Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Not Really Decentralized After All

Here are two more examples of the phenomenon that I've been writing about ever since Economies of Scale in Peer-to-Peer Networks more than three years ago, centralized systems built on decentralized infrastructure in ways that nullify the advantages of decentralization:

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Internet Society Takes On Digital Preservation

Another worthwhile initiative comes from The Internet Society, through its New York chapter. They are starting an effort to draw attention to the issues around digital presentation. Shuli Hallack has an introductory blog post entitled Preserving Our Future, One Bit at a Time. They kicked off with a meeting at Google's DC office labeled as being about "The Policy Perspective". It was keynoted by Vint Cerf with respondents Kate Zwaard and Michelle Wu. I watched the livestream. Overall, I thought that the speakers did a good job despite wandering a long way from policies, mostly in response to audience questions.

Vint will also keynote the next event, at Google's NYC office February 5th, 2017, 5:30PM – 7:30PM. It is labeled as being about "Business Models and Financial Motives" and, if that's what it ends up being about it should be very interesting and potentially useful. I hope to catch the livestream.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

It Isn't About The Technology

A year and a half ago I attended Brewster Kahle's Decentralized Web Summit and wrote:
I am working on a post about my reactions to the first two days (I couldn't attend the third) but it requires a good deal of thought, so it'll take a while.
As I recall, I came away from the Summit frustrated. I posted the TL;DR version of the reason half a year ago in Why Is The Web "Centralized"? :
What is the centralization that decentralized Web advocates are reacting against? Clearly, it is the domination of the Web by the FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) and a few other large companies such as the cable oligopoly.

These companies came to dominate the Web for economic not technological reasons.
Yet the decentralized Web advocates persist in believing that the answer is new technologies, which suffer from the same economic problems as the existing decentralized technologies underlying the "centralized" Web we have. A decentralized technology infrastructure is necessary for a decentralized Web but it isn't sufficient. Absent an understanding of how the rest of the solution is going to work, designing the infrastructure is an academic exercise.

It is finally time for the long-delayed long-form post. I should first reiterate that I'm greatly in favor of the idea of a decentralized Web based on decentralized storage. It would be a much better world if it happened. I'm happy to dream along with my friend Herbert Van de Sompel's richly-deserved Paul Evan Peters award lecture entitled Scholarly Communication: Deconstruct and Decentralize?. He describes a potential future decentralized system of scholarly communication built on existing Web protocols. But even he prefaces the dream with a caveat that the future he describes "will most likely never exist".

I agree with Herbert about the desirability of his vision, but I also agree that it is unlikely. Below the fold I summarize Herbert's vision, then go through a long explanation of why I think he's right about the low likelihood of its coming into existence.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The $2B Joke

Everything you need to know about cryptocurrency is in Timothy B. Lee's
Remember Dogecoin? The joke currency soared to $2 billion this weekend:
"Nobody was supposed to take Dogecoin seriously. Back in 2013, a couple of guys created a new cryptocurrency inspired by the "doge" meme, which features a Shiba Inu dog making excited but ungrammatical declarations. ... At the start of 2017, the value of all Dogecoins in circulation was around $20 million. ... Then on Saturday the value hit $2 billion. ... "It says a lot about the state of the cryptocurrency space in general that a currency with a dog on it which hasn't released a software update in over 2 years has a $1B+ market cap," [cofounder] Palmer told Coindesk last week.
So blockchain, such bubble. Up 100x in a year. Are you HODL-ing or getting your money out?

Digital Preservation Declaration of Shared Values

I'd like to draw your attention to the effort underway by a number of organizations active in digital preservation to agree on a Digital Preservation Declaration of Shared Values:
The digital preservation landscape is one of a multitude of choices that vary widely in terms of purpose, scale, cost, and complexity. Over the past year a group of collaborating organizations united in the commitment to digital preservation have come together to explore how we can better communicate with each other and assist members of the wider community as they negotiate this complicated landscape.

As an initial effort, the group drafted a Digital Preservation Declaration of Shared Values that is now being released for community comment. The document is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cL-g_X42J4p7d8H7O9YiuDD4-KCnRUllTC2s...

The comment period will be open until March 1st, 2018. In addition, we welcome suggestions from the community for next steps that would be beneficial as we work together.
The list of shared values (Collaboration, Affordability, Availability, Inclusiveness, Diversity, Portability/Interoperability, Transparency/information sharing, Accountability, Stewardship Continuity, Advocacy, Empowerment) includes several to which adherence in the past hasn't been great.

There are already good comments on the draft. Having more input, and input from a broader range of institutions, would help this potentially important initiative.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Meltdown & Spectre

This hasn't been a good few months for Intel. I wrote in November about the vulnerabilities in their Management Engine. Now they, and other CPU manufacturers are facing Meltdown and Spectre, three major vulnerabilities caused by side-effects of speculative execution. The release of these vulnerabilities was rushed and the initial reaction less than adequate.

The three vulnerabilties are very serious but mitigations are in place and appear to be less costly than reports focused on the worst-case would lead you to believe. Below the fold, I look at the reaction, explain what speculative execution means, and point to the best explanation I've found of where the vulnerabilities come from and what the mitigations do.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Box Conspiracy

Growing up in London left me with a life-long interest in the theatre (note the spelling).  Although I greatly appreciate polished productions of classics, such as the Royal National Theatre's 2014 King Lear, my particular interests are:
I've been writing recently about Web advertising, reading Tim Wu's book The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, and especially watching Dude, You Broke The Future, Charlie Stross' keynote for the 34th Chaos Communications Congress. As I do so, I can't help remembering a show I saw nearly a quarter of a century ago that fit the last of those categories. Below the fold I pay tribute to the prophetic vision of an under-appreciated show and its author.