Resilient social networks
Yesterday I posted about Parler banning and the likely impact of that, both legally and in terms of the technical details. My expectations is that new actors will step in to fill the existing demand created by the current social network account suspensions. I had spent some time thinking about the likely effects of this, and I think that it will lead to some interesting results.
A new social network will very likely rise as a result of those actions. That network would have to be resilient for de-platforming issues. That means that it cannot assume that it can run on any of the cloud services, at least not as normally understood by today’s standards. That means that we are likely to see one of two options:
- Fully distributed systems – independent nodes collaborating with one another to create a network. Each node may be host and operated independently. Similar to how torrents work and other fully distributed P2P systems.
- Distributed infrastructure – a set of servers that are running on behalf of a single entity, but are spread over multiple vendors and locations. The idea is that the shutdown of a single or multiple vendors will have little impact, because of distribution of effort.
The first option is probably something like Mastodon, but I would really like to see a return to blogs & RSS as the preferred social network. That has the advantage of a true distributed model without a single controlling actor. It is also much lower cost in terms of technology and complexity. Discovery of new blogs can be handled via recommendations, search, etc.
The reason I prefer this option is that I like to blog . More seriously, owning your own content and distribution platform has just become quite important. A blog is about as simple a piece of software as you can imagine. Consuming blogs is an act that require no publication of personal information, no single actor that can observe everything you do, etc.
I don’t know if this will be the direction, although it is my favorite one. It is possible that we’ll end up with Mastodon empire, with many actors creating networks of servers which may or may not be interconnected. I can see a future where you’ll have a network of dog owners vs. cat owners, but the two aren’t federated and there are isolated discussions between them.
Given that you could create links from one to the other, I don’t think we have to deal with total echo chambers. Consider a post in the cats social network: The dog owners are talking about the chore of having to go for walks at “dogs://social.media/walks-are-great”, that is so high maintenance, the silly buggers.
That would create separate communities, with their own rules and moderation. Consider this something like subreddits, but without the single organization that can enforce global rules.
The other alternative is that a social network would rise with a truly distributed backend that is resilient to de-platforming issues. From an outside perspective, this will present as something to the existing social networks. That has the advantage of requiring the least from users, but it is a non trivial technical challenge.
I prefer the first option, but I believe it is more likely we’ll end up with the second. The reason for that is monetization strategies. If you have a many different actors cooperating to create a network, there is a question on how you pay for that. The typical revenue model for social network is advertising. That doesn’t work so well where there isn’t a single actor that can sell ads (and track users).
That said, it would be much faster and easier to get started with the first option and it may be that we’ll end up there with the force of inertia.
Do you really think this is doable? You solve the infra problem but still: search engine, DNS, payment, credit card, CDN, email, SMS, auth, billing ... you can do it yourself but you need deep pockets!
We had a social network in the early 2000s that worked quite well and led to some really good discourse. It is a low overhead solution and is quite resilient to such issues.
The key would be presenting a client that can aggregate and operate in a similar manner, and that seems like a relatively simple thing to have. Once you do that, all the other details are handled in a distributed and robust manner.
Further, a lot of those concerns, payments & ads in particular, are no longer a massive central service that has so much power.
As for an alternative centralized solution. Well, Gab exists, and given a few more days or weeks, it is likely that they can scale their servers to the point where they can handle the new load. Note that a lot of time, the actual servers cost once you go to your own data center is negligible, but it takes time to get there.
A distributed solution like Mastodon would be my second preference, to be honest, and that would depend on the actual landscape. But I can absolutely see setting up a Mastodon instance or a network of such being part of the standard operating procedure for political parties from now on. In terms of election budgets, that is a minor matter. What is more, you get to own the users and the data.
Consider for example a GOP network of Mastodon instances that create a twitter like network for their supporters. Assuming you can get even 20% of the 74 millions that votes for Trump in 2020 on there, you have a powerful network at your hands. For that matter, that is enough people to really start network effects that may make it grow to other people that wouldn't be exposed.
Having something like that would be huge to any political party.
Monocultures have an inherent risk due to their lack of balances. I would hope this situation leads to a scaling back of putting all one's cards in the baskets of large fickle providers.
It appears that AWS and Azure are a single platform, i.e. being on both is not really diversification.
As far as RavenDB Cloud, is there a possibility to have a Poland- or other EU-based location? Also, as per Remi's points, it would be good to have local vendors for everything, such as payment etc.
A year ago we recently moved off Azure to Hetzner cloud. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but billing is really really straightforward and predictable, apart from being much cheaper.
We do use a single CDN (Cloudflare) which is a slight risk, but we could live with a slower response time for a while.
Depending on the scale, I think that even a
democrats.socialaren't going to be too bad in terms of mono cultures, but I don't know if this is where we'll end up. I do think that this is something that many people are now considering and that either this will be a legal solution or a technical one, either way, this is something that will be resolved in a matter of months.
We are currently relying on the cloud platforms (AWS, Azure & GCP) for RavenDB Cloud. You can deploy that in the EU, and be under their laws & regulations, of course.
There are some efforts to provide additional providers, but as you can imagine, that is a big investment. We'll likely evaluate this more in the coming months when we see how the dice fall.
Maybe it's just enough to go back to pre-facebook era where everybody had their own website/blog?
