For me a community is not tied to a geographical area. It’s more an area of common life. I live across a number of communities. Family, friends, work, and a number of geeky tech loving groups who exist both on the web and in physical space.
Some hold a fellowship of solidarity and trust. Others merely contain a group of peope who share a common interest. Either way these communities are really important to me.
Anthony P. Cohen argues that communities are best approached as ‘communities of meaning’. In other words, ‘”community” plays a crucial symbolic role in generating people’s sense of belonging’.
I feel it’s this sense of belonging that’s missing from areas in society. And without this we are unable to build a feeling of self, of individuality.
Whether we like it or not capitalism permeates everything we do. Creativity is often styfled as production is privately owned and operated for profit. We are too far down that road to do anything about it. Still, there is no reason why we can’t create communities freely sharing our own thoughts, dreams and aspirations. A shield or filter as an antidote to the bombardment we are subjected to as the advertisers tell us how they think we should live.
The problem is, that most community spaces now cropping up have little to do with freedom of expression. They are controlled environments where the participants are leeched of all shared knowledge, where their interactions and connections are studied at a minute level.
If I arranged to meet with friends on my village green only to find that our every move was monitored and recorded, conversations archived and our home addresses logged.. I’d most certainly go and find somewhere a little more relaxed to chat. If in addition to this we were bombarded with suggestions of what someone thought we should spend our hard earned cash on… I’d probably leave never to return.
That is if there was somewhere to leave to.
We forget that Facebook and Google are advertising companies providing a communication infrastructure. Google plus is not a social network. We are the ones being sociable in the networks. It’s easy to forget this and our amnesia suits them just fine.
I’m aware of this. But only sometimes. It’s far too easy to get sucked in because that’s where my ‘friends’ are.
My networks exists cross platform. But for how much longer?
I won’t go into my gripes with Google+ following in the footsteps of Facebook and dictating how we should be conversing and what we should call ourselves. Making out they are doing us a favour by giving us four days grace to ‘fix’ our accounts should we rather use our nicknames in our posts. There are more than enough people making a noise around this to show it’s Google who are in fact broken.
I am now formulating a backup plan. An escape route. A quiet place where I can chat with friends in as close as I can find to privacy. Whatever that is.
This will probably sound terribly extreme to someone just floating along quite happily. I’d just like more options. I’m bored of the taste of ready meals and fancy something wholesome. Besides, I back up my data, why not back up my communication channels.
I’m not looking to create a secret society. I’m looking for an open system. Not owned or exclusive but shared worldwide. Perhaps a version of Status.net that in an emergency could work even if the internet is turned off. Yes you heard me. Perhaps a mesh-networked bluetooth affair or something using the D-star transmitters dotted around the world. There are options. It just has to be imagined.
And with this I’d like improved email to match.
I feel if i really want to regain control over the way I communicate online I need to ditch GMail. I’ll go for something with encryption. Something that gives me a red page when I am writing to someone not using encryption. It’s not because I have secrets. It’s because not everything I say in a personal email is for sale.
Decentralised, secure, mobile, social… What would you want?
I’m guessing what I want doesn’t exist yet. If not we should make it.
Daniel Elevate says
i am in!
Daniel Elevate says
Seriously, this is such an important initiative! more important than most people are able to grasp it is.
I’m understanding and agreeing with you, there needs to be a backup plan.
The idea of a mesh network, even localised with the ‘pirate box’ makes it movable and gives the ability to create your own network for the community.
About a year ago #digitalplant was talking to a Mexican who had set up a local mesheifi network.
I share your frustrations. I disagree that we are too far down the line to combat late stage capitalism. That simply requires cumulative awareness and effort, which is ridiculously difficult but not impossible. Many geeks have had ways to protect their online activities for years, but the critical matter these days with the ubiquity of the web is how do we give this up for the mainstream. They like convenience and ease of use. Most do not know or care about data co-option. I’m in. It will have to be built with no thought of profit against tremendous odds. Fuelled by good will and the pioneer spirit of the original web. And able to change shape at will. But I’m in. Deep.
Count me in, It feels that we are being pimped out for our advertising revenue by Facebook, google, et al. Make me feel used.
