Building a Better (And more Private) Internet - Old Man Yells at (the) Cloud

Temporal Refugee

Left with a trace of all that was.
kiwifarms.net
As I (and others) have ranted about several times, the internet's largely gone to shit. Deplatforming, agenda-driven intellectual dishonesty, unchecked (indeed often outright encouraged) mental illness, banality, and just about every variety of iredescent sub-saharan imaginable all plague virtually every corner of the internet allowed to exist without a constant uphill battle.

The general populace of the internet has become increasingly polarized, stunted, and downright stupid over the last few years, swarming like locusts to every platform possible to either reshape them into echo chambers or burn the ones that resist to the ground. This is all made possible (if not outright caused) by the consolidation of power into the hands of an insanely small number of publishers, payment processors, advertising agencies, and social media sites.

This thread is to discuss the possible ways in which people can cultivate an internet experience that isn't dictated by the "1%" of the internet, such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Conde Nast (Reddit), et al as well as affording users privacy at or exceeding the level expected before surveillance became the norm.

This can include anything from suggestions for software + sites that enable and encourage free speech, to discussion of ideas on how new tools could be built to allow the free exchange of ideas and information in an era where such a thing is becoming increasingly difficult to facilitate.



For my initial contribution, I'd like to share a list of my favorite alternatives to popular services. A star next to their headers means they're self hostable, which is (in my opinion) the only way to guarantee 100% resistance to censorship and/or surveillance.

Social Media: Mastodon⭐

Hands down, the social media alternative. It's largely a Twitter clone, but with a less 🌈 design. Anybody can host their own instance for users to sign up and post on, and the content posted there is propagated to other instances with which the host is "federated". Unfortunately this does allow for a form of soft deplatforming by pressuring the most popular instances to disallow federation for smaller ones hosting "wrongthink" (See: Gab) but nothing can be done to outright memory hole the content so long as the instance is hosted. Psst - For a good demo and/or a good time, check out kiwifarms.cc

Search: Searx⭐

A "metasearch" engine that fetches results from the big boys and relays them back to you stripped of the tracking URLs, without storing your information. Can be self hosted for full assurance of privacy - Just remember to do so on a remote system somewhere or through a VPN, or else your IP is still the one scraping the information, dumbshit.

Browser: Brave

A Chromium fork built around privacy. I'm not a huge fan of projects using Google's code as a basis, but it's my understanding that Brave has been pretty thoroughly vetted.

OS: Debian, Linux Mint, or Tails OS

While not "internet" per se, censorship and surveillance can and do happen at the level of your OS itself, and/or how it handles traffic, so I wanted to list these here so people can avoid the pitfalls of doing everything right, but on a fundamentally compromised system such as Windows.
  • Debian is about as well known to the tech crowd as one can get. It's a major project in the Open Source movement, with constant effort to replace "non-free" software with FOSS.
  • Linux Mint is a great way to dip your toes into the Linux waters, and is recommended here as a starting point for newbies to cut their teeth on before either graduating to something more security oriented or hardening their installation manually. It's basically a fork of Ubuntu with a better UI that emphasizes user friendliness, but the team did remove the telemetry present by default in Ubuntu so there's that.
  • Tails OS, or The Amnesiac Incognito Live System, is just what it sounds like. This is a project with a laser focus on privacy, designed to boot from a flash drive and retain virtually nothing on shutdown/reboot. No traffic is allowed out of Tails without first going through Tor, protecting your transmissions from packet inspection or other forms of man in the middle surveillance by malicious actors such as hackers, oppressive governments, or shady ISPs.

Texting: Signal

Signal is a privacy-focused texting application that allows encrypted communications between users, while also allowing you to continue texting non users via standard non secure methods.

