Talking About Protocols Not Platforms In SF

from the come-out-and-check-it-out dept

Last year, via the Knight Institute at Columbia, I published my long article on Protocols, Not Platforms, explaining that there was a potential technological solution to many of the big concerns raised about big tech today, from privacy to competition to content moderation and more. The paper has been well received and even has helped influence Jack Dorsey and Twitter on rethinking what Twitter should be in the future.

Our friends at the Lincoln Network have now set up a panel discussion in San Francisco on February 20th in which we'll be discussing this idea. Registration is free. The panel will consist of myself, Cory Doctorow of EFF/Boing Boing, Ashley Tyson of the Web3 Foundation, and Mai Sutton who has been working on a variety of distributed internet projects, including associate producing DWeb Camp and also been heavily involved in the People's Open Net, a community-owned mesh wireless network in Oakland.

Given the panelists and the topic, I'm sure it will be fun, intriguing, and lively discussion. Sign up now.

Filed Under: platforms, protocols


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 8:30pm

    Definition of Protocol

    I am having trouble with the definition of Protocol, as you are using it.
    I can't visualize what you are talking about.
    Maybe you could walk us through one or two examples.

    It is all Greek to me.
    I clicked on the link, and it was still Greek.
    This topic is different from most other topics you deal with, and I feel like a dummy on this one.

    I have worked with punch cards, Assembly and COBOL, but have been out of that loop since state governments converted to personal computers.

    Thanks

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 8:57pm

      Re: Definition of Protocol

      continued...

      It sounds like you are saying everybody has to turn the clock back and build their own websites before they can send mail, post on a bulletin board, or join a discussion. Like in the wild, wild west - put a For Sale sign on your farm gate, but don't put a sign in town at the Post Office. But nobody is going to drive out to your farm in the first place if they don't know your farm is for sale in the first place, because they don't see a sign in town at the General Store in the first place. But I don't think this is what your mean.

      So how does it work? I still haven't figured out how to use Facebook yet.
      How can I use "protocols" if I don't even understand 5 words associated with the discussion?

      I think we should have protocols so we don't have to have lawyers - now I CAN visualize that. Make all legal process user friendly. And write laws like they write computer code: If A, then B. If not A, then C, etc. Use some kind of everyday logic, so the laws don't contradict themselves and you have to take everything to court. Now that's a scam

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mike Masnick (profile), 6 Feb 2020 @ 9:14pm

        Re: Re: Definition of Protocol

        Do you use email? Congrats you use a protocol. I assume you didn't set up your own email server, but rather you rely on a service that someone else set up that you can use. The same would be true of the protocols I'm talking about. Services can spring up to let you use them, so you wouldn't have to do anything different than you do today. It's just that you'll have more control and more say in how your data is used, and there will be more competition, in case the service provider you do use turns out to be one you don't trust.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Feb 2020 @ 10:37pm

        It sounds like you are saying everybody has to turn the clock back and build their own websites

        That might not be such a bad thing, y’know. Social media networks such as Twitter¹ are not good for society; they're addictive (and designed to be so) and they're ground zero for trolling, mis- and disinformation campaigns, cyberbullying, and basically negativity in general. Going back to the days of GeoCities or even LiveJournal doesn’t sound like a bad idea in comparison. I'd rather have small, focused sites where people can use their own voices to express their own ideas instead of the firehose of bullshit and borrowed opinions that is modern social media.

        And as someone who uses Twitter: Yes, I recognize the irony in saying this.


        ¹ — This doesn't include apps/systems like Slack or Discord, which are basically realtime chatrooms.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 7 Feb 2020 @ 2:15am

          Re:

          It sounds like you have a very rose-tinted view of what those other sites were. The major difference is that they had their heyday in a time before everybody was online, not any fundamental design that kept the riff-raff out.

          There are issues with modern social media, but things won't magically return to land of fairies if it disappeared. Removing the modern equivalent of fw:fw:fw:Fw:Fw email chains won't make the underlying issues disappear.

          "¹ — This doesn't include apps/systems like Slack or Discord, which are basically realtime chatrooms."

