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Building a Distributed, Decentralized Internet – A Roadmap

I know that I’m not Patrick, and I don’t pretend to speak for anyone but myself here. I just want to say that I share Patrick’s belief in the radical necessity of humanity’s co-owning the physical layer. As I see it, this is the only path to freedom.

To that end, I *have* a roadmap. It has five stages, and follows hot on the tail of this preamble. I see this roadmap playing out over the span of a decade or more, but it does include actionable steps for the present day. (On our way to freedom-land, as Mahalia Jackson said).

Stage 1: The Co-op – Stage one consists of the emergence of network access cooperatives. Stage one has already begun, so instead of speaking hypothetically, I will tell you what it looks like on the ground. I’m not entirely sure of the legality, but I am sure of the justice. Here in Grinnell, IA, the Free Network Movement has built a mesh network that we call grinnellMIND. It allows us to share a single internet connection amongst many physically disparate locations. I live on Broad Street, Dylan lives on Main Street, Martin lives on Park Street, and Anna lives on East. We and many others are able to purchase Internet access cooperatively, thus driving down the amount that each of us pays.

This works especially well because of the asynchronous nature of network usage – if we each bought our own connections, they would lay dormant much of the time. We imagine that some day, the entire town of Grinnell might purchase access cooperatively. That day has not yet arrived, but we think it is on its way. This struggle for collective purchasing will have to happen in many towns and cities, the world over. It will have to happen for city blocks and subdivisions, in residential towers and intentional communities. This won’t be easy to accomplish, especially when telcos catch wind of what’s going on. Still, the obvious economic advantage to the end user (reduced cost) makes this an easy sell to the people.

Stage 2: The Digital Village – The unseen benefit of the aforementioned co-ops is that they wrest the terminal nodes of the network away from the control of the telco/ISP hegemony. This provides for the opportunity of network applications that are truly peer-to-peer. At first, this will only be able to happen within each isolated cooperative community. Imagine that Grinnell (or some other town) makes shared use of a few pipes, whose flow of information is distributed accross the last mile via mesh. Now imagine that each node of that mesh network is a Diaspora pod running a codebase that is specifically designed for use in mesh networks (this is in development, but a ways off).

People will still have to rely on the big pipes for access to the wider internet, but to pass each other messages and participate in social networking, at least within the town of Grinnell, we will have achieved a truly peer-to-peer architecture. Thus arises the digital village. What used to be just a co-op for purchasing access has suddenly become a community that is able to share information directly with one another. It takes only a little more imagination to see that Diaspora is one of many applications that could run on this architecture. I happen to believe that the social network is the network’s ‘killer-app,’ and so I have chosen to use Diaspora as an example. Continue reading…

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