Ask HN: Is it time to resurrect a Usenet clone?

indus | 352 points

Usenet thrived in a time where most of us trusted each other, traffic was an order of magnitude lighter, trolls were few, spam was unheard of, and moderation - if any - was cheap and painless.

I honestly believe those times are past us. And I say that as someone that loved Usenet back in the day.

What you're asking for, for free, isn't possible.

joezydeco | 4 months ago

Why not just independent forum sites like 1998-2008. I was a member of 10 or so very specific forums where I could get expert advice very quickly. That is in the rare event that my problem hadn't already been discussed in great detail with highly detailed walk throughs.

Then each of those forums had a marketplace where you could buy pretty much anything relevant to that interest at great values with scams being pretty much non-existent and any disputes that did arise carried out and mediated in public.

And all the forums had off topic as well where politics and other things were confined.

Oh and advertising was limited to a few banner ads at the top of pages and various plugs in people's signatures.

Lastly, I could get all the relevant updates from the sites I was interested in with a nice orderly rss feed customized to my liking.

hattmall | 4 months ago

The solution to a lot of problems is simply to not scale platforms past something like 1000 users. At that level, you can have a community that is guided by individual people and their relationships, rather than anonymized and centralized. And the infrastructure is much simpler to set up and maintain: we just need more tools tailored to being easy to set up and administer at this scale.

m15o has built a ton of examples along these lines. There are other communities and tools too, loosely referred to as the "small web"/"smol web"

alexwennerberg | 4 months ago

USEnet is alive and well, thanks. It doesn't need resurrecting; it never died.

I have a free account on Eternal September:

I use Thunderbird as my client. In T'bird >100 you get mail, including Gmail etc via oAuth, including calendar/contacts/tasks, you get News, and you get chat over Matrix. All in one app.

It badly needs spam filtering for its NNTP client, but it works a treat. Runs on Win/Lin/Mac just fine. Sync between instances is coming real soon now, MZLA claims.

I wrote about it:

lproven | 4 months ago

When AOL came to the Internet it was seen as the apocalypse. But really what killed the internet is spam and scammers. They followed the public because that's where the money is.

The problem that's fundamental to the Internet is something nobody wants to say, So I will: the people suck. Not everyone deserves a voice.

The comment sections on WaPo, the NYT, and DailyKos are just as bad as the worst parts of 4chan. And nextoor/facebook? These people are whacked out.

Usenet worked because it was a sub-elite; in the golden era people in usenet were college kids, the highly educated, etc. and even with that there was more self selection, because you needed a computer and the ability to read and write text. And connect to it, which if you weren't in a university was quite difficult.

Is anyone willing to build a service that's got elitism built-in? Clubhouse sort of did. But it needs to be said: allowing anyone to post means dick picks and moderation.

mannyv | 4 months ago

We desperately need something like this to happen before it's too late. We are dangerously close to a total corporate stranglehold on digital free speech. The current generation of kids coming to age are growing up in a world where they don't even know a time when you could say whatever the hell you wanted to online. If we don't save digital free speech now it's gonna be lost forever.

jsz0 | 4 months ago

1) usenet was a kind of opt-in syndication that ran through uucp jobs that often went through whitelists at the local level, often over low bandwidth modems. pirate and other binary channels were frequently not rebroadcast.

2) A decentralized usenet like you're describing is an email list with an archive.

3) Absolutely not. you're describing realID and Facebook.

4) Absolutely not you're describing the powermod problem that ruins all of these larger forums.

and since you seem a little unfamiliar with it's history, you should look up ARMM

scrame | 4 months ago

Lemmy is a federated Reddit clone. It already works and is available. As far as I know currently the best alternative.

Please, join a smaller instance currently. The biggest ones are already overloaded.

qznc | 4 months ago

I wonder if some of those commenting actually used USENET. I did, for years. Don't remember how long.

USENET had many excellent corners as well as places where you could witness or, if desired, participate in, full-on fecal matter throwing contests. Not sure why people think it was some idyllic environment different from anything seen today.

The key thing to understand is that people are pretty much the same. The masses have some really unique personalities that seem to come out and flourish in front of a keyboard.

