Forget Net Neutrality. Think personal clouds instead

The FCC Net Neutrality decision on Dec. 14th, 2017 (*) has rightly caused a lot of outrage, and concrete reactions, both political (e.g. petitions) and technical ones

(if you have no idea yet of why you too should be worried, please read this first). Several contacts of mine have asked me what I think of those technical reactions. Here’s what.

Forget Net Neutrality. Think personal clouds instead /img/net-neutrality-dead.jpg

The “technical” concrete reactions we’re talking about are, broadly speaking, projects to build some more or less physical network that replaces the current Internet. Here are some examples:

  • “Join Peer-To-Peer, Community-Run Internet”
  • Holo a “distributed web with user autonomy built directly into its architecture and protocols. Data is about remembering our lived and shared experiences. Distributing the storage and processing of that data can change how we coordinate and interact. With digital connection under user control, Holochain liberates our online lives”

These are all very cool projects, or experiments. Probably, regardless of my opinions, they’re quite necessary too. Still, they really remind me the notorious Tree Swing project:

Forget Net Neutrality. Think personal clouds instead /img/net-neutrality-and-problem-solving.jpg

For the records, I’ve thought for years that DIY/bottom-up/spontaneous mesh networks… are, in western metropolitan settings at least, a necessary evil, not THE best possible solution.

In any case, almost all of these “P2P, community-owned” new Internets I’m hearing about these days seem to me as sources of more digital divides, not of wider communities. Even in “first world” nations, only a minority of “rich” people has the right combination of enough stable bandwidth, electricity, skills, spare time or income to access them.

P2P, community owned, neutral-again networks. Yay! Or not?

Third, and most important: OK, let’s fast forward to the moment when you have indeed built this wonderful alternative, 100% neutral and open Internet, with any combination of those p2p, bottom up networks. Then what? Seriously: then what?

What will have you accomplished, exactly?

I dare suggest that, in most cases, all you’ll have accomplished with any effort of that kind is…

  • with projects like Holochain: some new ivory tower to stay alone into
  • with physical network deployments: more opportunities for more people to enter, or remain inside, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail…. just like before. That is, just one more “platform” through which to be as slave, controlled and “farmed” as before. If you succeed, that is.

In other words, I seriously fear that all these revolutionary projects are uselessly complicated solutions to problems that, quite often, are not the most serious, or at least NOT the most urgent, to worry about.

On one hand, most people simply do not need something so complicated, nor can they physically or mentally handle it anyway.

On the other, the minority of geeks or “early adopters” who can and want use that stuff, will get quite little out of it in practice, if all they can use it for is communicate securely… just among themselves. I’ve had my own private email server for almost ten years now. I do it on principle and for other practical, but strictly personal reasons, not because it solves any of the real, high-level problems we all have with online communications today.

Having my own email server/archive accomplishes very little in terms of privacy, when at least 80% of the people I need to communicate with still pass our conversations to Google, because they refuse to have anything but a Gmail or similar account. No matter how cool Holochain is, you won’t be “liberated” inside, or by it, until all the people you need to interact with are inside Holochain too. How likely is that to happen? What if, 3 years from now, something technically cooler comes up? Will you all migrate again?

So, go ahead all you want with P2P, community networks (and remember to throw in some blockchain, somewhere. It looks better). Seriously. But forgive me for still feeling that they are just the smallest, and possibly the least urgent parts of what is needed, and needed soon, to give people a “Free as in Freedom” Internet.

A humble proposal. Again

I’ve been saying for more than six years now, that:

  • in my opinion, neutral networks are surely necessary, but of very little practical benefit until ordinary Internet users remain without really usable, really integrated, really portable solutions to replace the Facebooks and Gmails of today. That is the most important, and most urgent task
  • these solutions must consists of personal clouds more or less like what I myself call percloud
  • the sooner some community-managed hosting provider, or consortium of such providers, manage to test the concept with a large scale pilot like this, the better
  • I could never do this alone, and not for free in any case. No issue. What matters is that it is done, soon. We’ve already lost 5 years

Last but not least… before endorsing or criticising this post, or contact me about it, please have a look at the background in my previous posts about Mastodon and the percloud.