. Many activist continue to be offended if you ask them to not use Facebook. Jake Edge, not me, wrote that ”(Marco) does have a point, and it is one that free software efforts often fail to consider”. Lessig himself acknowledged last year that “Wonderful work has been done that didn’t produce stuff everybody is using”.
We need something that OTHERS will use, not something PERFECT
Personally, I (and the same applies to all other geeks proposing other solutions), have NO NEED AT ALL for anything like Diaspora, arkOS, Mailpile etc. I already have my own personal email server, self hosted blogs, online bookmarks and so on. I am not on Facebook because Diaspora & CO suck. I am on Facebook only because the many people I absolutely need to reach will rather chop their fingers than configuring something like Diaspora or arkOS.
What I need is to give to THOSE people, as soon as possible, a SINGLE, really really turn-key, all-in-one, simple way to communicate with me. But they will accept that thing ONLY if, besides being simple by THEIR definition of simple, it has what THEY want.
The great majority of adult Internet users of today doesn’t care at all about PRISM. They just want themselves or their kids not monitored by online advertisers, or their bank to not look at them as risky customers, just because they have too many Facebook friends who are late with their mortgage payments. They don’t even want to leave Facebook completely: they just want a really easy way to put there ONLY certain stuff.
So what? Who the hell cares if something like that would not be “real secure”, state of the art crypto etc etc? It’s not my fault if NSA knows my email. It’s the “fault” (please note the quotes!) of all the people I can’t ignore, but who will only exchange message with me through their Gmail accounts.
The truth is that I would get much greater protection than I have now, from all levels of snooping, much sooner, by getting all my friends and colleagues to use their own ORDINARY (mail server+federated WordPress blogs+…) virtual boxes…without encryption, than if I set up something like pybit or Diaspora, which none of them would accept to interact with.
Scattering individual mail servers and blogs all over the Net makes grabbing the same amount of USABLE data much more costly than just tapping in a few data centers. Especially because much of that traffic would become local, never touching border routers or main fiber trunks.
This is why the insistence that “real” (in the Diaspora/arkOS/freedombox/etc sense) solutions are simple enough, or sufficient, or the most urgent thing to do, makes me go “yadda yadda”. I submit that not giving first, to all Facebook/Gmail users, something surely imperfect, but much more mentally affordable by those end users, and much simpler to implement for developers could make large scale adoption of those or any other privacy protection technology much harder. Because…
And we need it SOON
An even more critical things that, in my opinion, many people miss is that “real solutions” seriously risk to go the way of Betamax and similar superior technology that didn’t appear at the right moment. Every semester spent waiting for nothing less than the “ultimate solution” makes it much harder to get the mass of Internet users out of centrally monitored/monitorable walled gardens, where they have NO privacy at all, and to make the next NSA/PRISM/etc impossible. First, because every semester inside Gmail, Facebook, etc… is more content, contacts and so on that one risks to loose if he or she migrates. Second, because “digital natives” is mostly a marketing and political scam: too many younger people don’t get these issues at all. We need to give them “cool”, mindless alternatives quickly, even if they aren’t perfect, or they will be hooked for good.
Comments and questions are very welcome, but please don’t make them before reading the Percloud questions I have already frequently answered, thanks!