Online Messaging/Chat: Telegram or Matrix ⭐

  • Telegram is probably one of the most widely adopted services on this list, and allows for encrypted communications and self-destructing messages.
  • Matrix is a protocol standard for decentralized messaging akin to Discord, allowing people to host their own servers. These servers then act not only as a Discord server will, but also as a name server on which users can create an identity and then authenticate against, so your identity within the Matrix sphere can be self hosted or entrusted to a friend rather than a faceless company doing god-knows-what with it and risking removal on their whims. The most popular Matrix client is Element (formerly known as Riot)

I'd love to hear some suggestions from people on hosting options/methods, for those who want to take action to regain control over their data using tools such as those discussed above.
 
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Rusty Crab

but it did get worse
kiwifarms.net
Brave is the only thing on this list that can pass the "can my mom use it" test (maybe signal too). That's the bar you have to get passed for normies. Getting the majority of people on effective privacy tools will never happen. It's a cat and mouse game. You just have to stay ahead of the curve and ask "privacy from who".

Not doomposting, but the only way to stop the rampant abuse of tech power is to decrown the people abusing it so hard, if you catch my drift. Otherwise they're going to work night and day to make every emerging technology platform glow in the dark as hard as it can. You tend to lose playing games you don't make the rules for.
 

Temporal Refugee

Left with a trace of all that was.
kiwifarms.net
Brave is the only thing on this list that can pass the "can my mom use it" test (maybe signal too). That's the bar you have to get passed for normies. Getting the majority of people on effective privacy tools will never happen.

Honestly, I'm OK with this. Catering to normies and aiming to get the majority of people on board is exactly how we got here in the first place.

I want the majority of people to know they're getting fucked and take basic steps to prevent it, namely for them to eventually get to the point of raising enough hell that one way or another Google and their ilk die off from either legal action or data starvation. That's my primary concern for the majority.

Otherwise, I want there to be areas of the internet only accessible to those who are intelligent, persistent, or curious enough to make it in without being completely destroyed or buried by massive companies wielding state-level power again.

I know that sounds 🧩 as fuck, but I really don't think anything good (on a large scale) has ever come from a website or online service becoming popular. Every time that tipping point is reached, the culture and structure of said site or service becomes watered down, inane, and shallow. Hell, often they either crash and burn or become the opposite of what they were.

4chan was once a near lawless wasteland where everything was equally stupid unless it was funny until it was undermined by simps, activists, and morality blowhards.
Reddit was once a site home primarily to discussions of a scientific or technological bent with an emphasis on free speech and community-lead curation (Upvote contributions, downvote low value posts) run under a light touch admin ethos, until it got big enough to be bought by Conde Nast and mutated into a heavily censored echo chamber with a built in reward system hack (Upvote thing I like, downvote thing I not like).

I want every individual to have the means to privacy, free speech, and the open exchange of ideas if they want it, but I don't want us to repeat the same flawed mindset that created this mess in the first place and give majority stake of what happens next to the large swaths of people who see nothing wrong with the farming of personal data, the establishment of monopolies in the communication sector, etc. We'll just find ourselves back here in a few more years with nothing to show for the hard work. Accessibility is great, but too much of it too fast poisons the well.

The general population, as a group, is fucking stupid. They're also the golden demographic for advertisers. I don't want every other site I grow to enjoy over the rest of my life to end up retooled for making obscene amounts of money user retention, censored to advance some agenda, or overrun by idiots and assholes.
 

Kosher Dill

Potato Chips
True & Honest Fan
kiwifarms.net
The way I see it, fixing the internet is orthogonal to ending the surveillance state, though both are worthy goals. Let's leave aside stuff like Tor and operating systems. Let's also leave aside issues of decentralization and dealing with governments actively trying to shut you down, because I don't think anyone's solved that yet.

Really, the question you should be asking is: how do we end platform culture? Ideally we should be transitioning off of global platforms and back to individual centers of discussion and exchange.

I do think the issues are largely cultural - technologically we have all the tools we need.
 

Temporal Refugee

Left with a trace of all that was.
kiwifarms.net
The way I see it, fixing the internet is orthogonal to ending the surveillance state, though both are worthy goals. Let's leave aside stuff like Tor and operating systems. Let's also leave aside issues of decentralization and dealing with governments actively trying to shut you down, because I don't think anyone's solved that yet.

