Sunday, 30 May 2010


The more people communicate, the more objective truth there is in the world. If human society functioned in any other way, we would have perished long ago. Concurrently the rise of social networking is redefining the fabric of society in a way that hasn't occurred since the invention of the telephone.

The majority of us agree that this is a positive dynamic, allowing society to healthily police itself. More conservative and especially criminal, opportunist elements, particularly aspects of the state which have become self perpetuating, fear increased communication will shed light upon the inequalities within society which they have managed to use to their advantage.

In the future are we likely to see social networks prioritize posts in order to silence political activists and future politicians? Will our communication be sabotaged in other ways? We may never again see the likes of the huge social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. The establishment would prefer networks become smaller, more specialized, perhaps focused around social identities such as newspaper brands or location. Or even entirely state controlled.

There is some suggestion that the real justification for the establishment’s fear of social networks is their misconceived potential to bring political revolution. Yet I believe these concerns are entirely unfounded. If we consider society in the decades which lead to the rise of communism in Russia, life for the majority of us was extremely arduous, child labour and poverty were rife, the welfare state was in its infancy, whilst a twelve hour working day was common place. Life expectancy for an average male was just 48 years. The refinement of the manufacturing process from Ford's early assembly lines to today's almost completely automated factories, has brought with it leisure and to some extent luxury in comparison with earlier centuries. Innovations in science and medicine, along with welfare reform have extended average life expectancy to over 70 years for most of us. We now hope with some complacency, the revision of the proverb "Teach a man to surf" will cure all of humanity's ills.

Increased dependency upon cloud hosting to provide social networks brings with it several vulnerabilities. In many ways a comparison may be drawn with a media having only one newspaper or television channel. A primary concern being that it is relatively easy for one of the social network's employees to silence or persecute a member of society, deprioritizing their posts or silencing them completely without the person's awareness, playing down politically contentious issues. Most disturbingly facts may be hidden: the results of opinion polls may not reflect the public's real beliefs. These dangers could also be surreptitiously factored into the design of the system and political bias subsequently bought and sold.

Relying on a single privately owned company to provide such facilities is clearly putting all of our eggs in one basket, a situation which may be compared to everyone on the planet using one telephone company. Whilst many different networks would not provide the same experience of communicating with all of our friends or colleagues en masse, how tall should any one building be?

The cloud has been in the corporate incubator for long enough. A community solution would seem a safer approach. If not one akin to Wikipedia, then perhaps a peer to peer cloud platform, borrowing from distributed computing projects like SETI at Home and Folding, whilst adopting Linus Torvald’s "Git" philosophy, could provide the necessary infrastructure for a community hosted social network.

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