This is not a replacement to the mainstream. Unless by some miracle the majority suddenly start thinking on mass. Which would be nice.
No. this is an alternative.
Fraser Smith says
I need more time to digest this. I’m not sure I’m in total agreement with everything you say.
However, the need for a backup is smart however you look at it. As you say, something like status.net (and I’m sure that there are enough of us here to host a few independent status.net sites) is a good start.
You might also want to consider the unhosted project, http://www.unhosted.org/ or, in the longer term, a merger of a status.net arrangement with unhosted.org.
Obviously, I’m in.I trust no one.
Is this where we all have a plan to move to CB radio? Or even Packet Radio? If that’s the case then I’m going to be really sick I left my father’s two excellent ham radio sets in Benidorm after he died.
Ten four. Rubber duck
@SimFin A packet radio plugin for status.net is certainly an option. 🙂
Gabriela Dworecki says
Thanks for writing in such accesible words what seems to be obvious, but soo hard to see in the midst of all the eye watering/easy access online “social networks” (or should we really say adverteisment companies?).
I am trying hard no to succumb, I managed to leave Gmail and I haven’t got a fb account,but I’ll tell you, the pressure is hard, and I do feel left out of many of the conversations going on there.
I am in!
Another resource: Burning Man’s open source cell phone system could help save the world http://bit.ly/pqGdsH (Not my title, but a DIY cellphone network has potential in many circumstances.)
You can count me in too! I’ve got a couple of old CB’s that I can throw into the mix!!
“You had me at eavesdropping dog”…
I like it – and while not a techie developer of anything – I am a community development worker and to me the “wholefood” is best demonstrated by projects like Transition towns – and they could really use a wholefood social networking system to support the community interests.
my next steps..?
twitter following will be used until something happens
Seems like such an obvious idea, and like many and most obvious ideas its overlooked, or thought of and then forgotten,
I’m happy to help on the technical side, or in any other way I can.
John Garrett says
The question for me is, how much would you sell it for or are you above making a few million quid for the sake of freedom. For me the problem is that someone will always sell out freedom, or a government wishing to control it. We have lost the strength to stand and fight because we have become weak willed and pathetic consumers of propaganda from the media and the controlled environments that we have aided and abetted in creating a ‘better society’; a society where idiocy prevails and individualism means celebrity.
Mike Rawlins says
Taking the last paragraph http://www.gnupg.org/ is a good place to start with your E-mails, once you have got a contact list of people using encryption you can start working on the rest in relative privacy.
mss @ Words Into Bytes says
I like the idea of a backup plan. And I like the idea of backing up my data (which I do). I do not feel a sense of community developing at Google+ in the same way I did in my blogs or on Twitter. The first four weeks started well but once the nym wars got rolling, it’s been depressing and a little scary.
I find it odd because the tools were there to make it possible to have many different communities with differing standards. Instead we find a lot of self-righteous people who police the area looking for violators to turn into Google. I’ve never been on a site where people were so intent on shutting other people down.
@al3x has discussed decentralization of Twitter on his blog http://al3x.net/2010/09/15/last-thing-about-twitter.html (see Twitter As A Medium vs Twitter As A Business). You could take the points and relate them to other communication services.
Security and Privacy both exist in current social networks, it’s just down to the way that people use them that makes them appear as though they are missing. For example, if I choose to share my date of birth, or my employer, or pictures of my daughter, I am choosing to forego my privacy. And if I choose to like a status of a person posting under a false name, or I click on a link that leads to a malware infected website, I am impacting the security of myself and my own network.
However, the openness of such social networks is what makes them successful. Is there a need to reinvent that particular wheel?
What you really need, is a subset that sits on top of the existing social network that allows you to interact with whom you don’t need any privacy or security, but at the same time you can communicate with your inner circle whilst maintaining your privacy.
So how do you do this? Encryption – in the same way as Adium or AOL IM support integrated encryption for P2P messages, create a plugin that automatically encrypts messages before they are posted to your social networks of choice.
You could use public key cryptography for this, maybe based upon an open standard such as PGP – if I want to write a message to Bob, I need to encrypt it to Bob’s public key. Then only he can decrypt it by using his private key. If I want to write a message to all my followers, then I encrypt it to a keyring of their public keys, or, alternatively, I encrypt it to my private key, and they use my public key to decrypt it. To anyone else, the message would just look jumbled.
There’s a bunch of issue that would have to be worked out with regards to non repudiation and key distributions, but it’s a thought…..
Wow. there are some great links coming in. I particularly like @Bundini’s open GSM link. 50 watts, the size of a shoebox and a range of 35km. Amazing.. http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/083010-open-source-voip-cell-phones-at-burning-man.html?ap1=rcb
Thanks Fraser for the http://www.unhosted.org link. Not heard of it before. And cheers Mike Neil and all for chipping in. There is some exciting stuff.
It’s just as much about the decentralization of the networks as it is about privacy issues. Encrypting email is the easy bit. Doing the same for status updates so only ring fenced groups is a little harder but still doable. eg. I’d like to be able to send an update to a geo-specific group across multi platforms. I think that is a big ask to keep on top of all the separate api’s of the various platforms but much easier to do it via one platform if it was designed from the start.
It’s not about re-inventing the wheel. It’s about giving everyone a hoverboard in kit form and we can all go out and fly together.. (Or whatever it is you do on a hoverboard.) 🙂
To get on D-star you need to sit an exam, register for a licence and spend quite a bit of money on equipment. In any case encryption is not permitted on Amateur Radio. CB’s also need a licence. Some PMR radios with build in encryption might be licence free but you would need lots of well placed repeaters.
A VPN isn’t what you are describing either. How about encrypted email with some extra steganographic encryption where deeper messages are undetectable?
Regarding, using D-star for sending tweets (or status updates).
(So that’s laptop into d-star converter into radio.. Radio to repeater and the reverse to another persons laptop.)
I’d want to make a proof of concept before worrying about the bureaucracy of licenses etc. There would be a shitstorm if we got it to work. Then we could provide kits. Yes you would need a license to use it legally but what if the time came (big if) when you found yourself with no internet in need of an out of the box social network to connect with others in a time of great need.. You don’t need a license to listen do you..?
I’d go out and get one just for testing purposes if need be. No need for encryption in the early stages.
The more i think about it though.. Open GSM sounds pretty cool. 😉 Computer and long range transceiver in one. http://bit.ly/pqGdsH
“GNU Social” – for decentralized social networks, is work in progress and promises social web federation.
daisychain, is the first public “GNU Social” server:
Have you seen Glassboard yet http://glassboard.com/ ? They launched yesterday.
Looking at Glassboard but it doesn’t seem as private as it makes out.. it want’s an awful lot of info. 🙂
Hanging out and talking more on Diaspora at the moment. It’s much better than 5 months ago but still flakey.
We are now discussing mesh networked Wimax if anyone actually knows about this stuff.
So, is the Google+ design a copy of Diaspora or have the Diaspora devs been beavering away in the last six weeks to make it more like Google+. The two do seem remarkably similar (though the Circles metaphor works better than the Aspects one).
Hi Fraser, i was thinking the same. But from what i remember Diaspora previously had aspects before Google had circles. I may be wrong.
Stuart Witts says
I find myself in a bit of a quandary. I agree with your points, but find them terribly excluding. Without networks like Twitter I wouldn’t even be having this conversation as it seems unlikely that our paths would have crossed.
I do, however, completely agree with the subtext of your comments regarding the use of these networks to suggest HOW we should live. But I just can’t bring myself to give up on society and retreat to a private club.
@StuartWitts I will say it again. This is not about giving up anything. This is having the option to purchase fair trade coffee as well as your exploitative crap. Just another option. There are quite a few conversations going on in the world right now that you are not a part of. Do you feel excluded from them too? If you never found this conversation i doubt you would be any the worse off. Just doing something else. I choose the communities i am a part of for the reasons listed in the blog post above.