I used to think that anonymity was the culprit. It obviously isn't. I have seen some awesome (not in a good way) feces throwing contests on Facebook in groups devoted to our neighborhood and town. In other words, people who are not at all anonymous and very likely run into each other and even send their kids to the same schools.

Mark Twain's observation still holds true today:

“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”

robomartin | 4 months ago

It's not a technical problem. It's a social problem first and an economic problem second.

The social part: the "internet scale" and the scale of "largest group who can keep meaningful relationships" are incompatible.

The economic problem: ad-based models have misaligned incentives. People can not vote with their wallets, so every content creator, media property or social media network defaults to the lowest common denominator. And the number of people willing to pony up the cash to help things happen are simply not enough to make it sustainable.

rglullis | 4 months ago

The issue with moderation is that not everyone agrees. Moderation should be plug-in and multilayer. Everyone should be able to choose which moderation they trust or distrust.

Full p2p is technically complicated and does not work well for small devices not always connected, we should keep servers to host the discussions.

The servers should be able to subscribe to a moderation. You don't want to host a discussion illegal in your country gor example. Users should also be able to move servers painlessly. If the users trust their servers with their identity, it does not need to use crypto for user identity. On your profile page on a server you can link other servers identity and that's enough and simpler.

If a discussion group is private, it should only be hosted in servers of their members and not elsewhere.

I started working on such a system but beyond the technical stuff I have no idea how this could gain adoption.

mildred593 | 4 months ago

I sure hope that more and more areas on the greater web keep getting decentralized/federated...because all this centralization is for the birds! Over the years, any content that i have posted on such centralized platforms, i consider ephemeral...and if its lost, either i already have my own copy, or i don't care (it would be content that i care less about, etc.). Of course i say that, but really it would be others that might suffer from, say, some essential answer that i provided like on stackoverflow, and then when that answer is gone, i will be ok, but others will suffer. I'm by no means a fountain of answers, i'm just proposing an example scenario. To tangent a bit, this is why the intent of projects like SOLID [0] sounded so good to me: everyone has their own somewhat copy of interactions with each other, ensuring tha at least to some degree there is preservation of valuable content among members of a community.

[0] =

mxuribe | 4 months ago

Someone created a Usenet-like thing on IPFS.

It's kind of dead. IIRC the dev put that on the back burner in favor of a new BBS-like app.

depingus | 4 months ago

My nostalgia for the ancien internet is deep and abiding, but it does not extend to actually wanting to use Usenet again. Usenet was never a good solution, it was just the only solution for a long time. So, to the extent that the proposition is for something that is Usenet-like, my vote is no. If you're saying "should there be a better, decentralized Reddit that is not garbage like Usenet" the answer flips instantaneously to yes!

karaterobot | 4 months ago

No, because you could just run Usenet and nobody wants to.

What's always been hilarious about the controversial nature of giant social media companies is nobody has ever been forced to use one. It's not like the monopoly of telephones or roads or municipal water or anything else you have no choice in and still need to live. Social media is 100% optional and there is always another way to do what you need without them. The fact that they exist is merely humans not being able to control their urge to simultaneously be entertained and socialize. You might as well complain about TV.

throwawaaarrgh | 4 months ago

As far as I'm concerned, the "new web" (Reddit, Twitter, etc. etc.) #1 ability that was not present in "the old web" (USENET, IRC, etc. etc.) is universal identifiers.

If a problematic user on Reddits r/news gets banned (spam or whatever), there are admin-level bans that can ban that user at a global level. Allowing unrelated moderators on one subreddit indirectly-help moderate on other subreddits.

Shared global identity across the network is key. We can't have sockpuppets spamming one subreddit (or USENET group), and then have to be individually dealt with group-by-group. These sorts of moderation efforts must be shared.

Mastodon's model is to have servers responsible for their users. I'm not convinced that this model scales well, especially into the future as servers grow less trusting of each other.


IMO, what is needed is a DNS-like solution for identities, and proving your identity. Not a real identity mind you, but a pseudo-anonymous identity that has enough trust that people know you're not a spammer.

Yes, modern sockpuppets can pay a 3rd-world country to create innocuous accounts en masse and get around this, but we need to be at this level (or better). Without this level, we're back to just automated account creation bots spamming our servers with spam.


