Peer to Peer Social Media Clients
January 18, 2017 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Are there any social media applications that are peer-to-peer in the sense that they don't require a central server and effectively can't be shut down?

Say, for example, a version of something like Twitter that uses torrents to share the most recent tweets in your group.

Is such a beast even technically possible? Fidonet is the only example I can think of.
posted by mecran01 to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, there are several such projects, but none have really reached a critical mass.

People have attemptd projects like this, such as eth tweet (based on the Ethereum blockchain), Twister (based on the BitTorrent protocol and Bitcoin blockchain), and PeerTweet (using BitTorrent's Distributed Hash Tables).

There's are also Twitter clones that use federation between servers, without using technology from cryptocurrencies or P2P file sharing, such as and GNU Social (with which Mastodon is compatible).
posted by James Scott-Brown at 4:32 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Diaspora Is decentralized and distributed.

The end game is FreeNet, which is basically seeks to form an entire secure encrypted decentralized and distributed storage network on top of the internet. It's pretty intense and bombproof.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:36 PM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I could be wrong, and I'm sure someone will correct me if I am but I think Usenet is essentially distributed and there are no central servers.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:03 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes on Usenet. It's the original distributed social network.
posted by kindall at 5:13 PM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

IRC still operates as a social network for people. It's somewhat peer to peer; individuals run clients, but the servers are a mesh network of 100+ peered servers. There are several disjoint IRC networks.

Jabber / XMPP is nominally a peer to peer protocol. In practice there are a few centralized server, specifically Google Talk. Also some private installations, I believe XMPP is the foundation of League of Legends chat.

Usenet is still nominally decentralized. In practice though there's very few servers left and they're mostly just passing the same pirated media back and forth.

There have been many calls for a federated Twitter. Diaspora is the most credible, but has gone nowhere.

In the olden days it seemed that peer to peer architectures might be the winners, because they scaled so well. That turned out not to work for a variety of reasons. Centralized designs are much easier to make reliable, since one entity controls all the server computers. Centralized designs are typically more business-friendly. And scalability turns out to be a solvable problem even with centralized servers.

This is ancient now, but I wrote a sort of abstract piece about centralized vs decentralized systems back in 2001. Part 1, Part 2.
posted by Nelson at 5:37 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I can't believe I didn't mention Usenet. Thanks for this information and discussion. I suppose that Usenet stands as an example of just how much infrastructure (and financial support) a decentralized social network really requires. I was thinking of a client that runs on a cell phone.
posted by mecran01 at 8:36 PM on January 18, 2017

I've long argued (to myself and the non-existant cats) that what we need is a social media protocol which I think is something that would solve all of the above problems.
posted by Iteki at 10:37 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by nicebookrack at 5:31 AM on January 19, 2017

I was thinking of a client that runs on a cell phone

Cell phones are one of the reasons fully decentralized systems aren't popular now. The phone itself is a very limited device; tiny battery, limited expensive bandwidth, etc. Systems just work a lot better if the cell phone can rely on some server to do most of the work of handling communication. And once you've added a server, it's often easiest just to have a single centralized server farm for the product. Signal is an example of a mobile communication platform where you just accept that central servers are part of it, but then use encryption to keep the clients private.

There is a world of wireless mesh networking out there though, Phones can connect peer to peer via bluetooth or wifi and some folks have built apps that way. FireChat is a great example. Jott's Airchat is another. IIRC some handheld game devices (Gameboy?) also worked with local peer to peer networking, in the ages before everyone assumed wifi was everywhere.
posted by Nelson at 8:24 AM on January 19, 2017

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