Starfish: A Vision of a Distributed Network

Network Types

The most prominent internet services such as search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing), public information repositories (Wikipedia) and social networks (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) are highly centralised. Blogging platforms, cloud computing and online storage add to the amount of information and processing power which is not under direct user control but entrusted to third parties. This makes internet users dependent on suppliers of all these services in addition to their internet service providers. Furthermore, it raises concerns about security, privacy, network neutrality and freedom of speech, all of which might be violated intentionally, by accident or even by design.

The majority of internet users is unaware of the basic logic behind the seemingly all-knowing search engine Google, and its exact algorithm is a well-kept secret. Yet if information is not being listed on the first page, few users will ever stumble upon it. The world’s biggest social network is being entrusted with private details such as addresses, phone numbers and birthdays. Due to its very nature it also contains detailed information about any contacts and networks one belongs to. Upon including private pictures and the propensity of users to share their current location one might start wondering about the use cases of this veritable Face-book. Other examples of centralised services include Flickr, YouTube and blogspot.

The business of having users cede their sovereignty over information sources, publishing methods and private information is highly lucrative but renders users dependent and potentially vulnerable to exploitation by such entities. However, there is an alternative.

The goal of Starfish is to enable the creation of a world-wide user-controlled network based on a distributed mesh architecture. This is to be achieved through developing the necessary software and hardware which allows users to form such networks in an ad-hoc fashion independent of any centralised control. Its conceived advantages are the strengthening of net neutrality while diminishing the digital divide, improving local communications and resilience, increasing network capacity and renewing personal responsibility. Many of the required technologies are already available, so it is mainly a matter of developing and integrating them into a coherent structure to achieve these goals.

UPDATE: My original intent to create a separate organisation to further these goals is currently suspended. My contributions in conceptualisation and promotion are listed below. During my work, I have come across like-minded individuals and organisations aiming to achieve the same goal. Many relevant projects are listed on the P2P Foundation pages NextNet and P2P Infrastructure. If you are interested in these topics, you are welcome to contact me for further information.

Presentation at Mindfield Festival ‘Sharing Trust; Sharing Power: How the Starfish outlives the Spider’ (Article) Presentation at the Emerging Communication Conference ‘Power through Self-Responsibility: The Potential of Distributed Networks’ (Prezi)

Original Concept and Presentation (Video). International Summit for Community Wireless Networks 2010 Notes.