This DNS-like identity management server needs moderation decisions to be shared. Not necessarily trusted mind you, but shared enough so that "Moderators over in X-location believe this identity to be spam". Or "Moderators over in Y-location believe this identity to be a troll".

EDIT: Other messages, like "Starting on June 2023, it appears that X-identity has been compromised and is now a spammer. Ban messages after this. Starting in July 2023, it appears X-identity has regained control of their identifier and we can stop banning their messages." Lots of useful moderation messages that need to be shared.

Maybe its up to individual communities whether or not "troll" or "spam" classifications of identities (or if the moderators at Y-server should be trusted at all: maybe a hostile group of moderators start putting up fake complaints about masses of users that they don't like). Etc. etc.


But the overall goal is to create a mechanism where moderators are sharing effort and working together. Reddit accidentally provided that, and that's why it was better than USENET. That's probably the only incremental improvement that mattered in the long run.

dragontamer | 4 months ago

This is a great refresher on how the usenet forums were organized including the top 8 groups, and then winnowing down to specific ones.

indus | 4 months ago

I dearly miss the golden age of Usenet, I still keep an eye on some groups and use GMANE as well.

The Fediverse is the closest thing we have now. It's not perfect but it's ours.

throw2022110401 | 4 months ago

Energy and Information go hand in hand, the relationship being Entropy. Just as nobody is going to say, "Hey, free decentralized energy for everyone, come and get it" without people at least wondering, 'what's the game here?', well, information - in the form of a high-quality site full of reliable information and real people and interesting conversations - well, that's like an oil well just sitting there waiting to be grabbed by the first party that can gain control of it. It's like saying, 'hey, free land for everyone!' - well, the supply of land is not infinite.

As things stand in the USA, the government generally is controlled by oligarchs who view decentralized independent information systems as a threat to their continued grasp on power, much in the same way that decentralized independent energy production outside of state or corporate control is viewed.

There's always the French Revolution approach to the problem of consolidated oligarchic power, but then you get Napoleon, which isn't much better. A difficult problem to solve, indeed.

photochemsyn | 4 months ago

There seems to be real need for a public digital infrastructure that Reddit and Twitter satisfied. I believe they're largely the same thing, as both enable threaded discussions in a tree structure. Twitter of course is famous for its character limit, but this just leads people to create endless threads. And that limit has been softened at least twice.

We don't give important infrastructure into the hands of single corporations (at least not without massive regulation) for a reason, so it should be similar here.

But as we all know and have seen from Mastodon, federated solutions suffer from multiple issues:

* moderation

* spam

* infrastructure

* discoverability

* ease of onboarding

* deleting content

I believe that the governments have to ease at least some of this. They build streets, canalisation, and so on, because we deem it essential. So they should at least provide some of the hardware for our digital town square.

So maybe something like usenet, a network of nodes that synchronize where at least some important nodes are run by governments.

The other points appear to be hard problems though.

mr_mitm | 4 months ago

I’d certainly like to see a return of the UX of Usenet, nothing that came after equaled its effectiveness. Unfortunately, that UX is difficult to translate to mobile devices, because it basically requires to be keyboard-driven.

layer8 | 4 months ago

Who is trustworthy, and how would I personally ever be able to determine that?

For the purposes of deciding who gets to communicate, and what is deemed worthy communication, no human being is trustworthy. Myself included. If we allow anyone to "run" it, then we will end up back where we are now in just 10 or 20 years. But each time we go through the cycle, the tyrants and busybodies and free speech minimalists and the other assholes learn a little more about how to oppress and strangle and bury and muzzle. And too many times through the cycle and I think they might actually perfect those skills.

NoMoreNicksLeft | 4 months ago

This comes up time to time, See discussion of Robin Sloan’s “Spring ‘83: <>

And “Fraidycat”: <>

I do think there’s a maximum size of any online community beyond which it loses its value.

notbeuller | 4 months ago

All users should have seen this coming, for years they poured their life inside those free digital platforms, made a digital life with digital friends, and feel all cozy inside because of their digital followers.

At the time of Usenet, things where different. Those who remember brought many lessons from those times, but something to consider is that the vast majority of the user-base of nowadays' services never had to deal with a fax modem, P2P connections, and nothing out of the 'really basic'. A lot of the same people who are now calling to 'decentralize' things uses a proprietary OS on their phone that probably listen to them and they do not care about it. They do care about their life online, about the void it would left in their lives if it was all over. Those users want comfort, babysitting, somebody to take care of spam and bad people from their line of sight.

