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A Call For an Open, Distributed Alternative To Facebook 363

qwerty8ytrewq writes "Ryan Singel, writing for Wired, claims that Facebook has gone rogue: 'Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader. It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members. ... And Facebook realized it owned the network. Then Facebook decided to turn "your" profile page into your identity online — figuring, rightly, that there’s money and power in being the place where people define themselves. But to do that, the folks at Facebook had to make sure that the information you give it was public.' Singel goes on to call for an open, distributed alternative. 'Facebook’s basic functions can be turned into protocols, and a whole set of interoperating software and services can flourish. Think of being able to buy your own domain name and use simple software such as Posterous to build a profile page in the style of your liking.' Can Slashdotters predict where social networking is going? And how?" Relatedly, jamie points out a graphical representation of how Facebook's privacy settings have changed over the last five years.
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A Call For an Open, Distributed Alternative To Facebook

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  • Privacy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jameson ( 54982 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:27AM (#32146440) Homepage

    Well, there is some work going on towards a distributed social networking protocol [].

    Personally what I'd want would be something that involves all personal data being encrypted on the server side according to a private key that only the user has, with shared sub-information being encryped with shared sub-keys. Thus, even if the distributed social networking server is compromised, private data will remain (largely) private. Some more thought needs to be put into ensuring that it's not easy to infer the presence of shared keys, or otherwise even the encrypted data would allow an attacker to infer part of the structure of the acquaintance graph (which can then be used to infer other information).

  • by MessyBlob ( 1191033 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:35AM (#32146494)
    Here's a question: Can any diffusely-owned project or data be trusted? Does it require that all members of the project or support infrastructure are also trusted, or must there be a certificate-based identity/trust system to unlock the data on various levels?
  • GNU Social + FOAF (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:37AM (#32146502)

    There is work being done on GNU Social ( ) which aims to be totally decentralized distributed social networking platform.

    It is going to leverage already 10 years existing FOAF project:

    Currently it is mostly in phase of figuring out the protocols, which is correctly way more important, than having x lines of code, since when we find ourselves in a position where there is ton of different decentralized distributed social network platforms (ok) with each their own protocols (BAD), we may find it even less favorable than today...

  • Just nationalize it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gig ( 78408 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:57AM (#32146616)

    The problem is, they have something that's non-commercial, so to make it commercial, they keep selling their users out. It would be better to just have the government buy it and turn it into with the privacy settings as they were in 2005.

  • by alexandre ( 53 ) * on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:57AM (#32146622) Homepage Journal

    We need to have a project that aims to unite all the privacy projects out there to make something good come out of it, using the power of the crowd with free software in a privacy respecting matter but in a much more powerful way that can actually serve people...

    Here are some projects or ideas that deserves to be noticed:

    An openID with privacy features: []

    P2P social networks / research: [] []

    P2P search: []

    P2P SIP: []

    Encryption: []

    P2P encrypted networks: [] []

    Augmented reality / group mapping: [] []

    Mesh: []

    I envision a setup where our cell phones or little home servers (open ones, like the n900 or better) can connect to each other via mesh, have open social infrastrcture running on them routed over an I2P layer so nobody knows who is talking to who and you have total control as to who/when/what is seen by your peers.

    These setup have cameras that can use such network to create massive collaborative networks to document a situation or location. Be it a manifestation where you relay real time camera from all angles with sound level maps and other sensors to augmented reality group interaction and other crazy ideas.

    This is more broad that what is discussed here as it touches all OSI layers and ask for a shift toward a p2p infrastructure at all level respecting and working for the user and independance from middle man as much as we can.
    Of course a distributed DNS might have to be worked on too. I think these research are fundamental to the survival of freedom online as we knew it ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:04AM (#32146668)

    I go with the level of trust with keys / certs. But like a PGP email network you lose or screw your key you're screwed because facebook won't be there to clean up your drool.

    Key exchange is the bitch. How do you send a key to someone and yet remain mostly anonymous. I was to some extent able to do that with PGP key servers but what luddite butt munch on facebook even comprehends that?