Diaspora predates G+ by about two years and is open source – you can download it or fork it. This is the essential difference. We can make this thing wha we want rather than subscribing to someone else’s corporate vision and ultimate profiteering. I guess we find a tribe of developers who are interested and parallel the development process with some form of voting system whereby non-technical members of the community vote features up or down. We prototype fast and adapt to feedback. We could talk about this stuff forever.
Of course the initial tenet should be that this net does not exist to, and never will make any, money. Then we have a chance.
Sam Edney says
I am *definitely* interested in helping with this project. The Diaspora system is where I am going to devote my energy for now – which is going to mean learning Ruby, but it should be a fun process.
Like buddhamagnet said – it can be forked to go in the preferred direction – and maybe the main fork will just GO in the right direction, which is of massive importance to me.
In terms of the bigger picture…
Not sure how to keep a system like this under control. I see user requests and voting pushing toward including (encrypted) email, file storage, desktop replacement, chat… etc etc. The possibilities are never ending, but rely on commercial infrastructure to be in place in order to function. Maybe that is a temporary problem that can be ignored for now.
Many years I was quite active in the BBS scene, and would use my Amiga and modem to dial up to other BBS systems around the country to transfer Fidonet mail and files.
Doing this actually cost me money every night, because it used the standard phone system, but the ‘social’ benefit of doing so – even for such a small community was definitely worth it to me. Hopefully lots of people benefited from what we were all doing.
I also wrote a social network of my own, at http://www.getdowntonight.co.uk (it even had photo tagging!) – which had around 1000 members.
I never had the time to push things, and eventually stopped working on it but I would love to get my teeth in to something new.
So – what I am saying is that I would be very happy to get involved with the development of something – and look forward to reading some good ideas.
I’d like to be in, but I don’t understand (ie have no prior knowledge) of many of the specific references in the thread. So I guess I am hoping their will be a place for those who aren’t able to survive in the wild with just three pieces of broken electronics, a knife, and a paperclip to use as a fish hook. People who are unhappy at having their whole data lives sucked up by large USA organisations. Who want to preserve some individuality and freedom by having only pieces of themselves known to faceless organisations. Who want to have a fallback against government attempts to control and deny the channels, not particularly because we want to overthrow that government but because we want to live our lives.
Would love to take part in the conversation. Not sure where I currently stand. Conflicted as, for me, ‘new’ social media is where I live publicly. I’ve run game communities for year and they have been and remain, my ‘back channels’ – we all have pseudonymity and many of us have met in real life. For me, there are considerable options for back channel communication, which I use even if i’ m not in the mood for social media ‘nu’ – they are a sanctuary on a very public Internet.
I’m not certain how I feell about real names on google. I hear the commercialisation argument…the feeling of a slip tp corporate power frameworks….but I don’t see the real impact on my daily life. So what if a company is making me see adverts it thinks I’m ideal for – I’ll run an ad locker. If it pays for the web service of throws some funds into an innovative Eco system,
I can’t help feeling that if someone smaller – less powerful than google, had managed to pursued the same number of users across to it’s, frankly superior, social platform, then we’d all be turning a blind eye. To the odd mistake, praising them for addressing us (ok, they’ve been slow ish, but it’s not resolved….),,,
Sorry about the two comments – pressed submit on iPad by mistake.
just wanted to add that far from feel paranoid of observation by commercial algorithms, I embrace them as drivers of a new knowledge economy that doesnt scare me – it excites me, because whilst mistakes will be made and privacy concerns raised, this micro data derived from real human behaviour online, is just the sort of resource the tech industry needs if it to move us from computers as tools, to computers as saviours of society that are sown into it’s fabric. We shouldn’t be scared – if we get there quickly, we may avoid more wars and stupidly pointless deaths. I hope this makes sense and that I’not having a fantom lucid moment…..
I’m in. Of course. The dichotomy open/secure or publicy/privacy needs to be explained more and better to a broader public. It is not either/or but all together with individual options. Privacy and openness are not opposites and Publicy as a concept is based on the ability of individuals to own their own data and to share it with whom ever they wish.
The difference is a point of departure: in the “old” world everything was private till we made it public. In the “new” world everything is public till we make it private.
Trying out App.net The new kid on the micro-blogging block. Hoping for great things. The team seem like decent folk.