Really, the question you should be asking is: how do we end platform culture? Ideally we should be transitioning off of global platforms and back to individual centers of discussion and exchange.

I do think the issues are largely cultural - technologically we have all the tools we need.

I appreciate the depth of thought presented here, but I'd argue that decentralization like Matrix, Mastodon, etc is a step in the right direction. They allow you to control your identity as verified on the authority of yourself or a trusted figure of your choosing, of which there will never be a scarcity by design. They also allow anybody to create a community as broad or narrow as they wish, without needing to rely on any government or corporate entities to keep it afloat.

As you said, we have the tools we need. We just need to take the next step and figure out how to make them best fit together.

As an example, any one of us* could create reasonable equivalents to both Twitter and Discord for themselves and a dozen or so friends with nothing more than a $35 SBC and an hour or so of their time. Maybe more if you're on fiber or the like, and definitely more if you can arrange for external hosting somewhere trustworthy with even greater bandwidth.
* Those of you stuck with DSL or Satellite because there's no cable or fiber exchanges near your complexes might want to scale the user count down a bit

Combine such a home brewed hosting solution with something WiLD or a mesh network, and you could set up an effective intranet for your locality that allows exclusively neighborhood or city level communications akin to BBSes of the past. That's powerful shit.

I don't think we'll end platform culture for quite some time yet, but the internet wasn't born overnight. It started with universities and grew from there. If those of us having these discussions can figure out how to curate an online experience that's both resistant to the cultural issues and free of corporate influence, then hopefully both will dissipate as said culture slowly becomes aware of the better options being built right now, tries them out, and and reawakens to just how nice it is to express opinions and exchange information without being shunned, harassed, threatened, silenced, or surveilled.

The trick is to contributing however we can to making these options both better known and undeniably more attractive than "you are the product" type offerings.
 
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Kosher Dill

Potato Chips
True & Honest Fan
kiwifarms.net
Combine such a home brewed hosting solution with something WiLD or a mesh network, and you could set up an effective intranet for your locality that allows exclusively neighborhood or city level communications akin to BBSes of the past. That's powerful shit.
I think the ship has sailed on that one because we already have a global public internet. It's been a generation since intellectual life hinged on where you live - no one needs to move to the big city or a university town to have any hope of a conversation on their obscure topic of choice anymore. Going back to a model based on geographic proximity just won't be able to compete with existing offerings.

But I would say we don't even necessarily need anything homebrewed. Anyone can go to a shared webhost and start up a forum, mailing list, blog, or that Gopher thing from that schizo guy who keeps spamming here. For relatively normal places that aren't debanked and don't have a 24/7 autism vortex, it'd probably work just fine as long as you can pay the hosting fees and moderate things.

The question is: how do we get people to choose these means of communication over The Platform?
I don't think a "big bang" approach where we try to build out a new "free speech architecture" will work - it would instantly glow like a supernova and attract the A&N types from across the internet. More likely is something like how the original internet developed - small and specialist communities should choose better ways to communicate.
It can start small - what if it became the norm in a community to post your announcements on a static HTML page on Neocities or on a blog, rather than Facebook or Twitter? What if people preferred sending an email to "sliding into your DMs"?

From a technological standpoint, I'd say the biggest issue to ending platforms is that modern internet technology (particularly for the web) is so heavy, buggy, and unstable. The more of a pain it is to keep something online and unhacked, the greater the temptation to just outsource it all to a platform. What we really need is more lightweight, bulletproof solutions.
 

Rusty Crab

but it did get worse
kiwifarms.net
I don't think a "big bang" approach where we try to build out a new "free speech architecture" will work - it would instantly glow like a supernova and attract the A&N types from across the internet. More likely is something like how the original internet developed - small and specialist communities should choose better ways to communicate.
There's a lot of unknowns in this conversation, but this is the one takeaway that everyone should agree on at this point. "Free Speech Alternative" is an actual retard magnet. As I stated elsewhere, good communities state a topic and other people interested in that topic come there for it. If the topic is "Free Speech", 90% of your audience is going to be /pol/tards that just want to scream "nigger". Communities are best when you can have deep, intellectual and focused conversations on a variety of topics while also saying nigger.
 

