Why a P2P version of Facebook just isn’t going to happen anytime soon


This post from 2014 was on the front page of Hacker News today. It describes why peer-to-peer (P2P) social networks as an alternative to Facebook, especially ones that feature strong encryption, are doomed to failure. 

Let’s start from the beginning. This should all work, right?

Services like BitTorrent and Skype can work in this way: your computer talks directly to other people’s computers to share data. It’s called Peer-to-Peer communication, or P2P. The technology is complex, but it works great for sharing large files on BitTorrent. I’m already running a P2P network for 50 artists. So why isn’t there already a “SkypeBook”, where your status updates and photos are shared via P2P?

I was even part of a short-lived project a few years ago to try and get a server in every Firefox browser and distribute file hosting and so around the web. It was called http://firecloud.co/“>Firecloud.

In the end, this approach just isn’t really workable. Why? Because the device people use most often for communicating with others is their smartphone. And 3G/4G isn’t like ADSL or fibre connections — you can’t run a server in there without draining the battery. That means you rely on lots of people with desktop computers providing a relay for your P2P connection.

If you see a mobile app advertising itself as P2P (unless it is… an ad-hoc local mesh network to connect to someone nearby), somewhere there will be a server farm. Somewhere, someone is paying the piper.

The web currently runs on advertising. Until we’re willing to pay for services, then they’re going to be paid for using our data. Also, even if we did get service we could pay for (perhaps with micropayments) $5/month is nothing to me, but a whole month’s wages elsewhere in the world. ‘Digital divide’ issues would proliferate.

It seems an intractable situation at present. As the author says, “until some new Promethean technology drops from the sky” we’re kind of stuck with what we’ve got.

As ever with this kind of things, there’s everything from snarky comments to genuinely useful ones in the HN comments thread

Image via Nomad Pictures