Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Atomic Cloud

The Atomic Cloud: At our recent Social Media Summit, in a break out session with Marti Hearst, Joanna Robinson and others, the topic of the open social network came up: who owns the network implicit in Facebook, what happens if LinkedIn evaporates, etc. [...] Now, imagine a different architecture, one in which our identities are tied intimately to a mobile device that we carry around, and the device is actually an active node in the network. It not only stores your data (your own social network) but also acts as a server for that information (according to appropriate policies). This would remove the risk of the single point of failure and the problems of social graph ownership. (Via Data Mining.)

Back in the 90s, when I worked for AT&T, we spent a lot of time brainstorming about similar ideas, and so did many others. The big problem is that we still need a centralized naming system so that devices know who they are talking to and which devices are authorized to do what. The fantasy or a totally anarchic social networking system is no less a fantasy than extreme libertarian fantasies about radical human autonomy. All of our human transactions depend on social systems for naming and authentication. Thus, the problems with possible failure and abuse of social networking infrastructure are mainly political and economic, not technical. As we have seen with all the political and economic conflicts and compromises with the current Internet naming system.

Coincidentally, Dave Winer has been writing recently about closely related issues, in a more pragmatic but maybe still too optimistic vein.

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