Temporal Refugee

Left with a trace of all that was.
kiwifarms.net
There's a lot of unknowns in this conversation, but this is the one takeaway that everyone should agree on at this point. "Free Speech Alternative" is an actual retard magnet. As I stated elsewhere, good communities state a topic and other people interested in that topic come there for it. If the topic is "Free Speech", 90% of your audience is going to be /pol/tards that just want to scream "nigger".
This is a real fucking problem with all of the federated/crypto network shit. It's all drugs, gross porn, and "Haha reddit mods can't get me here nigger nigger nigger" faggotry. I'd love to see a landscape more akin to the old internet, with lots of insular communities cross pollinating just enough that it's not a herculean fucking effort to find comfy places to chill.

Communities are best when you can have deep, intellectual and focused conversations on a variety of topics while also saying nigger.
If I could go back and edit the sub title of this thread, I'd make it this.

I think the ship has sailed on that one because we already have a global public internet. It's been a generation since intellectual life hinged on where you live - no one needs to move to the big city or a university town to have any hope of a conversation on their obscure topic of choice anymore. Going back to a model based on geographic proximity just won't be able to compete with existing offerings.
I mentioned that largely as a "it's pretty cool that this is a thing" type deal. Plus it's useful knowledge to get out there for potential worst-case scenarios such as infrastructural deterioration and the like.

But I would say we don't even necessarily need anything homebrewed. Anyone can go to a shared webhost and start up a forum, mailing list, blog, or that Gopher thing from that schizo guy who keeps spamming here. For relatively normal places that aren't debanked and don't have a 24/7 autism vortex, it'd probably work just fine as long as you can pay the hosting fees and moderate things.
You're right, but at the same time I dislike how the precedent for debanking and the like over wrongthink has already been set, and the category of socially acceptable targets for such practices looks like it will only grow in the future. It's going to become more and more difficult to be heard and actually find a home for your content, outside of a narrower and narrower set of checkmark-approved opinions, ideas, and content.

The question is: how do we get people to choose these means of communication over The Platform?
I don't think a "big bang" approach where we try to build out a new "free speech architecture" will work - it would instantly glow like a supernova and attract the A&N types from across the internet. More likely is something like how the original internet developed - small and specialist communities should choose better ways to communicate.
It can start small - what if it became the norm in a community to post your announcements on a static HTML page on Neocities or on a blog, rather than Facebook or Twitter? What if people preferred sending an email to "sliding into your DMs"?
100% agreed. Too much acceleration will murder an architecture, and all we can really do is work to better our own experiences and share information on how we did so as we go. Organic growth.

From a technological standpoint, I'd say the biggest issue to ending platforms is that modern internet technology (particularly for the web) is so heavy, buggy, and unstable. The more of a pain it is to keep something online and unhacked, the greater the temptation to just outsource it all to a platform. What we really need is more lightweight, bulletproof solutions.
Fucking this. The bloated, buggy, and poorly optimized mess of the modern internet is a travesty. I'd really like to see simple, usable websites that don't randomly max out your CPU make a comeback. We had this shit figured out over a decade ago.
 

The Ultimate Ramotith

Pronouns: 俺/前
kiwifarms.net
What about DuckDuckGo? That search engine not only has its own scraper but also can fetch results from hundreds of other sites.

I would like to see ways you can get in self-hosted stuff (especially getting your own servers) and maybe cryptocurrency.
 

Cool Dog

A goodboi denied his Wendy's
kiwifarms.net
I think the only way we can get a privacy respecting service that actually works well enough and its normie-friendly is if you have to pay for it just like you pay your ISP.

With that you eliminate the need to datamine or place ads, tho of course that's not a guarantee that this company wont spy on you which is why it should be located in a country that wont suck NSA dick like the five-eyes ones, and let their servers be audited every so often by some third party to show there has been no tampering.