Decentralized services will not work for the masses anymore simple because they learned to be in the comfort, and they will always prefer the service who offer the most of it. I really wish to be wrong, but i do not see this being possible on such decentralized services where people have to take care of themselves and actually learn a bit to use some services.

The solution for this issue is very complex, and would require a complete reeducation of those users for a new way of interacting online, in my opinion, or else it would be for nothing. The mess has been made already, backup everything and let it die. New services should still be created, but to cater to new users and people who actually knows the importance of this move, trying to recreate what already exists is a waste of time.

techwoof | 4 months ago

We just need a copy of reddit but with better management. Have a barebones UI like this site so that it runs on minimal hardware and then just pay for it with donations.

MagicMoonlight | 4 months ago

> 3. These forums should encourage less anonymity and more persistent communication.

Why should this be applied to all of the groups/forums? I thought Facebook already showed that the whole "Anonymous people act worse" thing was bullshit, shitty people will be shitty people even if they have their real name attached to it. It should at least be up to each community to decide if they want to allow anonymous users or not.

capableweb | 4 months ago
| 4 months ago

Also don't forget what happened to Usenet. At first it wasn't archived anywhere (disk space was expensive then). That was ok, people treated Usenet discussions as ephemeral and said things expecting them to not be dug up later. Then a nonprofit called Deja News started archiving them, causing some limited consternation, but it was a useful resource and offered an opt out to people who didn't want their stuff saved, so fine. People came to rely on Deja News, and... Google acquired it, and it became part of Google Groups, which got worse and worse to the point of now being useless and irrelevant.

Usenet is not completely dead, but it's a shadow of what it once was. Certainly revivals should keep the strong and weak spots of the past in mind.

throwaway81523 | 4 months ago

Usenet is still alive and kicking. Mailing lists still exist. Go subscribe to some and start contributing.

nickstinemates | 4 months ago

I think we should dig a little bit deeper to find a thing worth resurrecting. What worked in FidoNet and earlier networks was the social organization, not protocols. A usual way to enter a net was to get a point level address from someone with a node. You had to know the person in the real world, and the person had to vouch for you. Your actions could have jeopardized the whole node, so there was a certain level of accountability.

I don't know to which level this element is resurrectable though. Why would one want accountability if there is internet where there is none?

The technological side is secondary. You can make an hierarchical network on mail protocols alone with a simple echo script.

okaleniuk | 4 months ago

I blog and journal using GitHub It's a low tech solution but if everyone did it, everyone would have content to read.

Just need someone to curate repository URLs.

If you want good content, you need to invite users who are known for insightful informative comments.

samsquire | 4 months ago

Anonymity and trustworthiness are actually different concerns that only appear to be in opposition. For example, if someone you trust asks to bring a friend to your party and doesn’t mention their name, it’s probably okay, right?

For this kind of situation, a network of some kind like a bulletin board, you have someone you only know via that board but you’ve known them for years and never known them to play up, and they ask to let someone join and will vouch for them, is that a problem?

This is the kind of problem Keybase was trying to solve, and they were right, social proof is more important than unmasking anonymity.

brigandish | 4 months ago

I think Freenet/Locutus contracts that work like forums on Aether (with auditable moderation and elections) would be neat.

Hyolobrika | 4 months ago

I've sketched a few ideas for what you'd need to make Usenet, ah, usable given modern concerns (primarily spam and spoofing). The biggest takeaway in my explorations is: you could probably never really get mass adoption of a Usenet-esque system these days. Oh well. Anyway:

I'd start with the basic idea that identities matter. For any given message, you should know what user posted it and from which server. It doesn't matter if the user is Robert Smith posting from, or Leet Hakkerman posting on, every message should be signed by the author ("the person who owns this public key wrote this) and counter-signed by the server ("my user, who owns this public key, did indeed submit this message to me"). Separating out individual identities (user's key pair) from the server means you can switch to another server and say "hey, it's me, i'm over here now" and it's verifiable -- but of course requiring people to manage key pairs is a tall ask.

