Ambitious Decentralized Projects That Aim to Create a Better Internet
By on November 30th, 2011

The Internet is an interesting place. It started out as a network intended for file-sharing and has turned into a storehouse of information. It is a dynamic and  profit making industry, and generates enormous revenue. While providing an open platform for free expression, it gives everyone a chance to reach out to thousands of people, at an extremely low cost. This makes the Internet the most powerful media of this age.
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The Internet is governed by a set of standards, that bind it and prevent it from falling apart. Furthermore, there are services that have an expertise in certain domains (Google in search, Facebook in social networking). These direct and indirect controls limit the capabilities of the Internet and can be a cause of discontent at times. There are a lot of variables in an ideal Internet, but when we rely on these services solely, most of those variables are locked. Once a user gets on the Internet and puts his personal data, everyone wants a piece of the pie.  Both Facebook and Google use out browsing behavior and personal data to serve personalized ads, and it is extremely hard to make oneself tracking-free.  Governments ask for private user data all the time and demand user-generated content to be censored.

This, has brought the need for services that are not under the control of a central authority. Currently, there are three such ongoing projects, and if they succeed, they have a chance of changing the Internet and the world.

Bitcoin

Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese individual created Bitcoin in 2007.  He wanted to create a currency free from any government control. After four years, the debt crisis in the US and UK accelerated the adoption of Bitcoin. People saw it as a real solution to a fluctuating currency system, and ideally, it really is.
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Bitcoin is an experimental new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out  collectively by the network.

Bitcoin has no central issuing authority, and there is a limit to the number of Bitcoins generated per day. The entire Bitcoin system has its own terminologies like “block-chain” and “digital wallet”. This makes it orgasmic for geeks, and scary for others. Nonetheless, it was a fool-proof system.

The Bitcoin economy has many features. It appeals to geeks and there is a certain excitement to see one’s Bitcoins increase gradually, as the CPU burns. Bitcoin exchange is based on public key cryptography, where a user’s wallet has a public key and a private key. The public key is transformed into a Bitcoin address and the private key is used to authorize transactions. Therefore, if A sends Bitcoins to B, B’s public key is added to the bitcoins and it is signed by A to release the Bitcoin. A timestamp server keeps track of payments and makes them consistent and durable.

Exciting eh? Well, it is; in theory. This is what happened in practice. Bitcoin mining went on to become a lucrative business, with people using just about anything to mine bitcoins. Parallel processing capabilities of GPUs started being used for mining and several botnets sprung up based on this business. Currently, Bitcoin is used in the Silk Road, which is a notorious drug marketplace. LulzSec accepts donations in Bitcoin and seeing this, everyone is frowning upon Bitcoin. This  negativity  gave Bitcoin a certain stigma, from which it will never recover.

Meshnet and Reddit’s Darknet Plan

Reddit is orgasmic for any geek. It does not matter if you are a film geek, a computer geek or a comic-book geek. Reddit has a place for all of you. Reddit is a perfect example of a website that goes to the next level, all because of its awesome community.

The computer geeks at Reddit, especially engineers, are executing a bold plan, of creating an Internet without any censorship.

The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. This subreddit is dedicated to organizing and creating a global mesh network that will establish a truly free Internet.

SOPA is a threat to the Internet. It will kill net-neutrality. It is a clear attempt of the US government to take control over the Internet, something that threatens every other country out there. Everyone who has used the Internet of today will hate SOPA for all its limiting capabilities.

The geeks at Reddit did not find SOPA acceptable, and decided that something needs to be done about this. With this motivation, they set out to create an Internet that will not be bossed around by anyone. In this Meshnet, there will be free flow of ideas.

What next? A Subreddit was created for Meshnet and they started working on logo designs.
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Although this plan seems highly immature, this Subreddit has all the right people working on it. This censorship-free Internet will be based on a peer-to-peer architecture, thus giving it some anonymity. The Meshnet subreddit has 10,000 users with over 200,000 visits.

This is a wonderful idea, but it might fail because of the lack of practicality. Let us go back to where the Internet came from, and how it became much more. The journey from being a file-sharing network to an information warehouse is decades long. In this time crunch, Meshnet might end up being another illegal P2P file-sharing service. Moreover, a successful mesh will require continuous pockets of urban areas, but these meshes will still have to piggyback on the Internet somewhere to reach further. This runs the risk of fragmentation and the Meshnet might have redundancy issues.

YaCy Decentralized Search

We have covered YaCy search and it is impressive. It is a decentralized search, based on P2P technology. The search index is present on each peer and this is requested by anyone who is connected to the peer directly or indirectly.
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The YaCy network treats all users as equal and it shares the index with all users. The index is managed by the users on the network, and everyone has a copy. So, it is very hard to censor results in YaCy. YaCy search is covered in detail in this post.

YaCy is a good idea. However, it is only for expert users. Moreover, a poisoned index can easily dominate a YaCy network. This makes it perfect for an idealistic world.

Decentralized ideas are drool-worthy. However, not all of them are able to add business value to the world. I really wish one of these projects give their better counterparts a run for their money.

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Author: Chinmoy Kanjilal Google Profile for Chinmoy Kanjilal
Chinmoy Kanjilal is a FOSS enthusiast and evangelist. He is passionate about Android. Security exploits turn him on and he loves to tinker with computer networks. He rants occasionally at Techarraz.com. You can connect with him on Twitter @ckandroid.

Chinmoy Kanjilal has written and can be contacted at chinmoy@techie-buzz.com.
 
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