And despite that there's no guarantee the shinning coloreds wont find a way to still spy on you, but it will be harder than with their FAANG bitches bringing them the stuff for free.

But normalfags are hooked on free* shit, you cant get them to pay for a monthly service like this but they will dump hundreds or even thousands of dollars on tinder gold, vbucks and other freemium shit
 

Shoggoth

kiwifarms.net
The main problem with stuff like matrix, mastodon and everything using the fediverse is that it's still a client-server model. That means someone else manages your identity, i.e. they can ban you, and that they in turn can get banned or kicked off somewhere, because they're responsible for their users' behavior in today's upside down standards.
Signal has also taken a surprising turn with a scam ICO for a pump and dump.
The only viable solution for communication and publishing (communication can be said to be a subset of publishing) is peer to peer and location independent. I don't think the fediverse is a solution, although its protocols can be used for one in the future.
 

Rusty Crab

but it did get worse
kiwifarms.net
The main problem with stuff like matrix, mastodon and everything using the fediverse is that it's still a client-server model. That means someone else manages your identity, i.e. they can ban you, and that they in turn can get banned or kicked off somewhere, because they're responsible for their users' behavior in today's upside down standards.
Signal has also taken a surprising turn with a scam ICO for a pump and dump.
The only viable solution for communication and publishing (communication can be said to be a subset of publishing) is peer to peer and location independent. I don't think the fediverse is a solution, although its protocols can be used for one in the future.
Fedi is not perfect, but it's worlds beyond platforms like twitter for giving the users control. You get to pick your clique, but you still get to interface with everyone else.

Also, what you are talking about can already be achieved with what are called 'single user instances'. I see those with some frequency on Fedi. They've basically just a server you host that does exactly what you describe. If you want really and truly P2P style like a torrent network would have the downside of literally everyone having your home IP address by default. You want SOME kind of barrier there ideally. I'd still use a VPN in any case, but most people wont.

So yes, somebody else is managing my identity right now, but it's somebody who I have a level of trust with because I chose them.
 

Shoggoth

kiwifarms.net
Fedi is not perfect, but it's worlds beyond platforms like twitter for giving the users control. You get to pick your clique, but you still get to interface with everyone else.

Also, what you are talking about can already be achieved with what are called 'single user instances'. I see those with some frequency on Fedi. They've basically just a server you host that does exactly what you describe. If you want really and truly P2P style like a torrent network would have the downside of literally everyone having your home IP address by default. You want SOME kind of barrier there ideally. I'd still use a VPN in any case, but most people wont.

So yes, somebody else is managing my identity right now, but it's somebody who I have a level of trust with because I chose them.
How much of a hassle are single user instances (SUIs, I'll be fucked if I type that again) are to set up and run? What are the compute requirements for such a thing? I read some discussions here that they can suffer from the frequency of updates from the entire fediverse if they aren't beefy enough and you're adjacent to some noisy nodes.
You also rightly bring up the issue with IP, which is why I mentioned locality independence. Fedi still uses the internet for routing, with all the good and bad it brings. VPN is good hygiene, but VPSs are becoming increasingly easy to set up. Still, if routing wasn't done in the IP layer location wouldn't be a problem. I want to talk to an identity, not an IP address.
I'm working on a OP for Urbit and the pros and cons vs. the fediverse will be an important part to discuss, especially with the more savvy kiwis.
There are issues with someone managing your identity, even if it's Null which we know and love:
Null, for example, has a target on his back for various internet schizos. There's a chance the IDs he manages will catch shit, like when the site was hacked. Also, if the identity management server is down, you effectively cease to exist.
Your communications, networks and content aren't portable (correct me if I'm wrong here). If for some reason the server says, guys, it's been a good run, but we're shutting down in a month, can you take you contact lists and content and migrate them to another server? Your content, maybe, but how will you port your contacts if they themselves were part of the shut-down server?
And thanks for bothering with answering my questions 🙏
EDIT: from stuff I've been able to find online, running Fedi SUIs is a pain and requires more technical expertise than Urbit, also less private. Please correct any misunderstandings on my part.
 
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