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Re: Thoughtful piece on the costs of the siloing of social media

From: Philip Sheldrake <philip@eulerpartners.com>
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 2016 10:46:39 +0000
Message-ID: <CAD0eYd67LB5JRbr+6u-zhtzyzpn_R1NYkUnawQyUrtZtv4PPbA@mail.gmail.com>
To: Henry Story <henry.story@bblfish.net>, Mark Nottingham <mnot@mnot.net>, Carvalho Melvin <melvincarvalho@gmail.com>, Henry Thomson <ht@inf.ed.ac.uk>, Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>, TAG List <www-tag@w3.org>
I received a number of private messages following my first post here, so
I'm encouraged to follow up, particularly because I just stumbled upon this
post by Adobe's Scott Belsky from 2014 which complements the thread started
here by Henry:

"The Interface Layer: Where Design Commoditizes Tech.
A new cohort of design-driven companies are adding a layer of convenience
between us and the underlying services and utilities that improve our
lives. This could change everything."

"Behold the power of the “Interface Layer,” it’s not just about great
design, it is about the integration of the actions that make life easier
and the commoditization of the services underneath. It is more than a
layer, it is a shift in the economy that is led by designers rather than
cable executives, tech titans, and logistics masterminds. It is a “closed”
user experience built on top of a wide open and hotly competitive ecosystem
of services."

... Running Scott's perspective through the lens of the hi:project, we see
three types of outcome:

1. A heterogeneous market of proprietary interface layer applications
2. Current centralizing mechanics lead to the consolidation of the
interface layer under the ownership of the platform duopoly
3. The 'design' of the interface layer is open and distributed.

The first of these is Belsky's hypothesis, yet despite his enthusiasm it is
unsustainable in my opinion. As tech analyst Benedict Evans points out
"it's the operating system itself that's the internet services platform,
far more than the browser, and the platform is not neutral."

The first of these then will naturally cede to the second with the
mediating duopoly in question being the dominant OS vendors (as the OS
vendors demonstrate how 'helpful' they can be
and the de-appification
<https://blog.intercom.io/the-end-of-apps-as-we-know-them/> continues).
Facebook may make it a triopoly, but they'll be the also-rans in this
respect if they manage to hang in there.

The hi:project exists because our team and our "champions" don't like
outcome 2 here. We don't think it's healthy. To be honest, I'm not sure
everyone I know at the OS vendors in question would be singing the praises
of outcome 2 unconditionally either.

Mark, you write: "Personally, I'm very interested, but the Web as currently
designed and implemented heavily encourages centralisation, and changing it
is likely harder than just starting something new."

Is the web of data and SoLiD that 'something new', particularly if we can
also enable unmediated (as in by a company rather than by one's own
software agent) interaction and sense-making, seeding such capability with
the billions of web users through the companies that already feature in
their digital lives for good old-fashioned commercial imperative?

Take the global consumer packaged goods companies. I can't claim that my
discussions with individuals at these companies is representative of the
companies' overall position, but they've nearly always been intermediated
from their billions of end-customers – firstly by the likes of Tesco and
Walmart, more recently by Google, Apple and Facebook. They had a glimmer of
the potential for disintermediation back in the early days of all things
'social', but to my knowledge those I've spoken with haven't been offered
anything other than the hi:project to establish direct disintermediated
data-oriented relationships with consumers / collaborators; a relationship
where each and everyone of us has agency. I can't think of an organisation
that would lose in this situation.

Best, Philip.