Once you've got that, you can start doing things like setting up your server to just drop any messages from a server you consider abusive, or configuring your newsreader to drop messages signed by a particular user. "Nymshifting" is still possible, but it takes the cooperation of a server owner to do it, and it means the server might find others unwilling to peer with it.

Ideally, as people proposed with Mastodon, servers should be small; the admin should never answer "who??" when you mention a user on their system. But like a lot of decentralization/federation ideas (see Mastodon), these schemes fall apart quickly as soon as the usual thing happens: one server goes up which makes registration easy & anonymous, thousands of users flock there, and everybody else has to decide if they want to drop the server which generates 50% of traffic on the network.

edit: part of the idea of making it look a lot like Usenet except that your servers are verifying signatures throughout is that you can just use regular existing newsreaders to read it. The servers might exchange messages in the "native" format via a slightly modified IHAVE command, but when a newsreader connects and asks for an article via the ARTICLE command, the server can parse & rewrite the article to present it in RFC1036-compliant format.

floren | 4 months ago

Usenet was designed with a model of sporadic connection. Every site had a copy of items in its subscribed groups, and would refresh them from its upstream servers periodically.

This is a good model if connectivity is scarce or expensive, but inefficient if it’s pervasive and cheap.

Starting to use Usenet again (since it hasn’t actually ever gone away) doesn’t really make sense. It is a product of a different set of preconditions.

__d | 4 months ago

80s nostalgia never ends. Usenet was cool back then, now it's dead. Not lindy. I prefer online forums. Web forums allow rich and structured content. There is an app, Tapatalk, if you crave reddit-like experience. The UX of some old-school engines is not the best but online forums are way more approachable and manageable than Usenet ever was.

valeg | 4 months ago

Yes. But you have to do it in the way that Usenet was built and you may not like that.

I was intelca!cem on Usenet. Modem charges (phone calls) weren't free outside the local calling zone, and places like Berkeley (ucbvax) were often "hubs" that could use university resources to move data over longer distances. Every node had all the data, so system administrators had to come up with schemes for what to delete and when. Even though it was "open" people regularly railed against "the cabal" which where the folks who essentially controlled the namespace so you want a new comp.sys.<architecture> newsgroup, the cabal had to sign off on that or the other nodes wouldn't accept your postings to it. That fight spawned the "alt" tree and it allowed for an affirmative choice of "constrained" posts or "freeforall" posts. The "risky" groups distributed binaries, some of which were CSAM and some of which were pirated software. This lead to a lot of nodes not carrying them (easier than filtering out the bad stuff). For history, "pathing" was something like sun!ucbvax!intelca!cem which meant Sun sent things to ucbvax, and ucbvax would forward things to intelca. So if ucbvax decides not to "carry" a newsgroup, then no one down stream from them would get those newsgroups. (this lead to ISPs advertising "full" Usenet feeds in the 90's)

So what would a "modern" Usenet look like? Consider; Things that were expensive then (long distance and storage) are cheap now and things that were cheap then (class C subnets) but are expensive now. Usenet was hosted on netnews which was described by the netnew transport protocol or nntp. Just like the web is hosted on the hyper text transport protocol http. First and foremost a modern Usenet needs a modern foundational transport protocol. This would be IPV6 based (lots of available addresses) and end to end encrypted. You could implement this with carrier grade NAT or you could use tailscale. The latter is "easy" and a proof of concept would be easy to slap together. I think of this as engineering deliverable #1, a protocol for peer to peer newsgroup sharing with IPV6 addresses and end to end encryption.

From a cost perspective, that needs to be born by the user. Fortunately people already pay for their Internet access and computer(s), so really it just requires dedicating a computer to be your "node" in the hierarchy.

This gives us engineering deliverable #2, a repository of name to address mappings. While this could easily be provided by a bespoke DNS with its own set or root servers. The limitation and risk of third party DNS servers is well known. In 1990 I designed a system for NIS+ which allowed clients to start from zero trust and an introduction to a "server" they could trust, to allow for elaborating trust across a much larger network. It was implemented by a brilliant engineer (a guy name Kamal Anand) who created a cache service for keeping a credential cache of trusted servers. The advantage of such a system is that "who you trust" is something you get to decide, and you can decide not to trust servers that others trust or to trust servers that others don't.