That is what I hope for, to be honest. The aggregation part would be somewhat of a challenge, but I believe that would be something that can be quickly filled.
In general, RSS readers are relatively easy to get going.
I’ve noticed a certain entitlement mentality. People think now that these platforms exist that they have the right to publish their work they then, text, audio and video. Not just publish, or publish for free. But they believe they have the right to be paid. This is certainly the case with YouTube.
There seems to be no realization of what they are receiving. Streaming video consumes massive amounts of bandwidth. If you were to run a site with videos seeing millions of daily views the costs would be large.
In that regard I think the old model where you paid for your own hosting of a blog or website was better. It creates a reasonable barrier. If you want to do this then this is the cost. And if you promote violence or criminal activity you can be traced.
I don’t think you will see much support for government restricting the ability of platforms to moderate content. These platforms make their moneys from advertising. We already saw YouTube get slammed for not moderating content. If government comes in there and says you must carry this nasty stuff, the advertisers will flee and the tech companies will collapse.
I think society is better off with the abhorrent voices hiding in the shadows rather than amplified. So small scale distributed, aka email... is fine. But Facebook and Twitter have shown themselves to be a scourge on society with little real positive purpose.
The usual reply here is that you are not the user, you are the product, for those sites. I think it would be better overall to go into "you pay for what you publish", with the caveat that if you are working on YouTube scale, the costs are astronomical. But if you are a single publisher, the costs are a lot more reasonable. To give some context, let's say that you have a video channel with 10,000 subscribers and all of them watch your 5 videos of 10 minutes each. Cost for that would be around 500 - 600$.
I'm basing this on: https://www.cloudflare.com/products/cloudflare-stream/
And I think that I'm being very optimistic here, it seems like a typical number of views for a popular video is under 10K. See: https://tubularlabs.com/blog/average-youtube-views/
Note that this is both a small amount of money (for a company, dedicated organization) and large (for individuals). That means that there is a certain barrier to entry, but not an onerous one. Also note that if you have a small audience, the costs are pretty minimal.
And yes, you can be traced, which is a plus, in my eyes.
As for governments restricting moderating capabilities. As of my count, the following countries have made statements viewing this issue as a problem.
Germany & France - https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-11/merkel-sees-closing-trump-s-social-media-accounts-problematic
EU in general (European commissioner for the internal market.) - https://www.politico.eu/article/thierry-breton-social-media-capitol-hill-riot/
Autsralia - https://www.sbs.com.au/news/donald-trump-s-twitter-ban-sparks-political-debate-in-australia-over-censorship-concerns
Uganda - https://twitter.com/GovUganda/status/1349060384490213377
As well as Israel and Poland, in the post.
Note that this happened _right now_, but I would expect the fallout to take some time to close. I would be very surprised if the governments would allow such unilateral and unchecked power at the hands of the social networks.
Note that there is historical precedent for such shutdowns, in democratic countries. Whatsapp in Brazil, for example. And the technical capabilities to do that is fairly simple. Order the ISPs to block the hosts and IPs, and you take those networks down. And if the scenario is that the network shuts the politicians or the other way around, I'll be on the politicians, they have more to lose
Steve, i think shitty or ugly content might be a concern for you, but certainly isn't for Google or Facebook (as long as it doesn't deter viewers). And if youtube pays money for that kind of videos then we can be sure they will be produced. Just by looking at what kind of stuff gets recommended by youtube algorithms you can get some idea about what makes the algorithms/Google most happy (crappy but catchy, and costs nothing to produce in mass scale)
Another thing to consider here is the monetization strategy. If you pay 50 - 100$ a month for video hosting, which sounds reasonable, how are you making that money back?
That is likely going to lead to either curation or networks that work together. On the other hand, without the massive scale of YouTube, you are going to have to see a higher bar for quality, I would expect. Or, maybe a distributed network?
Oren, if you're all on your own then there's no monetization for you - you have to work hard to come up with something that people will pay for, and you have to work even harder to make your stuff visible in the Internet. But if you rely on Google/youtube then you get something for a start - attract the ad viewers and you'll get paid and promoted in the search engines. No wonder it has shifted the focus from high quality/relevant to mass produced, cheap, stupid or controversial, and everything gets lost in a flood of stuff produced only for the purpose of making the algorithms pick it - i'm afraid this is the only form of curation available there.
So I saw Jack Dorsey at Twitter announced some sort of distributed social media thing today. Sounds like blockchain based. I honestly don't understand the appeal of blockchain other than as a buzzword. But so be it.
Back to the underlying issue... I think the Internet is destabilizing our society right now. It started as a path towards positive communication, but as of late it is allowing a great deal of evil. Something has to change before more people die. I saw one professor equate it's impact as similar to the printing press. I'm sure in the end we'll figure out how to make it all work, but for now the rules have changed and we have to figure out how to adapt.
I assume that this is somewhat related to the stock price drop of about 12% in the past week or so. Given that this is a public company, if the trend continues, he can expect to lose his job.
Note that Twitter was actually used for violent riots in the past, see Arab Spring. This isn't anything recent.
The block chain stuff seems to be a (tiny) team that is doing research. I think that this is a bone he is throwing to "decentralization", but I doubt that they are going forward with it. That would represent a HUGE power shift, and I don't see that in their advantage. Note that this is also a project whose last update on twitter was in April 2020, so I doubt this is making any significant process.