70’s wallpaper in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row, London

Last night was my third Agorama Server Co-op meet up in Rebecca’s Flat, a delightfully dilapidated space at Raven Row. I think it was actually the fifth though, I missed the last two due to illness which was a real bummer. The weekend jam sounded particularly great.

This particular meetup was more informal and a little smaller than usual. It ended up being a really nice, wandering conversation on the multifaceted possibilities of the distributed web, what it could look like.

The notes below are a sort of a prompt dump, snippets I wrote down at the time because I didn’t want to forget it or wanted to look in to it more. See all Server Co-op write-ups here.


Dark Crystal is now up and running on Patchbay (ssb client). Got Samsung funding, woohoo! Possible to create bot that receives shard? Think they’re trying to avoid that, the human element is kind of critical.

What about physical crypto? Microdots are worth checking out. Microdot tattoos?

Asked what ppl think about potential threat of quantum computing to modern cryptography methods, response was a little not as I expected (this is why I come to these things!). Personally I’ve been feeling a little tin-foil-hat-y, but general consensus from the other voices in the room seemed to be pretty ambivalent since the theory far outstrips the practicalities currently. Which is true, but it also just feels kind of like an arms race (particularly since it involves hardware / infrastructure). Whoever cracks it first wins the golden goose unless we can come up with cryptography that works against it. GP then mentioned the post-quantum crypto contest with NIST due to end pretty soon, looks pretty promising. I didn’t realise there was that much going on with quantum resistant algorithm research, so that makes me feel a bit better. I guess my concern is still there though, to a big degree. Banks, for example, are on notoriously crappy tech that is rarely overhauled. What of them, and the other institutions we rely on? Oh lord, and voting tech…

Got talking about what I’d been up to (not much, see first para…) and mentioned that I ultimately decided not to move my site on to Dat, partly due to scale issues w/ static site generators (read more on this) but more to do with the fact that I think I’d rather use Dat for something new and neato, rather than just repurpose something that already exists and is doing ok in it’s current form. Then we started talking about static site generators more generally and someone mentioned Pelican, which I hadn’t come across before. It’s written in Python and originally released in 2010 (!), so up there with Jekyll as one of the earlier static site generators.

HL demoed his mother-of-all-apps for us, it looks *so great*! Absolutely something I would use. Really excited to see where he takes it. I need to look in to Hypercore and Expo a bit more. The first I’d heard of, the second not so much. Apparently Expo is a cross platform app framework built around React Native. Ppl could not say enough good things about it and honestly, it does look fantastic. Particularly as a tool to dip your toe in to app waters, so to speak.

Towards the end of the demo, the conversation wound through lots of different topics. Blockchain, platforms vs aggregators, a bunch of CS history (need to read more about that…), the sustainability of open source, etc. The rest of this note details snippets from this part of the conversation that I need to look in to more.

Services / apps / platforms I’d like to look in to a bit:

  • Mapeo, an “open source, offline-first map editor”
  • Manyverse, kind of Scuttlebutt for your phone but better (shouldn’t suck the life out of your phone trying to sync)
  • Node.js for mobile apps
  • Webrecorder, like a personal Wayback Machine; also, did you know you can sometimes find YouTube vids that have been taken down archived on the Wayback Machine?
  • TMYK

A reading list. (Some of these links are painful to open, some orgs really need to cool their jets on the pop-ups and trackers):

Some soundbites. These are paraphrased points made by others that I found super-relevant. Bits in square brackets are added by me for clarity:

  • “Ordering is the toughest thing to sort out” [when it comes to ledgers / append-only logs]
  • “Biggest problem with blockchain is the definition of consensus, and how to establish consensus”
  • Article 13 [aka the “upload filter” provision] is forcing people’s hand, we’re going to see a lot more of this.”
  • “So much of this bullshit has come from chasing the technology and not the needs.” Related: “But seriously… does it need to be an app?”
  • “The future of the web will be much more about interoperability than a black-and-white, decentralised vs centralised approach.”
  • “Porn is a canary in the coal mine for whether a piece of tech is ready for primetime.” [Is someone using it for porn? Ok, it’s going to gain traction.]
  • “Could we ever have another Xerox PARC?” “Probably not, research now is just too results-driven. A report every week, and sometimes the funder has already indicated what they’d prefer your results to be.”

So many distributed / decentralised web conversations get quasi-evangelical about how this or that tech will save the world. Why does it have to be winner takes it all? Different needs require different technologies.

We recognise biodiversity as a fundamental requirement of a healthy, thriving biosphere. Why don’t we champion technodiversity in the same way? Embrace the chaos.

Saturday at Mozfest 2018

SB and I went to Mozfest for the first time last Saturday. What a lovely day! Took some haphazard notes throughout, see below for a dump of notes/links related to the sessions I attended. The bits in brackets are mostly thoughts that bounced around my head while taking notes during talks. All quotes are paraphrased.

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my experience getting up and running with Homebase

I finally got round to exploring Homebase yesterday (jump straight to setup steps). My original intention was to get the SB-PH site on Dat + HTTPS à la this blog post by Tara Vancil. As far as I can tell though, without multi-writer support in Dat this setup would effectively lock Sam out of being able to quickly deploy changes. We’re interested in making that site a little bit more of a collaborative sandbox, so making deployment harder than it is currently is not the right step to take there.

