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My OHM2013 talk: Federation fosters freedom

Posted 2013-07-15

Between 31 july and 4 august OHM2013 ("Observe. Hack. Make.") will take place in Holland. I'll have a talk on the 4th at 16.00 about how network protocols that let you run your own server foster freedom, while monolithic services such as Facebook and Twitter do the opposite.

Update: these are the slides (PDF, 4 MB)

This is the abstract of the talk:

Many services are monolithic: you can only Skype using the Skype client, and only Facebook using facebook.com. But it doesn't have to be that way: everyone can run their own mail server. Federation makes for more complex protocols, but is required for freedom.

A decade ago, the only way to use instant messaging was through a service like ICQ, AIM or MSN. Today, everyone can run their own Jabber server, and the servers communicate using the XMPP protocol, the same way as you can run your own mail server, which communicates using the SMTP protocol.

A federation of independent servers means that no single entity can control huge numbers of users. This has huge advantages: no single business can pull the plug on a service, or change it in ways the community doesn't like. Competition gets to drive down the price and/or improve the user experience. Last but not least, users have a choice of jurisdictions and can use servers in a country with at least a modicum of privacy protection on the books.

This talk will outline the challenges an opportunities for federation in areas such search and social networking (Twitter!), drawing inspiration from the XMPP and SIP protocols. It is a high level talk about fundamental choices—there will be no header diagrams or DTDs.

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