Redecentralize Digest — February 2021
February was short (as usual) but packed, counting two new websites for the decentralisation community. Covered in this digest:
- The long-awaited DWeb community website launched, along with the “DWeb principles” declaration
- The second new website, the DWeb event calendar
- FOSDEM happened
- Thoughtful writing about “user domestication” and open platforms
- The CTZN social network, other updates, and upcoming events
DWeb website & principles
After months of preparation, the new getdweb.net website “connects the people, projects and protocols essential to building a decentralized web”. Created by a team convened by the Internet Archive (which also hosted the DWeb Summits and DWeb Camp), this website serves as a portal to find various resources, writings (including this digest), and the events organised by the “DWeb Nodes”, i.e. local communities in several cities.
The website also includes the publication of the “DWeb principles”. Created through several iterations of feedback and group discussions, these principles aim to define the values of the DWeb community. They are grouped in five overarching principles:
- Technology for Human Agency
- Distributed Benefits
- Mutual Respect
- Ecological Awareness
See also this post on how these principles came about.
dweb.events is another new community resource that launched this month. What started with Anna of Fluence asking us at Redecentralize how we populate the events section of this digest, resulted in a collaboration to create an online calendar (based on Nextcloud Calendar) with a small team of curators.
The calendar serves as an aggregator of events — workshops, conferences, meetups — that may be interesting to the wider community of decentralisation enthusiasts. Like with this digest, contribute your suggestions if you think something deserves being listed!
Unlike the events section in this digest, this DWeb Event Calendar is also updated not just once a month, and provides an iCal feed to show it in your own calendar app.
The free software developers conference FOSDEM was hosted virtually this year, facilitated by the Matrix team. Most recordings should be available now.
A few highlights:
- The whole Beyond Blockchain — Distributed Web track, which had talks about e.g. Holochain, Fluence, and Secure Scuttlebutt.
- The Legal and Policy Issues track, with talks about e.g. digital platforms regulation and net neutrality.
- Products vs Protocols by Matthew Wild: a talk about creating successful end-user products based on open protocols, talking about Snikket and Signal; also expanded on in a blog post.
In this post, Rohan Kumar digs into the nuances of vendor/network lock-in, using an unusual word for it:
“I call this type of vendor lock-in user domestication: the removal of user autonomy to trap users into serving vendors.”
Domestication seems an apt term; not overly dramatic like ‘imprisonment’ or ‘slavery’, but still clearly suggesting an undesirable situation.
The author makes the point that to avoid domestication, FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) is important, but it also requires simplicity and open platforms. For “simplicity”, Mozilla is given as example, whose idealistic mission is hampered by the accumulated complexity of the World Wide Web:
“The Web’s complexity has left users with limited choice between three big players with conflicts of interest whose positions grow more entrenched with time.”
For “open platforms”, Signal is given as an example:
“If Signal decides to update its apps to include a user-hostile feature, users will be just as helpless as they now are with WhatsApp. Although I don’t think this is likely, Signal’s closed platform leaves users vulnerable to user domestication.”
Both examples are spot-on, and helpfully illustrate difficulties around decentralisation from a high-level perspective.
In a follow-up, the author expounds on how to keep open platforms from becoming closed. He compares XMPP, Matrix/Element, and email, arguing for diversity among providers and implementations — as even an ostensibly decentralised system can still be, or turn into, a single-vendor platform monoculture.
Beaker browser creator Paul Frazee started developing peer-to-peer social network software called CTZN. It is based on the Hypercore protocol, and focusses on getting content moderation to work without relying on central moderators.
For the curious, more background is given in Paul’s talk at FOSDEM, and this blog post. For the real enthusiasts, the development of CTZN can even be followed day by day via its coding livestream.
- The EFF published a whitepaper “Privacy Without Monopoly”, that explains how interoperability requirements for big platforms would work, and how it could improve people’s privacy rather than reduce it (as is occasionally suggested).
- This animated video explains problems with centralised social media, by means of pretty animations, blunt opinions, and lots of swearing (not our usual recommendation; but might such videos help get the youth(ful) interested in the topic?)
- Karissa McKelvey spelled out for The Reboot why and how social media platforms could be opened to work more like email.
All are online, unless noted otherwise.
- Mar 8–19: Mozilla Festival
- Mar 10: Open Tech Will Save Us; monthly presentations hosted by the Matrix project
- Mar 11–12: Public Spaces Conference; new conference about ‘repairing the internet’, focussed on (Dutch) public sector institutions
- Mar 25: DWeb SF Meetup
- Apr 20–22: Internet Identity Workshop; unconference about decentralized identity/self-sovereign identity, organised twice a year
For these and more events, check out and subscribe to the new dweb.events!
About this digest
The Redecentralize Digest is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation — figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.
This edition was written by Gerben, with thanks to Ross, Francis, Magnus, and any others who contributed.
The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback, corrections and suggestions for next editions are welcome at email@example.com. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!