"Software as a service" platforms enable us to carry around small devices and access huge volumes of information. At the same time, it presents challenges for collective privacy, a full diversity of viewpoints and customized online identities. Large service providers are less responsive to users until a significant percentage of their users are all clamoring for the same type of change. What are the options for customizing your web interactions without mobilizing an entire user community? Decentralized or federated services are gaining popularity as the answer for users concerned about the one-size-fits-all web.
Decentralized web services allow us to create a many-to-many web instead of a one-to-many web. The Status.net code that runs identi.ca is a prime working example of how federated services allow users of different services to seamlessly talk to each other. Once standards were put in place users of different email and chat host were able to interact without any special configuration. More work on federation will allow smaller hosts of many different services to interact easily with each other. Media Goblin is just one of the new services that can help build more robust, decentralized web.
I'll discuss historical monopolies that inform the present situation and compare some of the recent problems incurred by limited choices for web services. There is significant work to be done on both the technical and social aspects of federation. I'll conclude with a survey of current alternatives, near to ready projects and the ones we might want to start thinking about building.
My bio: Deb Nicholson works at the intersection of technology and social justice. She has been a free speech advocate, economic justice organizer and civil liberties defender. After working in Massachusetts politics for fifteen years, she became involved in the free software movement. She is the Community Outreach Director at the Open Invention Network and the Community Manager at Media Goblin. She also serves on the board at Open Hatch, a non-profit dedicated to providing tools and education for potential new free software contributors. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.