          This Discord? https://slate.com/technology/2018/10/discord-safe-space-white-supremacists.html

          But, yeah, systems like Slack that are geared mainly toward working tech professionals to collaborate on project don't have the same problem as a mainstream general purpose site that encourages brief posts.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Feb 2020 @ 6:42am

            It sounds like you have a very rose-tinted view of what those other sites were.

            I harbor no illusions in re: the “pre-Twitter” era (henceforth PT Era) of Internet. But the big difference between then and now is simple: Back then, everyone who visited a website generally saw the same thing. With Twitter, Facebook, etc., everyone sees something different because of how timelines work. That creates hotbeds for dis- and misinformation attacks, which can take hold in one segment of Twitter users (e.g., conservatives) and continue to spread practically unabated.

            I’m not saying the PT Era of the Internet was an information superhighway to utopia. But all things considered, I’d rather have that era than the era of Twitter, of the fear of missing the next timeline update, of the addictive technological nightmare that is current social media.

            the modern equivalent of fw:fw:fw:Fw:Fw email chains

            For the record, one of the worst things Twitter ever did was implement “quote tweeting”. (One could argue that the retweet function itself is a worse thing. And one of my informal “rules” of social media survival is “when you follow someone, immediately turn off retweets or their equivalent”.)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 7 Feb 2020 @ 7:23am

              Re:

              "Back then, everyone who visited a website generally saw the same thing"

              Yes. But, not everybody visited the same websites.

              "With Twitter, Facebook, etc., everyone sees something different because of how timelines work"

              Yes, and without them everyone see something different based on whether they choose to visit the Daily Mail website rather than the BBC, or Infowars rather than the New York Times.

              I agree that the "addictive" nature of social media is an issue. But, the real problem is intellectually incurious people getting information from memes and vapid self-proclaimed "celebrities" rather than factual sources, then shutting out dissenting voices. I don't think that will improve by forcing them to choose the URLs they visit rather than the pages they "like". That problem has been around since long before the internet. The only thing that's changed is the speed with which the effects happen.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Feb 2020 @ 7:41am

                The only thing that's changed is the speed with which the effects happen.

                And that’s a legitimate goddamn concern about which we should all be aware — and, if possible, fighting against. A “slower” Internet isn’t necessarily the answer. But it would be a good start.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2020 @ 8:04am

              Re:

              With Twitter, Facebook, etc., everyone sees something different because

              Nobody can keep up with anything other than a very small subset of posts to twitter, and have to decide who to follow.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Feb 2020 @ 10:00am

                Information overload is part of the problem, yes. How we solve that problem is somewhat less of a societal issue and more of a personal one. After all, some people have to keep up with shitloads of info (e.g., journalists).

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tex2us (profile), 7 Feb 2020 @ 2:33am

          Re:

          We all have a brain to use as a filter for trolling and disinformation.

          As long as I check for sources, as see Facebook as the best news aggregator. And platforms like Facebook limit problems that were before, like exposure, fragmentation and yes, spam.
          Platforms like Facebook may have the censorship problem, but as a simple news aggregator, I don't miss email lists (or the giant spam folder, leaking into the inbox)
          PS: When I say news, I don't mean CNN like news, but ArsTechnica like news, so censorship is not a problem here.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Feb 2020 @ 10:27pm

      I am having trouble with the definition of Protocol, as you are using it.

      A protocol is a set of rules for communications systems to follow so people can…well, communicate. Email is a protocol, since its rules let people with email accounts on different services communicate with each other. In terms of social media, the Mastodon protocol is a similar example: While people may fork (and have forked) the original protocol to add their own tweaks and touches, the base protocol still allows for people on different services (“instances”) to communicate despite the differences.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2020 @ 12:03pm

        Re:

        Thanks.

        Does it go along with the idea of infrastructure? I can visualize what that means.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 Feb 2020 @ 5:11pm

          A platform would be the server on which messages are stored, and a protocol would be the software that reads the message. (Again, think email.) That is a far too simplified way of putting it, but that’s also the best I can manage.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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