On 8 January 2016 at 18:04, Philip Sheldrake <philip@eulerpartners.com>

> Thanks for namechecking the hi:project Henry, and hi everyone.
> A brief introduction… I’m doing a PhD in Web and Internet Science under
> the supervision of Prof Wendy Hall and Dr. Kieron O'Hara, and I’m an
> architect of the hi:project, endorsed by the Web Science Trust. (I was
> invited to undertake the former on the basis of the latter.) I'm part of
> the SOCIAM programme – Universities of Oxford, Southampton and Edinburgh.
> I won’t describe the hi:project here (our homepage
> <http://hi-project.org/> attempts that) but will riff briefly wrt
> distributed architecture; a primary objective.
> Jon ‘Maddog’ Hall noted that our project effectively reverses the current
> client server power asymmetry, effectively democratising the server (server
> in the browser; define browser) to the point where the distinction might
> well dissolve. Especially of course when combined with the likes of a
> linked data platform.
> The HI (human interface as opposed to UI
> <http://hi-project.org/faqs/what-do-you-mean-by-human-interface/>) is
> wholly compatible with the EFF’s Game Plan for Ending Global Mass
> Surveillance, specifically: "Create a global movement that encourages
> user-side encryption."
> We’re keeping close to SoLiD since the SOCIAM all-hands at Oxford in
> September. As you can see from our latest blog post
> <http://hi-project.org/2015/12/solid-introduction-mit-csails-andrei-sambra/>
> (by Andrei Sambra, intro by me), we’re running with this way of describing
> things right now … “Solid decouples the app from the data, and the
> hi:project decouples the interface from the app.” And this post explains
> why we might, just might, if we can get this thing off the ground, why we
> might be a trojan horse for the adoption of SoLiD – decentralization
> cannot be marketed
> <http://hi-project.org/2015/10/decentralization-cannot-be-marketed/>.
> The project encourages decentralization at the application layer, although
> it doesn't contribute to ameliorating the weaknesses of DNS / HTTP you
> describe in your post Mark (we are attracted however to distributing the
> hi:components IPFS style for sure). But we do have another objective at
> heart ...
> We're cognisant that none of us aspire to redecentralize for
> decentralization's sake. As I noted in this guest post to the Drucker
> Forum
> <http://hi-project.org/2015/09/drucker-society-the-human-web-and-sustainability/>
> ahead of the 7th Global Drucker Forum last year, "the ultimate information
> technology challenge is the care and maintenance of a digital
> infrastructure that can help us rise up to so-called super wicked problems,
> collectively. Given the growing appreciation of the nature of complexity
> and the complexity of nature, we know we’re in the domain of systems
> thinking and sustainability – the health and resilience of living systems
> including our planet, our societies, and our organisations.
> Sustainability requires healthy, *distributed* networks, with both
> diversity and individual *agency*, to facilitate the emergence of
> collective intelligence. It is these qualities our digital technologies
> must enable and encourage."
> The hi:project aims then to contribute to redecentralization, but just as
> importantly it's directed squarely at liberating individual agency too by
> helping to solve personal data & privacy, helping secure a citizen-centric
> Internet of Things, and transforming accessibility & digital inclusion.
> Thanks for your time. And it goes without saying that I'd love to continue
> the conversation should the project interest you.
> Cheers, Philip.
> *__*
> Philip Sheldrake, CEng MIET
> Architect, the hi:project
> Managing Partner, Euler Partners
> Main Board Director, techUK
> M. +44 (0)7715 488 759
> Blog www.philipsheldrake.com
> Skype psheldrake
> Twitter @sheldrake
> On 8 January 2016 at 11:53, Henry Story <henry.story@bblfish.net> wrote:
>> > On 8 Jan 2016, at 04:09, Mark Nottingham <mnot@mnot.net> wrote:
>> >
>> > [ I remember seeing that article somewhere other than the Guardian
>> quite a few months ago, but forget where; anyone? ]
>> >
>> > Personally, I'm very interested, but the Web as currently designed and
>> implemented heavily encourages centralisation, and changing it is likely
>> harder than just starting something new.
>> >
>> > Some related thoughts here:
>> >  https://www.mnot.net/blog/2015/08/18/distributed_http
>> Very interesting read. Thaks for the link to Brewster Kahl's talk at
>> the Chaos Communications Congress which helps get into this:
>> https://media.ccc.de/v/camp2015-6938-locking_the_web_open_call_for_a_distributed_web
>> Here's a way of thinking of the centralisation problem in layers that I
>> have
>> found helpful recently (I'll get to Brewsters decentralised view right
>> after).
>> We have three layers:
>>  1) IPv4/6 Information layer (+1): any machine can talk to any machine to
>> retrieve data using IPv4/6. It's a pure p2p layer.
>>  2) Web of Docuemts (+1): any document can link to any other document
>>    Pure p2p layer
>>  3) Web Applications (-1): most data driven apps are not cross domain
>> It is at layer 3 that currently the problem is being felt, and for many
>> people
>> this may seem very weird: how can you have decentralisation at lower
>> layers, and
>> not higher ones? How come bytes can flow around the internet in a peer to
>> peer