    Ah. I share everything anonymously. And I vanish if need to. If I want to find my classmates I just need to look through the crosshairs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:30AM (#32146820)
    I think Wave (if its ever finished and working well) could form the backbone of this. Since anyone can run their own wave server, and wave servers can talk to each other, you pretty much have all you need for this, which is, a robust way to post and share information in real-time with specific, securely authenticated people. However, what people don't realize is that Facebook is hosting untold petabytes of peoples photos and videos, even if you have only an average number of friends posting an average number of photos and video's the amount of online storage you would (as a group) have to maintain is quite large. Presumably a company could host this for free with advertising, but then the might feel like thats not enough and want to mine your data, and your'e right back where you started from. I think someday you could rebuild something identical to facebook with wave-like technologies, and while the primary implementation would be something very corporate and facebooky, it should have the advantage of being able to host your own profile on your own server. What will actually happen though is people will stop caring about privacy. Whats the historical precedent for internet-based ventures which failed outright because they wanted people to share too much information? I think most of the erosion of online privacy is merely an erosion of the assumption that people are concerned with it. My mom originally thought facebook was too much information to give out to people, but now shes on it, sharing it all with the world. People actually don't care that much about privacy, they seem to think they do though. I hypothesize that the professed anxiety about privacy is actually about something much more subtle, because for all this talk about privacy, its not slowing anyone down. More than facebook too. My town just passed a law to put security cameras all over the place, there are cameras all over campus, all over britain, and people complain about it at first, but then seem to forget. No one really cares about privacy, afterall, isn't our most secret desire to be able to tell everyone all our secrets?
  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:37AM (#32146868)
    Centralized, proprietary services are gradually displacing standards on the web - web boards over usenet, twitter over IRC, gmail over email, hulu and youtube over (innumerable generations of filesharing protocols from ftp to bittorrent).

    And on a larger scale, we have highly proprietary mobile devices (foremost Apple) displacing PCs altogether.

  • by janwedekind ( 778872 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:44AM (#32146920) Homepage

    ISOC-NY Event: Eben Moglen ‘Freedom in the Cloud’ – 2/5/2010 []. ISOC-NY afterward created a provisional page on their Wiki about a Freedom Box [].

  • by Jer ( 18391 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:09AM (#32147092) Homepage

    Government buy it? Why? Is there some compelling reason that Facebook needs to exist? It's not like a loss of Facebook would cause massive unemployment or be a giant hit to the economy. (Hell, losing Facebook might actually lead to productivity GAINS for the economy overall.)

    Better to have the government pass a law that says "you know those licenses you click on that say 'we can change the terms any time we feel like it'? Yeah - those are invalid. Stop doing it or you open yourself up to a lawsuit. You need to give your customers 90 days notice of changes to your privacy terms and conditions, you need to actually send them via a paper trail (to make the company actually have to expend some money to change their minds about something), and you need to provide a bullet-pointed summary of everything you intend to sell, everything you intend to make public and everything you intend to keep private every time you do this in addition to the legalese that you provide. When you do that, you need to provide a simple way for customers to decide to leave your system and you need to delete all of their personal data on your servers immediately at their request. And if you fail to do these things, the FTC has authority to prosecute you for criminal fraud - in addition to the civil lawsuits your customers will be able to file against you."

    There are many other ways to go about it, but the key ingredients are that customers should always be notified of what information the company is going to be selling or providing public access to, how they can terminate their accounts if they object, and give them a period of time between when the changes are announced and when they are implemented to get their account removed from the system if they choose. Those are the kinds of things that companies should be doing anyway, but without a law on the books there's no incentive for them to do so.

  • Facebook is useful because of its user base, its aggregation, and its API. Personal websites don't provide this.

    Game theory problem.
    Even if 90% of people wanted to switch to open protocols, there's no clear path from A to B.

    In that scenario, you've got four choices:
    1) Call that a tragedy and throw up your hands.
    2) Be a douche canoe and mansplain how Libertarian ideology invalidates the desires of that 90%.
    3) Call for government action.
    4) Find some way to promote private collective bargaining.

    This problem applies to a wide range of issues from DRM to ISP throttling to "developing" world exploitation.

  • by Raffaello ( 230287 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:36AM (#32147264)

    Let me play the role of grumpy geezer here and provide some perspective.

    Every generation comes along and believes they are the first to feel what young people feel, first to socialize as their generation does, etc. etc., and every generation is wrong.

    This has been increasingly true. Since the early 20th c., each succeeding generation has less and less time depth (i.e., they know less and less about how life was lived a half century ago), and less real difference with their predecessors in regard to the ease of long distance communication. As a result, each generation believes they are the first to socialize electronically. They are not.

    There is very little functionally that social networking sites provide that hasn't been present since the advent of inexpensive nation-wide telephone plans about a quarter century ago (the only missing part back then was the mobile piece), and essentially nothing functionally new since the widespread use of mobile phones.

    Those who claim that the means of communication (voice v. sms v. email v. blog v. etc. etc.) makes the difference are deluding themselves. It is these superficial differences that each generation clings to as its identity, so each new generation must find some "new" way to do pretty much exactly the same thing just so they can identify themselves as "young" in contradistinction to the "dinosaurs" who still communicate primarily by some "geezer" technology, be that supposedly "outdated" technology voice, or emaill.

    Facebook is successful because they have sold young people the illusion that they are engaging in a fundamentally new form of socialization. They are not. They are hanging out with their friends just as people have done for 200,000 years or more, its just that the generational window dressing has changed.

    As a result, TFA is yet another misguided attempt at a technological solution (open equivalent to Facebook) to a social problem (young people want a separate social identity from their parents' generation). Facebook and other social networking media provide that separate identity. Replacing it will be a matter of social engineering (i.e., convincing young people that what you're offering is their generation's social identity, and theirs alone), not primarily a matter of technology.

  • by Gerald ( 9696 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:47AM (#32147362) Homepage

    Who controls the data you enter into an OpenID account?

    I do. [] I'm not sure OpenID works they way you think it does.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:00PM (#32147460)

    You forget that there are places caching this information. Stopping use of picasa will most likely not remove your contents from every site that had it cached there. what you put on the net is out there forever in some form or another in most cases. Nothing is stopping someone from acing that info for postarity.

    I still, besides interconnectivity and ease of use, see no difference in facebook over geocities. It's just evolution.

    In all honesty, the main reason why all of this privacy stuff started was marketing. Social networks are scavenged for information on a regular basis so companies can peddle their wares more competently (or so they think) meaning...

    Also, in the end people must realize that there is nothing so unique about them over anyone else. It might suck to realize it, but your personal info really isn't that interesting to anyone except thouse tring to make a buck.. And to them youred just a number anyway.

  • by LaRainette ( 1739938 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:38PM (#32147766)
    The issue is while connected to facebook if you do whatever you like doing it will be registered somewhere. Example ? I connect to facebook on day 1 hour 1, I chit-chat than check my mails and close my facebook page, then I go to or or any website that sells something. Day 1 hours 3 : I reconnect to facebook and what can I find as an ad on my facebook page ? the EXACT PRODUCTS I WAS CHECKING ! And they follow me every hour of every day. Every time I connect to facebook or Gmail I get advertising for products I have been checking somewhere on the web. Thing is : I am NOT registered on any of those site ! so how do they keep track of me ? it's not cookies and it's not IP...
  • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Sunday May 09, 2010 @01:47PM (#32148266) Homepage Journal

    I think you've got it completely wrong.

    My wife talks to her parents on facebook more than she does her friends from highschool.

    The paradigm of communications and interactions on facebook are fundamentally different from the hand written letter, from the phone call, from the email, from the text message, from the face-to-face one on one, and from the hanging out in a physical space.

    People use facebook differently to communicate than they use all of those things.

    They are not looking to invent new technologies to segment themselves from prior generations. It's not like kids have STOPPED texting because of facebook.

    Compare the attributes of various communications mechanisms. Single-cast vs. Multi-cast. Real-time interactive vs. store-and-forward. Immediate feedback vs. delayed feedback. Error-correction deferred response vs. errors sent in-band. Persisted by default vs. volitile by default. Single-media vs. multi-media. Collaborative response vs. isolated response.

    Facebook has different attributes vs. a phone call, an email, an SMS, hanging out in person, etc. People use it differently.

    For instance, there is no way for a kid to use a phone to do a 1:many broadcast of 5 lines of text of how they are feeling _right now_, and to get group-visible/collaborative responses on a time-disparate basis. (well, unless their phone can update facebook -- which many can).

  • by Kozz ( 7764 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @01:49PM (#32148280)

    Who controls the data you enter into an OpenID account?

    I do. [] I'm not sure OpenID works they way you think it does.

    I'm not even sure how OpenID works. I regularly read the blog entries for MAKE Magazine. One day they switched their commenting system credentials, and it says you can log in with OpenID. Oh, and another page somewhere says that if you've got an account with Google, you've got an OpenID. "Great!", I thought. Except I couldn't figure out how the hell to log in with my google/OpenID to the MAKE blog commenting system.

    I'm a software professional. I research and dig through code all the time. I use my Google-fu to find answers. After an hour of surfing, I gave up trying to find the answer to HOW to use my Google acct as an OpenID [] and log in []. I just abandoned the idea of contributing useful comments to the blog. I don't know whether to blame MAKE, OpenID, or myself for not researching for more than an hour.

    (In fact, at the moment of this writing, [] is answering HTTP requests with some kind of incompete TGZ response content type. wtf?)

  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @03:54PM (#32148950)

    Facebook is successful because they have sold young people the illusion that they are engaging in a fundamentally new form of socialization. They are not. They are hanging out with their friends just as people have done for 200,000 years or more, its just that the generational window dressing has changed.

    While you started out okay, this is just nonsense. I'm no fan of Facebook or any other new "social media" devices (I'm the kind of guy who only takes his cell phone with him when there's an actual important reason to have it), but if you want to claim that there's nothing different about new social media, you're also living with your own illusions.

    Those who claim that the means of communication (voice v. sms v. email v. blog v. etc. etc.) makes the difference are deluding themselves.

    While to some extent, I understand where you're coming from here, this is simply wrong. Cheap nationwide telephone plans in your example didn't give people the ability to broadcast their ideas -- whether short (Twitter, etc.) or long (blog) to potentially millions of people. Studies have been posted here about how teenagers send each other thousands of texts each month on average -- many send at least 100 per day, and some of them send as many as 500 per day. Thousands of such interactions does not actually do the same thing as a couple intimate conversations from a social standpoint. And some interact on Facebook that much as well.

    I very, very rarely post anything on Facebook, but when I do, I usually have a few out of my hundreds of "friends" say something in response. This includes a lot of people I haven't seen in years, people I'd never pick up the phone to call... in essence, people I sort of know, but people I wouldn't really call my "friends" in the real world. Yet they will respond to something I say, and if I were to post updates about my life, they might read them, etc. Keeping up hundreds of "friendships" in the real world is next to impossible, but now you can keep hundreds of connections active -- or at least broadcast your thoughts to hundreds of them. Generally, someone's out there listening.

    And I'm someone who's notorious as never being on Facebook. For my close friends who are, these sorts of interactions are happening all the time.

    If you don't see the difference between hanging out with maybe a dozen close friends in long personal conversations versus having 140-character or so interactions with hundreds or even thousands of people who tune in and out as they wish, well, I don't know what to say.

    It's sort of like comparing a search engine to traditional reference materials. In Google, I can search thousands or millions of resources instantly. Or I could look up things in the dozen or so books on my shelf. If I have thousands of resources instantly at my fingertips, the way I use it will be different (I'll look for smaller, more specific bits of things) than if I only have a few books (I'd be likely to read longer passages to get greater context, be dependent on a few limited authorities on a topic, etc.). Social interaction on Facebook does a similar thing -- and it is different from "hanging out with your friends."

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @05:45PM (#32149512)
    Thanks for "mainsplaining", yourself. Actually, there are a lot more options than just those. In any of the areas you listed.

    For just one example: Somebody could create a facebook-like site that doesn't blatantly violate privacy. And actually there are some out there already. It has always mystified me why so many gravitated to Facebook anyway. Its API is no big deal, and the site doesn't really offer me anything else that 100 other sites don't. The only unusual thing it has going for it is user base, which makes it valuable to other businesses, which is in fact the very thing that has driven compromise of privacy. And by the way: all my personal information in my Facebook account, except for my name, has ALWAYS been blank. Anticipating this privacy issue (especially after public statements by Zuckerberg in previous years) did not exactly take genius-level reflection.

    Many solutions already exist. As long as you don't insist on being on the exact same site as 4 billion other people. And standards for interoperation between sites also already exist. And there is nothing preventing the formation of public APIs. It has been done in other areas.

    So I don't see this as being such an exercise in Game Theory at all. Much less something that can be narrowed to just 4 options. The real solution is to illuminate, or create if necessary, that path from A to B. In this case it's already there. And it isn't in any of your 4 categories. That is just the Fallacy of a False Dichotomy, squared.
  • by Kozz ( 7764 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:17PM (#32150806)

    Great. And if you go to the MAKE magazine url in the GPP and paste your suggested URL, it says "Could not verify the OpenID provided: The address entered does not appear to be an OpenID".

    An AC also responded to my original post with a different URL. Produces the same error. Even on Slashdot, site of techies and geeks, it's difficult to solve this problem... (this is not meant to reflect on you personally, just the situation)

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.