Thinking About Decentralized Communities
December 5, 2020

Earlier today, I had the misfortune of reading a blog post about the dangers of the decentralized web and how we should not partake in or encourage it's development. Hacker News had a pretty active discussion about the post.

Ideological takes on this always turn ugly, and I'm at a point in my life where I avoid that at all costs. I can only talk about my preferences about the world, not about how things ought to be, implying some sort of inherent value or divine moral good.

Here's what I prefer: a world where ideas, no matter how silly or dangerous, are allowed to be expressed, shared, ignored, attacked and laughed at. I don't imagine a world like this can ever exist easily, but a more decentralized web can help us get halfway there.

Ok so what about Gurlic then?

Gurlic is roughly just over two months old now, and at a point where I am relatively comfortable with the basic features it has. In the coming weeks and months, I want to focus on modifying the backend to either adopt an existing decentralized protocol, or think about how to approach writing a new one. Perhaps it would have been smarter to do this before building it first, but that would have limited how I envisioned Gurlic to be and it would've turned out differently.

Right now I'm looking into the activitypub spec, and the matrix spec - here are some initial thoughts I have about how Gurlic should approach decentralization/federation.

  • Decentralization can be a priority, but must never be promoted as a feature, or made to be a selling point. When decentralization becomes the main selling point of a product or service, the usability and polish tend to suffer. Not always, but nearly always. None of the marketing copy should include the words 'decentralization', 'privacy' etc. Normal users don't care about any of this.

  • User experience should be seamless. The user shouldn't have to generate a key, remember an extra password, remember weird URL schemes, or download utilities and clients just to be part of an online community or to write an article. Above all, the user must not be confused, as one usually is when looking at Mastodon instances, which one to sign up to, and so on. My mom should be able to use it without having to call me, just like she does with Facebook. Normal users do care about this.

  • The protocol must be flexible enough to allow for all of Gurlic's current features. This means communities, user profiles, publications, articles, galleries, rich media posts, sharing/responding and so on. All seamlessly without any rough edges.

  • Any and all cryptocurrency/blockchain must be avoided.

I'll have more to write about this in the near future.