Thoughts of a Dragon

A collection of cool random stuff

Decentralization and Peer to Peer, Why and How

March 06, 2021 — Billy

Perhaps you have come across articles in your wanderings on the internet talking about decentralization. It means that no one or two central authorities control or own the internet. This setup makes it impossible for one or two organizations to hit the kill switch for everyone. Also going decentralized and peer to peer will let the internet regulate itself instead of being corrupted to the point of not being usable. Moving services to a decentralized or peer to peer format is also a great stride toward regaining your privacy.

I have spoken with several people who have told me “I’m not doing anything wrong, let them spy on me.” This, of course, is not the point of privacy. My response to these people tends to be, if you feel that way, why not go bathe in public, at a high profile public fountain. Just strip down, right in front of everyone, in rush hour, and bathe. You’re not doing anything wrong, in fact, bathing is quite healthy, and cleanliness is a virtue.

To this day, no one has taken up that challenge. So why is it ok for people to look over your virtual shoulders, watching everything you do, but not ok for the same people to watch you bathe? In both cases, strangers are observing your actions, most likely without your consent.

So, in a concise manner, why is decentralization and peer to peer the way to go? Here are some, but probably not all, of the answers.

  • Better online privacy
  • More reliable services that are difficult to take down
  • Less government regulation
  • It is nearly impossible to censor
  • The potential for a more robust decentralized domain name system
  • Encourages creativity and innovation due to the open nature of the software that powers it
  • At least some resistance to tampering from inept, idiotic, or terrorist minded law makers.

Let’s be real here about the law makers, all they care about is lining their pockets, your right to privacy be damned. Have you ever felt just the tiniest bit safer because you had to click past a cookie banner? Will you see any of the money collected from a violation of the cookie law? If you answer these questions truthfully, and are not one of the worthless individuals who came up with this worthless law, the answer is, of course no. So, it exists as a burden on webmasters in the hopes that someone will get it wrong, and then they can be fleeced. The third example, about your real information being required speaks for itself. Let’s make sure that companies have absolutely correct information about you, so those people who put in all that effort to pull off massive data breaches haven’t wasted all that effort.

Here are just a few examples of how depending on centralized corporation controlled services have caused problems for every day people. In some cases the problems were resolved in just a few hours or days, but had these people been in control of their own services, these disruptions would not have happened.

A note about the final link in the above list. I wanted to show that not even holding what is considered by many to be the most powerful position in the U.S. makes you safe from censorship. I don’t care about the politics, I don’t care which party he belongs to, or which parties appose his views. The fact is, on those platforms, the first amendment is worth exactly nothing. Your right to free speech ends the second your words disagree with the opinions of the “Fact checkers”.

I personally believe in you, dear reader, I think you are smart enough to investigate the facts for yourself. Perhaps your opinion will disagree with mine. Perhaps you will agree with me. What I will not do, however, is try to prevent you from forming your own conclusions in spite of the fact that I do have my own agenda, to get you onboard with decentralization, peer to peer, and maybe even encryption. I do encourage you to do your own research. Don’t just read the links I included here, use your favorite search engine and do your own research. No censorship here.

If you read the link about Parler. Imagine that happening to your small business. You have put in years of hard work, you’re starting to be noticed, things are taking off and suddenly, the rug is pulled right out from under you, nothing you can do. Your app is pulled off the market, your very web presence is taken off line. Could this have happened if Parler invested in their own servers? Possibly, but it would have been a whole lot more difficult to pull off, and Parler owners would at least have had some say in what happened. Of course, the main problem with Parler is it is a centralized service.

So how hard is it to start taking back the internet from large centralized corporations? Not very difficult at all actually. You can, for example, create your very own server from a Raspberry Pi, or other single board computer. With such a server, you could provide your own music and video services using tools like Airsonic, DLNA, or Funkwhale. You could run your personal blog, using the highly recommended by me BashTML, or Wordpress. You can even run your very own video site with Peertube. Instant messaging can be handled through the use of an XMPP server such as Prosody, or Matrix.

Of course, you don’t have to run these from your home, you can instead get a VPS. The problem with this solution is, your data is still not on site, and is in a third party location. With reputable providers though, this is not that big of a deal. The real problem is that if everyone flocks to the same provider, then things are centralized again, and one [denial of service][ddos] attack can bring it crashing down, not to mention risks of censorship going up.

There is one major reason to get a VPS. If you want to run your own email server, you cannot do so from home. Email originating from a residential IP address is always, without fail, marked as spam by any of the large email providers. I’m not sure why this is, and I have not really noticed that it decreases spam in any manner at all. I guess that if the large providers always mark home based email as spam, people will believe their only alternative is to use the corporate centralized providers. This has turned out not to be the case though since you can use a VPS for your own email.

Probably the most simple way to set up your own email is to use Mail in a Box. It is designed to be easy to use, you don’t have to be a technical genius to get it up and running. It is a turnkey solution that doesn’t require, or allow, much specialized configuration. If you want to have specialized settings, or use a different Linux distribution, it is better to set up your own mail.

How to replace things like Facebook and Twitter? Nothing could be easier. There are many options for getting into a decentralized social media platform. In fact, some of them have been mentioned previously. Most recently, mastodon has received a lot of attention. It is certainly a viable alternative, but not the only one, nor is it the software I use. Other options include Diaspora, Friendica, GNU Social, and Pleroma.

One social media protocol that I have been exploring recently is Secure Scuttlebutt. I interact with it using the Oasis software. It is reasonably easy to setup, and you can use your browser of choice to access the server which runs on http://localhost:3000. It is worth noting that you will most likely need to connect to a pub server. You will probably also want to set a friendly username in the profile section so that when you post something your name will show up instead of your extremely long user ID. For example, my name there is storm_dragon. My user ID, however is:


If you search for that string, and find me, feel free to follow me. Say hello and let me know you want a follow back. I look forward to meeting you.

As with any new endeavor, the first step is the hardest. I am not saying that you need to rush out this very instance and delete your online corporate profiles and spend days setting up all this stuff right away. Take it easy, maybe try one of these services today and another in a few more days. For many of the services listed above, you don’t even need any technical know how. You can join a public GNU Social or Peertube instance. Just remember that the more control you have over the service, the less likely you will be a victim of censorship. Installing to your own server means you are in control of your own data and moderation tools.

If Mr. Trump had been using Peertube for his videos, if he had been using Mastodon for his microblogging, if he had put this stuff on his own server, he would have been in control. Whether or not we agree with what is said, we must all agree that the right to say it has to be protected at all costs.

If you do decide to get your own server, or VPS, here are some links to excellent resources. These links are affiliate links and may result in a commission for me or my friends. The links given do not affect your final price. If you would prefer not to use the affiliate link, you can visit the site directly without clicking it.

Composed to the sound of Murderdolls - White Wedding - Bored ‘Til Death

Tags: decentralization, peer-to-peer