Security researchers have recently discovered a botnet with a novel defense against takedowns. Normally, authorities can disable a botnet by taking over its command-and-control server. With nowhere to go for instructions, the botnet is rendered useless. But over the years, botnet designers have come up with ways to make this counterattack harder. Now the content-delivery network Akamai has reported on a new method: a botnet that uses the Bitcoin blockchain ledger. Since the blockchain is globally accessible and hard to take down, the botnet’s operators appear to be safe.
It’s best to avoid explaining the mathematics of Bitcoin’s blockchain, but to understand the colossal implications here, you need to understand one concept. Blockchains are a type of “distributed ledger”: a record of all transactions since the beginning, and everyone using the blockchain needs to have access to — and reference — a copy of it. What if someone puts illegal material in the blockchain? Either everyone has a copy of it, or the blockchain’s security fails.
Dependence of our society on digital infrastructures is growing daily, confronting us with an urgent task of building ethical and democratic alternatives to monopolistic big-tech platforms. We call upon the scientific community to put our talents to this challenge by creating decentralised infrastructures for trust-based economic and social cooperation. We empirically demonstrate that a public infrastructure to establish trust between peers in decentralized networks is possible at significant scale. Our work is based on over 15 years of improving our distributed systems which were used by more than a million people. We present six stringent criteria for designing trustworthy infrastructure, called zero-server architecture. Adhering to these principles, we designed a novel trustworthy networking infrastructure, called P2P-Apps. It enables smartphone apps to communicate without any servers, by forming a scalable overlay that uses our generic mechanism to build trust between peers, Trustchain. P2P-Apps are generic and can be expanded to serve as an alternative to centralized infrastructure owned by Big Tech.
The Fediverse is the name for a number of interconnected (federated) social networks running on free and open software on hundreds or even thousands of servers all over the globe. These servers and networks are owned and maintained by a community of people and, contrary to networks like Facebook or Twitter, are not owned by a single corporation or organisation. Therefore all data and control of that data is distributed over individuals and (mostly) small organisations. That all users of these servers are able to socially interact with each other is because of the protocol behind most of the Fediverse, ActivityPub.
BitClout is an ambitious decentralized social network that tokenizes Twitter personalities. But one of its own investors says BitClout “fucked up their launch.”
The project has nearly $170 million worth of Bitcoin in a wallet, most of which comes from its investors. BitClout aims to use the funds for something socially “good.”
The man behind BitClout, whose identity is well known, hopes to withdraw himself a la Satoshi Nakamoto.
The Filecoin network has reached a total capacity of 2.5 exbibytes, according to an announcement today. In more familiar terms, that’s 2.5 billion gigabytes of data.
According to the release, this capacity is enough to store 725 million 1080p movies, 11,250 copies of Wikipedia, and 47 copies of the Internet Archive. So, a fair bit then.
Crypto protocols are meant to be governed by decentralized communities of stakeholders. Not because it’s more efficient, or important for ideological reasons, but because it’s necessary to unlock their core value proposition: that the underlying protocols will continue to run as designed, and will remain open to anyone who wants to use or build on them, without having the rules shift under their feet.
Bitcoin is the original embodiment of these concepts, creating the first internet-native money at scale. But they are equally applicable (and valuable) to other types of open financial primitives as well, including things like borrowing, lending, trading, and so on. Though the specific application may differ, the need for decentralized governance remains the same.
For crypto startups, transitions towards community governance are complicated, and raise difficult questions around ongoing development, voter participation, and incentive alignment between stakeholders. But they are ultimately necessary in order for the protocols to transcend their original developers and provide enduring value as open financial infrastructure.
As committed stakeholders in many of these networks, we wanted to briefly expand on how we at a16z think about crypto governance, and how we see our role in it going forward.
I am 100% serious with the title, despite the appearance of click-bait. Mastodon has a serious structural rot that is only worsening as time gets on. I think this is for a few reasons which I will outline below.
This overview of the decentralized social ecosystem is structured by protocols, applications, and topics. The protocols and applications sections contain summaries of existing projects.
Funkwhale is a community-driven project that lets you listen and share music and audio within a decentralized, open network.
Recent events surrounding social media have made many people think about leaving the currently dominant platforms. If you are looking for alternatives, you’ll inevitably come across the term ‘Fediverse’. But what is the Fediverse and why should you use it?
In this first in a series of FAQs, I’ll try to answer questions that a total beginner might have. In later installments, I’ll answer more questions about the technical details and about Pleroma specifics.
I hope this will help you along on your way to the Fediverse!
The Web is a key space for civic debate and the current battleground for protecting freedom of expression.
And yet, since its development, the Web has steadily evolved into an ecosystem of large, corporate-controlled mega-platforms which intermediate speech online. In many ways this has been a positive development; these platforms improved usability and enabled billions of people to publish and discover content without having to become experts on the Web’s intricate protocols.
But in other ways this development is alarming. Just a few large platforms drive most traffic to online news sources in the U.S., and thus have enormous influence over what sources of information the public consumes on a daily basis. The existence of these consolidated points of control is troubling for many reasons. A small number of stakeholders end up having outsized influence over the content the public can create and consume. This leads to problems ranging from censorship at the behest of national governments to more subtle, perhaps even unintentional, bias in the curation of content users see based on opaque, unaudited curation algorithms. The platforms that host our networked public sphere and inform us about the world are unelected, unaccountable, and often impossible to audit or oversee.
At the same time, there is growing excitement around the area of decentralized systems, which have grown in prominence over the past decade thanks to the popularity of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a payment system that has no central points of control, and uses a novel peer-to-peer network protocol to agree on a distributed ledger of transactions, the blockchain. Bitcoin paints a picture of a world where untrusted networks of computers can coordinate to provide important infrastructure, like verifiable identity and distributed storage. Advocates of these decentralized systems propose related technology as the way forward to “re-decentralize” the Web, by shifting publishing and discovery out of the hands of a few corporations, and back into the hands of users. These types of code-based, structural interventions are appealing because in theory, they are less corruptible and resistant to corporate or political regulation. Surprisingly, low-level, decentralized systems don’t necessarily translate into decreased market consolidation around user-facing mega-platforms.
There are several requirements that, I believe, are absolutely required of the alternative social media platforms to satisfy these principles:
User exportability. Platforms should permit users to export a complete and unadulterated copy of their user data from the platform and host it elsewhere. Moreover, public user data that is edited by the user in one place must be brought current with all other copies made elsewhere as well, in a timely fashion.
Data exportability. The user’s data must be easily exportable in a common, easily machine-readable format, according to a widely-used standard. This is an absolute minimum. Not many actually support this yet. This isn’t enough, though, because you need to be able to export your followers, too, and to do that:
Interoperability. The social media platform must be made as interoperable as possible (at the user’s option). So I should be able to subscribe and follow someone who is posting on his own blog, or Mastodon, or Gab, or Parler. I should be able to post and read from any of these networks, and the data should appear in a timely fashion in all the rest.
Data inalienability. If the user’s data is not actually served from outside of a platform—which should be possible—then it is treated by the platform as if it were. The platform is merely holding the data on behalf of the user, as a service. The platform must not treat the data as “theirs.” This is still a rather vague requirement, but it has specific consequences. One of them would be that the platform is absolutely not permitted to delete or edit a post from your data, although they can of course opt not to post it on the platform. Twitter and Facebook violate this principle when they fail to retain copies of posts that they delete.
Today we are releasing a major new version of PeerTube, our alternative to centralized video platforms like YouTube.
But instead of continuing to rant, I’d now like to now point out what I think should change about web3:
We should stop building key-management plugins and start thinking about a standardizable web API. We must stop training our users to install shitty browser plugins!
We need to make light clients work as soon as possible and become independent from third-party services like thegraph and Infura.
We need to improve our client libraries (ethers.js and web3.js) by dramatically simplifying them and making them bug-free (god damn it!)!
We need to take advantage of some of the blockchain’s fundamental properties. Most data is immutable so let’s start caching things.
And finally, I think we should stop focusing all of our attention on bumping the web’s version number. Maybe we should reconsider writing more backends. We should promote more work on permissionless networks like Open Gas Station Network that allow developers to upgrade a user’s experience. And, we should start thinking of a machine network of blockchains more often. In many ways, web3 was just a cool demo. But let’s come up with something better. Just imagine what happens once there’s a deeper integration of money into computer systems!
Google’s sudden outage last week illustrates how dependent internet users have become on centralized Web 2 oligarchs. A decentralized Web 3 is an idea whose time has come.
What do you do on Twitter Dot Com? You scroll down and look at other people’s shitty posts. Sometimes you even press the buttons on them. What do you do on the fediverse? You scroll down and look at other people’s shitty posts. Sometimes you even press the buttons on them.
It’s the same feedback loop and it creates a very similar feel and environment. After all, that loop is exactly what Mastodon and Pleroma were designed to replicate.