Column: Bring Back the Decentralized Internet

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Stonewall

"It means going in with friends or neighbors on a server account somewhere, downloading software, and learning to run what you use."

This statement is much easier said than done. And frankly, it borders on irresponsible to suggest that average Joe internet users should be tinkering with their own servers just for the heck of it.

Granted, I enjoy tinkering just a much as anyone here. However, I also recognize that configuring and maintaining a public facing web server is not as trivial as the author seems to suggest. If a server is not configured correctly, updated regularly, and routinely monitored then it can very easily end up being hijacked by someone malicious and used to serve malware, send spam, etc. This type of thing happens routinely... heck, there's even a story on the front page of MaxPC right now about 25,000+ UNIX-based servers being used in such a way. It doesn't matter if the server's intended user base is "just a couple of friends who want to see my cat pictures." If the server is on the internet, someone will be prodding it for vulnerabilities within minutes.

I appreciate the romantic sentiment associated with the early days of the internet. And I'm all for more people taking control of their privacy. However, the internet of today is far different from the internet of 20 years ago. Users have to be very careful about what types of applications they run, and especially careful about opening ports and exposing those applications to the internet.

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MaximumMike

You had a few comments that got my brain ticking. These are less responses to your comments than they are my reaction to the spirit of what you're saying.

>>it borders on irresponsible to suggest that average Joe internet users should be tinkering with their own servers just for the heck of it.

>> If a server is not configured correctly, updated regularly, and routinely monitored then it can very easily end up being hijacked by someone malicious and used to serve malware

>>However, the internet of today is far different from the internet of 20 years ago.

Have you ever wondered why cellphones are so easy to setup? Or why it seems to be very easy to put all your personal data in the cloud and on social networking? Have you ever wondered why any idiot can easily plaster his credit card number and other personal information all over the internet?

Have you ever wondered why since the internet of 20 years ago it hasn't become just as easy to setup your own personal network that doesn't need the internet for every trivial task? Have you ever wondered why modern routers don't come with all the software you need to make personal networking awesome, but instead just pipe you into the net? Have you ever wondered why there is no awesome app that ties together all your home devices without exposing everything to the internet and by proxy a handful of mega-corporations who can't really be trusted not to share every facet of your life with the NSA?

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iheartpcs

Pure fantasy.

You suggest we do something but neglect to offer any means for how we can do it.

How can we connect to any other PC without going through our ISPs?

Are we to go back to dial up speeds?

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IntelFanatek

Lack of imagination my friend. I can think of a half a dozen ways to do this, few of them outside communes or compounds, but none the less, possible and even desireable. A LAN restricted web page? Might be fun for your household. Maybe something bigger.

There are practical reasons of why and methods of how this could be done of course. But to the critics and nay sayers note; the author clearly has a bit of whimsy to her stylings and purpose, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Another scenario I imagine might have a P2P VPN involved. IDK, just shooting from the hip here.

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MaximumMike

Its really more difficult to build your own website than it is to put a page on your personal LAN.

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IntelFanatek

No....no it really isn't. Scripting a page is scripting a page. That all depends on your level of sophistication and ability, but all seems relative to me, and I've done both. Of course I host my website elsewhere but the principles are the same.

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MaximumMike

My point was really that LAN restricted web pages are already possible and simple enough to setup. But just to elaborate a little further, I'm honestly surprised that the internet and cloud computing have almost completely eroded the notion of personal networking. Honestly, I always envisioned a home with a strong personal network that connected everything and then only reached out to the internet when it needed to. Instead, what we have are a bunch of mobile apps that are increasingly more audacious in their efforts to gather and share our personal data. What we need is something more than a decentralized web. We need a decapitated web. Instead of the web incessantly prodding into our lives to get what it wants, we should be prodding the web, only to get what we want. And the rest of the time, it should be denied access to our lives and our homes.

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IntelFanatek

I hear you there! Big thumbs up. But most people here, whether for their pragmatism, pessimism, or ignorance, argue that it's just not possible. There are legitimate difficulties to launching a new, underground network. Something REALLY REALLY REALLY significant would have to happen to spur the inspiration for doing so. But it could be done.

My argument is to start on home networks and own your own data! Reject the cloud. Everyone here can make their home PC a file server at very least. Build LAN webs and pages for friends for the fun of it, reminisce about the old days lol.

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MaximumMike

I agree completely. But the notion of taking the internet back out of the hands of mega-corporations, spammers, and the NSA and putting it back into the hands of the public does sound compelling.

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thematejka

Hey Quinn, nice article, as usual.

I wish you could write a more in depth article past 300 words (lets see a 1-3 page column :D). Then you could talk about the caveats, complications, and social implications of a decentralized internet. There are many trails to follow and many passes to take over this topic.

For instance, how would a decentralized internet affect consumerism and advertisements?

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IntelFanatek

Love this article! Harkening back to the nostalgia of my first days with computers. In 1990 interwebbing, hosting a web page, or writing some basic scripts was still very much a DIY endeavor. There was so much wonder and awe. We thought we were so cool, and nobody in our class knew what the hell we were talking about.....orignal hipsters lol

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Rebel_X

Welcome to the Dark Internet! Where the internet is truly decentralized. :)

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Peanut Fox

Last month I read about BitTorrent Sync, and how they were planning to use a a special web browser to sync web pages for users. Essentially the host makes changes to the website, users download from that host, and are then able to share that to others who want to access that web site much the same way BitTorrent file sharing works.

It went on to describe how they planned to re-purpose Bitcoin's unique hash idea (Colored Coins) to generate individual web addresses. You own the Colored Coin, you own the web address and can make changes to it.

There seems to be a few hurdles involving security (at least to me), and the limitation of static pages. How would you run any sort of content management or similar framework without a central server to make changes to? However, the general idea is workable, and there seems to be a number of outfits pursuing the same goal using similar ideas. I wouldn't be surprised if very soon we start to see these decentralized sites start to emerge.

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MaximumMike

Quinn,

I love your articles. Please continue your awesomeness.

One reference was lost on me though, "Angry Birds looked terrible on the PDP-11." Was that a joke, or was there some predecessor to Angry Birds that ran on the PDP-11?

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AFDozerman

Thing is, the Internet took billions upon billions of dollars worth of investment from various companies to create. We can't just usurp it suddenly and create a grassroots moment out of nowhere. It'll take a movement like the FOSS movement was and is.

I wonder how hard it would be to repurpose Frostwire into a Tor-like darkent...

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LatiosXT

The thing is that the internet standard is pretty much freely available. It's theoretically easy to usurp companies because all they provide is an infrastructure that can be trivially (for those who know how anyway) reproduced.

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LatiosXT

Wired technology would make this a nightmare infrastructure wise. Wireless though, would be trivial to do a mesh network.

As my friend keeps mentioning: Darknet.