Engineering deliverable #3 would be a core "server" which exchanges information with other servers it trusts, posts that it has seen that others have not, and presenting posts it receives to others once it receives them. It has functions to list posts, and to work with a client to change visibility rules (read/unread subscribed/unsubscribed etc). I will admit that one of the areas where looking at how gmail was implemented most impressed me was the idea that messages were the "general ledger" and folders, state, Etc. were just labels on the transactions. This works really well because delivery can be one linear write to a single blob, with individual "messages" and their attachements by addressable content into that blob. So the indexes stay small, the messages could be written to write-once optical media if you wanted.

Engineering deliverable #4 is a client, that authenticates to "your" server from any connection point on the Internet (remember I said tailscale makes this super easy), that runs on any of your devices (phone, tablet, laptop), and allows you to interact with the service; list, read, write, delete, classify posts.

I believe the key to financial success here is that the only "cost" to host this service is equivalent to running a dozen DNS server instances. All the hardware, storage, and connectivity costs are born by the client through systems they already pay for. As a client you could choose to trust a mapping server or maybe trust the server your friend is using with a choice to trust whomever that server trusts.

Finally, you would have to accept that in all likelyhood you and your buddies would be the only "cool kids" on this service for the first couple of years of its existence. Lots of muscle memory out there for existing sites (reddit et alia) and so a lot of "oh I read that on neuvoUsenet you probably didn't see it" experiences. Investing in outreach to specific groups would benefit things greatly.

The bottom line is that I consider this both a good idea and technically doable but it is a labor of love at present, it is by design difficult to monetize.

ChuckMcM | 4 months ago

Usenet was kind of sketchy though (and still is). If you browsed long enough you started discovering very niche and outright illegal shit on your travels. Then you had Usenet proxy services who censored that stuff, and for the better. I don't want to access sketchy shit accidentally or have it anywhere near my hard-drive.

WallyFunk | 4 months ago

Why not email groups? (also known as mailing lists)

Email groups are still actively used, provides pretty much same user experience usenet provides, can be decentralized (federated), easier to filter spam, can apply moderation (approve contributions before publishing) and all of us already use email for a reason or another.

psyfi | 4 months ago

I do think I could go for something like reddit that is free to read but posting and commenting requires a paid account. Could really cut down on spam, but hard to get enough people to pay to make it interesting.

I guess the SA model could work. Where you pay to join. Or annual fee is waived if karma is good.

wombat-man | 4 months ago

See for my suggestion (forum aggregator where you can view and post on arbitrary sites via arbitrary APIs)

armchairhacker | 4 months ago

Usenet still exists.

mnd999 | 4 months ago

Shit I would be on that in a heartbeat. But it can’t be free in todays world. Pay to play, so to speak, and I would happily pay a hundred a year to do so

torgian | 4 months ago

How do you get the users? The third-party apps had the opportunity to collaborate and start with a massive userbase, but instead they choose to shut down. Odd.

uLogMicheal | 4 months ago

The obvious solution would be to build something with git. Put markdown-files with usenet-headers in a repo, define some proper behavior for automated merge-requests and host it on the git-forge of your choice. This solution would out of the box remove most friction for growing and makes a huge amount of tooling and knowledge availabe, while people could focus on the important parts of building good clients and other userspace-tooling. And in case it becomes actually successful, you could still improve performance.

PurpleRamen | 4 months ago

Remember, remember eternal September…

atemerev | 4 months ago

Something like superhighway84?

Aeolun | 4 months ago

Usenet was not really good and is technically very simple.

I don't think there is a simple solution people could just move to.

Demmme | 4 months ago

Lots of people keep trying but they have a ton of problems.

I have done a lot of research and thought about this quite a bit.

* For a long time P2P automatically meant crypto. I'd rather Google use my data to get richer than Bitcoin bros waste electricity to do the same.

* Many were laboring under the delusion that self hosting is a sane idea. Anyone who's ever self hosted anything knows it takes actual effort and sometimes money, and probably won't be as reliable as Facebook.

* Protocols that are immutable-first are bad. You should at least be able to try to delete your old embarrassing posts.

* Normal people do everything on mobile. It's just so much better of an experience than any desktop OS. Add a keyboard and Android is the perfect device for basic stuff. P2P devs don't usually support mobile.

