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So, you want to kill Facebook? That’s certainly a noble cause. As companies go, Facebook is one of the least trusted, and it’s not hard to see why. In many ways, they’re like the ex from hell: one minute, they’re spying on your communications, the next they’re playing with your emotions with desperately sad stories and statuses.
But unlike your 11th grade crush, dumping Facebook is really hard.
Certainly, you can delete your account. Really delete your account, I mean. But that comes with some massive implications. You won’t be able to log into sites which require you to use a Facebook account in lieu of a username and password. You also will inevitably lose friendships and connections, by opting out of the biggest social network on the planet.
One guy wants to finally end the homogeny of the massive data-silos in the sky (read: Facebook, Google and Dropbox). His name is Aral Balkan, and he’s a Brighton-based designer that is currently trying to crowdfund three potential challengers to these Internet Titans. But what makes this plan different than every other Facebook and Google replacement? Its dependence on a decentralized, peer-to-peer infrastructure.
It’s called called ind.ie, and it consists of three parts.
Ind.ie bills itself as “an independent platform to protect our human rights, freedoms and democracy itself”. They say they’re trying to protect us from something they call “Spyware 2.0”, which was defined in an essay by Balkan as “corporate surveillance”.
Spyware 2.0 presents itself as something benign, even helpful. This could be Facebook making it easy to share statuses and pictures with your friends, or Google allowing us to find things on the World Wide Web. But behind this facade, these “features” contain malicious behavior that seek to impinge upon your privacy and, ultimately, your freedom.
Balkan views Spyware 2.0 as a very real, very troubling threat. To combat this, ind.ie is releasing three pieces of software under the umbrella of “Project Stratosphere”, as well as a smartphone.
The tagline of Pulse is “Freedom in Sync”. Currently available for Mac, Windows, Linux, BSD and Solaris, Pulse allows you to synchronize files across multiple devices without having to deal with an intermediary server in the cloud, as you would with Dropbox or even App.net.
Pulse is secure, with all files transmitted protected with strong, TLS encryption,based upon open standards. As with everything released under the ind.ie label, it’s released under a free, permissive license (GPLv3, to be precise).
Heartbeat is a privacy oriented social network that was released on Human Rights Day (December 10) 2014 in a private beta for users of OS X Yosemite.
Like Facebook, you can use heartbeat to ‘share thoughts, photos and anything else’ with your friends, or for the world to see. Unlike Facebook, it doesn’t depend on a central repository of servers. Everything is communicated through a mesh of decentralized, peer-to-peer computers. Besides that, there’s not much known about it.
I’m not sure what Waystone actually is. It promises to be ‘the link between the Indie web and the open web”. Aside from that brief, buzzword-laden sentence there’s not a lot of information about it.
I predict it’ll ultimately present itself as a peer-to-peer infrastructure service that enables other decentralized products to function.
The smartphone arms race is over. Google and Apple have won. Decisively. It’s time to go home Windows Phone. Firefox OS and Blackberry, thanks for showing up.
Is this duopoly good for consumers? Aral thinks not.
When Google and Apple create beautiful experiences, they control the hardware, operating system, and core services. The combination of these three components compromises the user experience. Without control over all three, you do not have control over the end-user experience and cannot possibly hope to compete on experience.
This is why one of the most crucial lynchpins in the ind.ie catalog is the Indie Phone. This promises to be as aesthetically stunning, as it is ergonomically pleasing. And crucially, it will respect your privacy.
At the time of writing, they already have a non-functioning prototype, and have entered the first stage of the industrial design process.
To The Stratosphere
Project Stratosphere is a deeply ambitious project, and it’s obvious to see each of its component products are aimed at toppling some major technology companies. Firms who, in the past, have abused the trust of their users.
The genius of the ind.ie project is that they’re simply unable to break the trust of their users as a result of not actually holding any data themselves. Rather, they’re building the infrastructure and tools necessary to offer a service.
We can also expect the various ind.ie projects to look half-decent. Aral Balkan – the founder and leader of the project – is a designer by trade. This is pretty unusual. Most free software projects are founded by developers and non-design oriented people.
The Network Effect
The Network Effect is a fascinating little piece of psychology. Crucially, it explains why Facebook and Twitter have enjoyed huge amounts of success, while upstarts like Ello, Diaspora, and Path have struggled to build a critical mass.
The logic behind the Network Effect is pretty simple. As more people use a service, the more valuable it becomes to its users.
It’s not something that is limited to websites and apps. Take the telephone, for example, which is only useful because other people own telephones. Similarly, people use Facebook because they know that when they login, everyone they could want to talk with will be there.
For a new service to come close to competing with Facebook, they would have to somehow convince people to move en masse to that service. This is something a lot of sites have tried.
You probably remember ello.co from earlier this year. This VC backed social network promised to offer similar functionality of Facebook and Twitter, without the use of pervasive advertising and selling user data.
It had a burst of attention, which rapidly fizzled out. The reason? Nobody used it. No users, no value.
Then there’s Diaspora. Again, this promised to be the ultimate Facebook killer. Its main selling point was its decentralized nature. Rather than existing in the datacenter of one large corporation, Dispora was built around a variety of nodes operated by volunteers and power users.
Like Ello, it too had a burst of attention. And like Ello, this rapidly fizzled out into nothingness.
Will ind.ie Be Any Different?
Ind.ie has a few advantages that Ello and Diaspora never had. Namely, it’s a design and experience driven project which isn’t entirely dependent upon a centralized infrastructure. What does this mean in real-terms? Users won’t have to sign up to endless waiting lists, and it can grow as its userbase grows.
However, will this be enough to pull people away from Facebook and Dropbox? I’m not sure. However, I can see it appealing to a very small, limited group of internet users, whose needs are already being serviced by the likes of Ello, BitTorrent Sync and App.net.
But what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.