Decentralization: The Future of Online Social Networking

Social networking forms an important part of online activities of Web users. However, social networking sites present two problems. Firstly, these sites form information silos. Information on one site is not usable in the others. Secondly such sites do not allow users much control over how their personal information is disseminated, which results in potential privacy problems.

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Illustration: David Simonds for The Economist, 2008

This paper presents how these problems can be solved by adopting a decentralized approach to online social networking. With this approach, users do not have to be bounded by a particular social networking service. This can provide the same or even higher level of user interaction as with many of the popular social networking sites we have today. It also allows users to have more control over their own data.

A decentralized social networking framework described is based on open technologies such as Linked Data [Berners-Lee 2006], Semantic Web ontologies, open single-signon identity systems, and access control.

Source: MIT

What Is a Federated Network?

In politics, a federation is a union of states (or other entities) that are partially self-governing and independent but have transferred a set of responsibilities and duties to a central government that unites them.

What’s a federated network, then? Alternative social networks such as Diaspora and Lorea have been described as adopting a federated structure, but their server architecture is often strongly reminiscent of [Paul] Baran’s description of a decentralized system. In Diaspora, for example, users become a member of a “pod,” and in principle only connect directly with their own pod; these pods in turn are connected to each other to allow users in different pods to interact with each other. This matches the “distributed network of centralized networks” description. Is federation just a synonym for decentralization, then? It depends on who you ask.

Source: Unlike Us via Institute of Network Cultures

Decentralized Systems Alone Won’t Address Threats

It’s not clear we can solve the nuanced issues of centralization by pushing for “re-decentralization” of publishing online. Most people do not want to run their own web servers or social network nodes. They want to engage through friendlier platforms, and these will be constrained by the same forces that drive consolidation today.

A better strategy would be to pursue policies that strengthen the environment for decentralized platforms, including data portability, interoperability, and alternatives to advertising-based funding models. For instance, if users have more control of their data, they’ll be more willing to experiment with new platforms.

Decentralized web advocates have good intentions, but there’s no silver-bullet technical solution for the challenges that lie ahead.

Source: Wired

An Introduction to the Federated (Distributed) Social Network

Federated social networks (also known as distributed social networks) are a vital step toward fulfilling values often lacking in the existing social networking ecosystem: user-control, diversity of services, innovation and more. The best way for social networking to become safer, more flexible and more innovative is to distribute the ability and authority to the world’s users and developers, whose various needs and imaginations can do far more than what any single company could achieve. While there is still plenty of active development taking place on these software projects, the possibilities of these systems make them worth thinking about now.

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation