An Internet Without Gatekeepers

I’ve often wondered about the possibility of creating an alternate internet, one that is truly decentralized and arises from individuals forming short-range connections with each other. This post by Ian Pearson seems to be calling for just such a network:

“So I tend to lean towards wanting a new kind of web, one that governments can’t control so easily, where freedom of speech and freedom of thought can be maintained. If a full surveillance world prevents us from speaking, then we need to make another platform on which we can speak freely.

“I’ve written a number of times about jewellery nets and sponge nets. These could do the trick. With very short-range communication directly between tiny devices that each of us wears just like jewellery, a sponge network can be built that provides zillions of paths from A to B, hopping from device to device till it gets there.

“A sponge net doesn’t need any ISPs. (In fact, I’ve never really understood why the web needs them either, it is perfectly possible to build a web without them). Each device is autonomous. Each shares data with its immediate neighbours, and route dynamically according to a range of algorithms available to them. They can route data from A to B so that every packet goes by a different route of need be. Even without any encryption, only A and B can see the full message. The various databases that the web uses to tell packets where their destination is can be distributed. There is a performance price, but so what?”

I left in the part at the end about performance price, because despite Pearson’s dismissiveness, that might actually be a fairly big concern. If I understand correctly, a network like this would need a fair amount of public adoption to be successful, and if adoption means that people have to put up with slower speed, that could be a big obstacle.

That aside, I like the idea a lot, and I have no doubt that given improvements in technology over the next ten years, such performance issues will become less of a concern. Certainly the possibility of networks that don’t pass through ISPs is one more reason why artificial scarcity can never work.

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