O2M – One to Many, The Distributed Social Network
I for one am tired of using free systems that are funded by my own contribution to this world. My connections with other people are fuelling the accuracy of advertisement agencies and quite frankly, there’s nothing more annoying.
The fact of the matter is that when data is all in one place and we’ve willingly ticked the “I Agree to These Terms and Conditions” box, we’ve also allowed for third parties to become involved.
But the Internet is better than this. There is no need for a centralized website and database where everyone stores their entire lives. To me, this simply creates unnecessary copies of everything you’ve ever thought or done and puts it in the hands of those who want to make money from it. There are ways to socialize without a central authority. The data in question should be transmitted from sender to receiver and then it’s gone. It should be stored for as long as is technically required. It should also only be stored for as long as is absolutely necessary.
This should be the case for social networking. Everyone has a computer, which is capable of becoming a web server. After all, a web server is just another program running on a computer, preferably one connected to the Internet. The program responds to requests from incoming connections and returns data given that the requestor has proven that they can be trusted (the same level of trust that you would assign to a friend, perhaps). Also, they must prove that they really are that person to prevent anyone pretending to be anyone else. This is the foundation of the social network I’m about to describe.
The data in question is social data. Data you would like to share with your friends. This data is stored on your own personal computer. This way, you can delete it whenever you like. You can also edit it whenever you like. The data can only be accessed when your computer is connected to the Internet (or at least to the requestor’s computer via a network). Implementations of this network may implement caching for speed increases, but the temporary files will only be stored on your friends’ computers (this may make ‘deleting’ a file quite difficult, but once data can be accessed, it can be copied anyway, regardless of caching).
Network Protocol - HTTP
In the spirit of not reinventing the wheel, it would be most appropriate to use the web as the foundation for this social network. The HTTP protocol comes with security and authentication features that will be most important to create a secure implementation of the network. Data will be exposed through a web interface that can be accessed only by friends.
The graphical user interface of this system can be anything, but for an easy transition between today’s social networks and the one I propose here, a browser-based interface would be appropriate.
This is another key part of the social network. In any social network, others who wish to share their opinions respond to initial “posts” with “comments”. Here, there is no necessary distinction, but how does one link a “comment” to a “post” if they’re on different machines? No problem, use a link. Links have already revolutionized the way we communicate data with the rest of the world, so why not use them here.
There is a hierarchy or tree structure that spans the Internet, connecting friends and their data together into one social network. Each user has their own tree consisting of nodes. Each node has a piece of content, which can be reached by URL (constructed from the IP of the friend who left it) and children. The content could be literally any data of any format but in fact, it should be reachable via a URL. This means that parts of trees from networked computers can be downloaded at high speed, followed by the potentially large files linked to at each node. It also means that authentication to access actual content can be done separately. For a more familiar feeling, the tree need not be fetched but maybe the same nodes in order of time or only the nodes of which descend from a specified node in a tree (such as the root node).
If I make a post on my local machine, and a friend comments on it, then their comment is linked to from my machine. That way, I have control of the link and they have control of the data. This is how social networks should be. If someone then comments on their comment, the same thing happens because posts and comments are ultimately pieces of text stored on their creators’ machines, reachable via URLs. But because I was the original poster, all of the links are stored on my machine.
Naturally, friends are the only ones who can create links and they reserve the authority to change or delete the link so long as it’s theirs.
Friends are people you trust. People are either not your friend or they are. This binary nature of the term “friend” can be extended to the binary nature of being able to login to a web server. You either can or you can’t. If someone would like to see my posts, then they must have “registered” their friendship with me. This means that I have a record of them in my database and a way to make sure that it really is them requesting data. A simple password and username system would suffice here, but any level of authentication is possible.
Obviously, all data should be absolutely secure from any third parties wishing to listen in. Solutions to this already exist and they really do work, so long as you can trust the person you’re communicating with not to give away their private keys. This may not be truly the case with every website you’ve ever visited but it is certainly true with your friends. So the real problem with security is trust and this problem is solved when you trust whom you communicate with. It makes sense really, when you think about it.
I first define a data dictionary explaining each of the objects in this social network. The server you expose to your friends will also need a defined set of functionalities so that implementations can agree on how to communicate.
|Tree||There is one of these stored on each user’s computer. It is a structure that begins with a root Node and each Node belongs to a parent except the root.|
|Node||One node has a Friend that created it (this could be the owner of the tree) and an identifier to identify the Content on the Friend’s machine. A node also has a creation time.|
|Content||This can be downloaded at a URL once a unique identifier is known. At the URL can be any data and when downloaded, it will come with a Content-Type header, which will allow it to be rendered accordingly.|
|Friend||Each Friend object contains an IP address, port number and a name. This is just a minimum. If authentication is required, perhaps a password for accessing this Friend’s server is also needed.|
|GET||/posts||Return a JSON tree containing the Nodes on this server.||Friends|
|GET||/timeline||Return a JSON array of Nodes and their children that are descendants of the root, sorted by time created.||Friends|
|POST||/posts||Add a Node to the root Node of the Tree.||Owner|
|POST||/node/somenode||Add a Node to the Node identified by “somenode”. The user who creates this Node should have already created content on their machine for this Node to link to.||Friends|
|GET||/content/somecontent||Get the Content represented by the identifier “somecontent”.||Friends|
|POST||/content/somecontent||Add a piece of Content to the collection of Contents stored on this machine with the identifier “somecontent”.||Owner|