Work in progress: Cavern, a decentralized social media protocol

If you follow my blog or have spent more than 5 minutes around me in the past 6 months, you know that I've been spending a lot of time thinking about social media software. Some of that thinking has been crystallizing into a prototype with the working name "cavern". In brief, I'm hoping to create an application and protocol that supports social journaling—like a blog, but with optional privacy filters; think Livejournal or Dreamwidth. Here are some of the properties I want the finished product to include:

  • Give people control over their own writing and media: Everything is created locally, and published out to friends and other contacts. Server disappears? No problem, you still have all your stuff.
  • Decentralized or distributed: Spread the software out over everyone's computers, so there's no central authority to interfere in people's digital lives. People can make their own decisions about nudity, political expression, and appropriate conduct in general.
  • Allow custom privacy levels: World-public, socially-local (n-degrees of separation), access list only, and custom access lists (Google Plus's circles, or Dreamwidth's custom filters).
  • Make use of social accountability: Encourage posting at a socially-local privacy level (not world-public) so that any adverse behavior occurs within a social context, where people already have tools for handling conflict. Bonus: Not publishing (mostly) to the entire world means a lower risk of surveillance and targeted disinformation campaigns.
  • Everyone takes on moderation duty within their own journal, rather than being subjected to the impersonal and overburdened moderation system of a central authority (e.g. Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter.)
  • Trust-less hosting: To the extent that the system relies on servers not under the user's control, the system must not trust these servers not to censor or spy on their posts. (Cryptography is employed to this end.)

If you're interested in this vision, or even in just these general topics, I encourage you to come participate in the new Social Media Design community I'm organizing on Dreamwidth.


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