I watched the famous speech ‘Freedom in the Cloud’ of Eben Moglen in 2010 at the ISOC-NY. Again if I might add. That speech had a great influence on me. It was the first time that I realised that client-server infrastructure of the internet is a huge problem. This very infrastructure ensured that all the data were aggregated and used (or abused) by the ones that owned the servers. At the same time the clients were being deprived of power. And that with the accumulation of servers in a data centre and he virtualisation of the servers (cloud) these owners were getting even more powerful.
I wasn’t the only one that was influenced by this speech of Eben. It also marked the beginning of the development of Diaspora social network. As it happens some of the initial developers of Diaspora were present at that Friday night at ISOC-NY and it inspired them to build the Diaspora software.
A lot has changed the last eleven years, and I will get to that, but what hasn’t changed is the client-server infrastructure, the source of evil. If anything the power of ones that own the servers like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple and even Twitter has increased greatly in the last 10 years. And as a consequence the ones working on the client side have become even more powerless. Snowden (2013) and Cambridge Analytica (2016) are just a few examples that demonstrate that this abuse of the ‘architecture of the catastrophe’ took directions that we couldn’t have envisioned.
On the plus side since 2010 a lot of developments have started to halt this catastrophe. Some were more successful than other but it’s undeniable that if someone is looking for a free (as in freedom) alternative right now a lot more options are available than 10 years ago. Also these options seem to be sustainable and rather successful. The Fediverse with Mastodon, Pleroma, PeerTube, Funkwhale, Pixelfed, Lemmy and others have made great progress since the introduction of the ActivityPub protocol. XMPP has made great progress with the introduction of advanced clients like Conversations, Movim and Gajim.
The Freedombox hasn’t lived up to it’s expectations though. The development of Freedombox was initiated by Eben and allows to set up a simple private server in your home. The last time I checked even Diaspora was not supported by Freedombox making social networking with it impossible. Luckily other initiatives have taken flight such as Yunohost. They make it easy to self-host a server and install software for blog, chat, social networking, online storage and file sharing. Yunohost and others bring the dream of Eben closer of a peer-to-peer network instead of a client-server network.
Another noteworthy development is Scuttlebutt, a client-based peer-to-peer application for encrypted social network. Just install the app on your PC or phone (Manyverse) and communicate directly with others that installed the app.
Or Briar, a client for messaging that uses Bluetooth, WiFi and the Tor network to communicate. The need to host your own server has been replaced by simply installing an app that doesn’t rely on a central server. Even if the internet is down the information keeps flowing over WiFi and Bluetooth.
Although we still live in the catastrophe that Eben spoke about eleven years ago there are more possibilities to escape and it appears that more and more people are discovering this. With every scandal, every update of the term of service a wave of new users appears on the networks that I mentioned above and that’s something to be grateful about but it should also motivate us to keep fighting for a free (as in freedom) internet.