So though I definitely want to get the SB-PH site on Dat eventually, we’re putting that on hold for now and I’m pivoting towards my site. In this blog’s earliest incarnation it was on Tumblr, and for a long while now has been a pretty standard WordPress site. The big task in moving to Dat, besides figuring out Homebase, is converting my site from WordPress to a static site via Jekyll/Hugo/Eleventy/GatsbyJS or something similar. It’s taking a while, I didn’t realise quite how much content has accumulated (1000+ tags?!) and there are a few WordPress-y features that I definitely want to build in (“more” tags, descriptions for tags+categories, proper pagination, etc.). More on that in a separate note.

So yesterday I put that aside and focused on getting Homebase up and running on a DigitalOcean droplet. Overall, setting up Homebase wasn’t too bad. The most involved part of the process was setting up the server. I kind of like tinkering with server stuff, so that’s cool. I 100% agree with the caveat at the top of the Homebase README, you should consider Homebase only if you’re comfortable with and interested in server administration. I would add that your interest should be *ongoing*. Servers take maintenance (related, see note on serverless setups). It’s your responsibility if a process stops running, or the software is out of date, or the Let’s Encrypt certificate doesn’t renew, etc. Hashbase looks like a great alternative for those that want the final result but don’t want to deal with the server configuration/maintenance.

The rest of this note is an outline of the steps I took to get Homebase working. Where good documentation exists elsewhere, I have linked to that instead of elaborating.

Read Homebase setup steps

A wall in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row

This past Thursday 18 October was the second Server Co-op meetup in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row. See all Server Co-op notes.

I didn’t take as many notes this time, wasn’t feeling fantastic. Very sketchy notes below.


click public button twice if the Patchwork feed seems stuck after first install

how to have Scuttlebutt on multiple devices?
eh, maybe not worth the hassle, just use one device
“sameAs” is currently being worked on by devs in Scuttlebutt community

identity = private + public + network key combo
lib sodium

back up private key and gossip.json

dark crystal for backing up private key using social network

“shamir’s secrets” algorithm
kind of like horcruxes!

with Scuttlebutt, your friends are your cloud/datacentre

nothing is ever deleted (same as Dat)

could technically have multiple identities, but functionality isn’t implemented currently. Would have to swap .ssb directories

The rug in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row

Last night I went to the first Server Co-op meetup hosted by Agorama in Rebecca’s Flat. It’s a more-is-more space, and then some. It was a lovely evening. Notes:

Check out infocivics.com by Paul Frazee. “Computing networks are social and political systems. We should attempt to answer how the technical design of a network will influence the internal politics.”

There *is* a mobile Dat browser, but apparently it’s a bit… buggy. See Bunsen for Android (nada for iOS). Still, kudos to them for taking a stab at it. Apparently the project of making a Dat browser sort of hits a brick wall due to node.js, but a bunch of devs have taken it upon themselves to make a Rust implementation of Dat. TBH I don’t understand the ins-and-outs well enough to be able to describe how that lowers the barrier, but it sounds like the future of mobile Dat might be brighter for it.

I haven’t dug in to Scuttlebutt yet, and it sounds like it’s about time. An offline-first protocol, described by KG as a database/social network/community. See also Patchwork. Feel like I heard HL say that it came about after 2011 Christchurch earthquake due to the difficulties at the time with having any sort of connectivity, but that might be wrong?

And crucially, are there ethical conversations around P2P tech that we’re failing to have, or happily skating past? I’m thinking about when Facebook and similar now-giants were in their nascent stages, surely some of the current nastiness could have been avoided if the making was accompanied by a little more thinking, more extrospection? How do you wrap your head around the potential ethical implications of something that doesn’t yet exist? I found KB’s anecdote interesting, when a few fascistic idiots attempted to hijack Scuttlebutt but were almost immediately, organically, blocked from having any meaningful impact. It feels great, but who’s to say they’re not off in their own node somewhere trolling away? Feels awful to think that Scuttlebutt might be harbouring some sort of extreme-right cell, and yet maybe so be it, should it be a decentralised network’s responsibility to police that? How on earth would that work anyway?


Separate: I got my hair cut by Dean last week and am very pleased. When it’s styled it’s a bit Josie Packard (fabulous) and when not styled, it’s very Shawn Hunter (not totally a bad thing).

Exploring the use cases for serverless website architecture

Last Saturday, Sam introduced me to Chris Coyier’s talk on serverless-ness, The All-Powerful Front-End Developer. Pretty interesting and useful. I’m glad he leads it by breaking down the problematic nature of the word “serverless”! The following day was spent in agorama’s p2p workshop at furtherfield. Coincidentally, there is a lot of overlap in these topics.

I’ve spent the past few days wrapping my head around all of this, contextualising it against the sorts of concerns and projects we work with. Though I desperately want to get going with Dat, I’m starting with serverless because it may solve an urgent need in my day-to-day work. Right now, I’m spending much more time than I realistically can maintaining CMSs and hosting environments for older websites.

All of the below is a thought dump on the topic, an attempt to pick apart the meaning of and the use cases for a serverless website architecture.

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Weekend activities resulted in an explosion of information that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. 💥 Link dump below for reference. Most of these are via Sam B, Gemma C, Hannah B, and agorama.

Going to write up more about serverless and P2P, and how they kind of intersect, once I’ve digested some of this.