>> manner but data does not? How come there are so many services that exist
>> in any
>> of a number of categories that don't interoperate?
>> For example: OuiShare, the European Sharing Economy conference, with
>> collaborators around Europe put together a list of tools that their
>> "connectors" use:
>>   https://trello.com/b/qPtU1EbQ/ouishare-collaboration-tools
>> There are 13 categories of tools, hardly any of them really interoperate.
>> Each
>> time people want to work together they need to start from scratch and
>> find a new
>> tool that they all agree to work on together. This has a huge cost.
>> So we don't just have centralisation: we also have fragmentation.
>> Ie. we don't have linkability in the data world. Or rather we only have
>> linkability at the data layer within a single service, except for a
>> few cases such as RSS feeds.
>>   We have hyper text but not hyper data.
>> ( well actually we are working on HyperData based apps
>>   - High lieve concept http://hi-project.org/
>>   - Social Linked Data spec: https://github.com/solid/solid-spec
>> )
>> Now what Brewster Kahl wants is something more than this. They are
>> thinking
>> p2p for resources so that these can be spread around and duplicated across
>> servers. I don't think of this as incompatible with the current web: it
>> just
>> requires a new resource discovery protocol ( something like bittorent )
>> and new
>> URLs for those resources, which could in any case map to http urls.
>>         If you listen to Brewster's answers  to the questions in the CCC
>> talk it
>> seems he is still thinking very much of a world  of documents. But
>> actually
>> what he should really want, given his examples of large centralised
>> providers,
>> is a distributed replicated _data_ web.  Then the client could actually
>> follow the
>> data around  and build up an interface for the user's particular needs
>> ( http://hi-project.org/ )
>> Given that the semantic web itself is based  on URIs and so is protocol
>> agnostic,
>> there is no problem connecting data published on http, https, onion, or
>> other protocols.
>> Logically this has already been dealt with by the w3c.
>> More intriguing is how one could have distributed versioned data where
>> some data is
>> access controlled. The data would have to be encrypted, but if one gave
>> anyone the key,
>> that person could give anyone else the key too - but perhaps that's not
>> more of a problem
>> than when someone copies and republishes a document that is access
>> controlled.
>> So in summary:
>>   - the problem of centralisation/fragmentation is occuring at the data
>> layer
>>   - the answer to that is using linked data
>>   - building replicated version data protocols
>>      + will make linked data even more important
>>      + is not incompatible with the current web architecture
>> Henry Story
>> http://co-operating.systems/
>> >
>> > Cheers,
>> >
>> >
>> >> On 8 Jan 2016, at 11:55 am, Melvin Carvalho <melvincarvalho@gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>
>> >> On 5 January 2016 at 20:51, Henry S. Thompson <ht@inf.ed.ac.uk> wrote:
>> >>
>> http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/dec/29/irans-blogfather-facebook-instagram-and-twitter-are-killing-the-web
>> >>
>> >> This is a really interesting piece, thanks for sharing.
>> >>
>> >> The web does seem to have become more centralized in the last few
>> years.  I dont know how much of this is architectural, and how much
>> behavioral.
>> >>
>> >> The architectural foundations of the web as a cross origin document
>> (and data) space, are I think, quite strong, leading to a good degree of
>> decentralization.  I dont know why the web may be becoming more
>> centralized, I once heard someone say "no matter how decentralized you
>> design a system, centralization creeps in through the back door".
>> >>
>> >> My personal preference would be to see a healthy centralized and
>> healthy decentralized element of the web competing with each other and
>> offering greater user choice.  But we dont seem to live in that world,
>> right now, at least.
>> >>
>> >> One factor, imho, is that there are probably orders of magnitude more
>> people working on centralized solutions, than on decentralized.  Also
>> decentralized solutions are fragmented, due to design decisions that get in
>> the way of interop (tho interop is hard at the best of times).
>> >>
>> >> Im not sure what the TAG can do about this, or even how many on the
>> TAG list still are interested in a decentralized web (tho I know TIm is).
>> One thing that may be valuable is guidelines to developers building
>> decentralized solutions on how to prevent fragmentation, and how to
>> encourage interop.  It's a difficult problem to talk about, let alone to
>> solve!
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>
>> >> ht
>> >> --
>> >>       Henry S. Thompson, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh
>> >>      10 Crichton Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AB, SCOTLAND -- (44) 131
>> 650-4440
>> >>                Fax: (44) 131 650-4587, e-mail: ht@inf.ed.ac.uk
>> >>                       URL: http://www.ltg.ed.ac.uk/~ht/
>> >> [mail from me _always_ has a .sig like this -- mail without it is
>> forged spam]
>> >>
>> >>
>> >
>> > --
>> > Mark Nottingham   https://www.mnot.net/
>> >
>> >
Received on Tuesday, 12 January 2016 10:47:19 UTC

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