Pirate Bay founder calls for peer-to-peer DNS

Paul Raven @ 01-12-2010

One tends to still think of the internet as a sort of dimensionless new frontier, a conceptual un-space hovering somewhere between anarchy and ad-hocracy, beyond the reach of the archons of meatspace… and to a great extent it is. But not entirely, as Homeland Security’s seizure of more than eighty infringing web domains over the past weekend demonstrates*. The protocols of the internet itself are inherently anarchic, but the domain name sytem that sits on top of it (effectively governing how we see the web, and more importantly who we see there) is a classic hierarchy… and ICANN has demonstrated that it knows exactly which side of its monopolistic bread is buttered, so to speak.

So cue the beleaguered co-founder of the Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde, calling for a peer-to-peer replacement for the DNS system. Ars Technica points out that it’s not going to be easy, cheap, or bulletproof:

There are a number of obstacles standing in the way of P2P DNS. First of all, today Google has a huge array of enormous DNS servers to serve up all the *.google.* domains, while I have an aging Pentium 4 box running DNS and mail for just me. In a new system, people looking for Google may hit my server—as well as the other way around, of course. So I’ll have to invest in a bigger server. With a peer-to-peer system, people also have to depend on the kindness of strangers: random people around the Net have to send people in your direction. This is hard to make secure, and it’s much slower than the existing DNS.

But the biggest problem of all is the ownership of domain names. In a DHT, information is found through hashes of the desired object. With file sharing, this is a hash over the file to be shared. If two people want to share the same file, you actually want to find them both, and download pieces from both of them—that way, the download goes faster. But with the DNS, things work much better if a domain name only maps to a single destination.

[…]

Today, ICANN and the TLDs decide who gets which domain. The Pirate Bay proposes to replace them with an algorithm, one that would reside in the P2P DNS software. The stakes are high: even a small fraction of the traffic of a popular site, or even just an interesting search term, can be worth a lot of money. It’s hard to imagine that with such high stakes there wouldn’t be any abuse of such an open system, or at the very least, widely diverging points of view of what’s best.

All systems will be abused; gaming the set-up is human nature. Everything can and will be hacked. The question here is who we’d rather was able to play the game: should it be anyone with the energy and wherewithal to learn the ropes, or just the unelected appointees of powerful nation-states?

[ * Good on ya, HS; nothing’s gonna spike the wheels of The Terrorists like preventing people from downloading hip-hop albums for free! ]


Diaspora: open-source distributed Facebook equivalent

Paul Raven @ 13-05-2010

I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before (as it’s an idea I predicted in rudimentary form for an article in Focus back in 2007, and I’m hardly at the cutting edge of web software thinking), but the Facebook privacy backlash has prompted a small gang of geeks to build an open-source distributed social network platform that gives you back full control over your personal data [via MetaFilter].

Diaspora is intended to be installed on a webserver, with every installation serving as a node in a peer-to-peer network – a complete reversal of the centralised model that Facebook and similar systems currently work on. Most of the current objections I’m seeing hinge on the fact that the majority of SocNet users don’t yet have their own server and domain name, and aren’t technologically able to maintain one themselves: the former is a matter of cost, and the price of webhosting is falling constantly; the latter is a matter of demand, and the turnkey installation scripts for software like WordPress which are available from many bargain basement hosting outfits suggests that, if the demand increases, the barriers to entry will lower rapidly.

That said, not everyone cares about their privacy online. Whether that matters or not is a debate for another time, but while the situation persists, the free-to-use no-technological-hassle SocNets will always have the upper hand in the casual user sphere. If Diaspora is to succeed, it’ll have to demonstrate tangible advantages over the competition in addition to the more abstract USP plus-points of enhanced privacy.

Fingers crossed… although, as science fiction fans, I think we should all get behind a piece of software that shares a name with a Greg Egan novel. 😉


Peer-to-peer open-source hardware funding

Paul Raven @ 20-03-2009

electronic hardwareIn a moment of pure blogging synchronicity – right after a commenter dismissed the story about Detroit artists buying cheap houses as irrelevant, using the phrase “[c]all me when it is a commune of semiconductor engineers” – here’s a story about open-source hardware engineers getting together and forming a communal bank to provide start-up loans:

… open source hardware requires more financial investment than open source software. It isn’t as easy as downloading a few open source programs on to your existing computer, explains Stack. “With open source hardware you don’t get a finished product until you have put in some money,” he says. For instance, there’s the cost of the printed circuit boards, the solder and the components.

“To build open source software you just need to set up a project on Sourceforge,” says Huynh. “But if you get open source hardware wrong, it burns a hole in the wallet.”

The Open Source Hardware Bank, which isn’t yet fully up and running as a federally regulated lending institution, allows those interested in open source hardware to make investments in specific projects, then (hopefully) reap returns ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent from the successful sale of the projects. For the creators, the bank offers funding that could bring down the costs of their project and give them the stimulus to try out new ideas.

So, a miniature investment banking system based around a community with common interests; financial mobility and specialist knowledge are the main differences from more traditional models.

“Groups of people that have strong shared interest are really the perfect place for peer-to-peer financing to work,” says Scott Pitts, former managing director of Zopa U.S. “As a group they are not out to make a billion dollars, they just want to fund their passion and do it in a sustainable way.”

Only time will tell whether it will stay the course, naturally (and they may not be working on VLSI chip fabrication) but there’s your proof that it’s not just “hippies” and drop-outs who are trying to extricate themselves from the old systems. [via BoingBoing; image by jpokele]


What BitTorrent can teach you about highway traffic control

Paul Raven @ 14-01-2009

highway vehicle headlightsThe guys at the RIAA may loathe BitTorrent with an unholy passion, but researchers at the University of California have found another use for the peer-to-peer protocols that could win it a lot more fans. In a nutshell, you fit cars with wireless modems and make them into a peer-to-peer network that works to reduce traffic jams:

Their Autonet plan would center around ad hoc networks of vehicles and roadside monitoring posts supported by 802.11 technology (the prototype uses 11b). The vehicles would essentially be the “clients” in such a system and feature graphical user interfaces to pass along information to drivers.

The caveat at the moment is that not enough roads have the monitoring infrastructure available to make the system work all the way from the big highways to the small streets. But given the proliferation of monitoring technology, not to mention the continuing (if now more muted) promises of municipal wi-fi networks, that can’t be far off. [via SlashDot; image by IM SNOT REAL]

Of course, what might make even more sense would be investing in the public transport networks so there was less traffic in the first place…


« Previous Page