* Bandwidth is a thing. IPFS still uses too much of it. Helium used way too much last I checked. Disk wear and CPU is also a thing.

* Centralized servers are really good for performance. I think that an ideal platform probably wouldn't use any kind of DHT or anything, it would use a combination of local discovery, and semitrusted servers that are separate from your actual identity.

* Federation as seen today isn't that meaningful in practice. If my identity is tied to a server, there's only one server I'm going to consider choosing. The biggest most popular one that might stay around the longest. Might as well just do centralized FOSS at that point.

* You need a killer app to make normal people who aren't in it for political reasons use your thing. If you don't have that, your app will become KaczynskiNet, and I'll just ignore it, because... nobody I know will want it and I probably won't be able to convince them. Free speech is a good thing, and the "controversial" platforms might have a valid place.... but I'm not going to spend much time on platforms almost entirely full of communities I'm not part of and don't agree with, there's not enough hours in the day for that.

* Endless scrolling is evil and sent to instantly kill any idea of persistent communication. It does not belong anywhere but a news feed. Even pagination isn't ideal, we should probably be using time-based "Next N records after $date" pagination.

* I believe it also may subtly cause low grade anxiety by removing reference points and causing content pages to feel like they could change at any moment

* The current social media model developed around centralized servers. Things might have to change a bit.

* Heirarchal nested threads do not mirror real life conversations, and complicate the UI a lot, and make it easy to miss stuff if you aren't familiar with how stuff works.

The protocols involved are Not That Hard. It's been done several times, just never polished. Retroshare, BitTorrent, SyncThing, Jami, and Dat between them probably have 100% of the technology needed to make it work.

Possible solutions for a semi-decentralized model preserving some of the advantages of decentralized:

* Private Key based identity, no unique human-meaningful names at the protocol level. Just use some other platform to actually find your friends instead of trying to replace the whole internet.

* Your data is on your device, and on any server you are registered with and set up sync with. They can be free or paid, not the.protocols problem.

* Actually finding where to look for your friends stuff is not the protocols problem. You have LAN discovery, you can manually enter a server, and the clients know to try the common servers. Add whatever name servers or DHT extensions you want to that.

* Discussion threads could just be best-effort sync. Maybe you don't see every message if the network was partitioned but you probably will eventually.

* Threads could be "Hosted" at all servers that a user who made them is registered with.

* Messages contain lists of what other servers you are registered at, and you get a certificate from all of them proving it.

* That means the client can always find your other stuff somewhere else even if one server goes down.

* You can always choose to mirror a thread on all your own devices and servers for archival, and make it visible on your profile, it stays in sync, or you can freeze it so it doesn't, or you can copy it to a brand new thread.

* Posts are editable and deletable.

* Tombstone problem solution: Content is truly gone if you know the full list of servers a user is synced with, all those servers are up to date with their device, and none of them have it.

* You can make a thread that requires membership at a specific server to post at, for spam restrictions.

* There are no categories. You just share your thread to other threads.

eternityforest | 4 months ago

those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it

themusicgod1 | 4 months ago

I've been thinking a lot about this. Us engineers periodically think some version of "I'd like to put a text box on the internet, and hmm, maybe, yeah, some way of storing and retrieving what someone else put in it". Sounds like another endeavor in a grand tradition of such endeavors.

Everything else past that has insane ramifications. Do people put threats in that box? Do people put personal information in that box? Do people link to CSAM in that box? Do people link to radicalizing videos or viral misinformation in that box? Do people use this to harass and stalk others? To manipulate stock prices? To manipulate elections? The answer is "yes" to every single one of those things. You used to think it would be nice if people used your service, but now you realize to your horror you run a Nazi bar [0].

This is the question of the web now: how do you deal with Nazis? You might disagree, you might think it's about centralized/decentralized or analytics or JavaScript, but the only reason those things are relevant is Nazis.

Don't forget there are two kinds of Nazis. We probably immediately think of the American History X Nazi, but don't overlook the respectable Nazi, the polite, well-groomed, non-tattooed Nazi. The Nazi with a bachelor's, or even a law degree or an MBA. They'll use your service too, in ways that might seem like speech you should allow [1] but is just the first Nazi walking into your bar.

We gotta stop thinking "I'll put a text box on the internet" and start thinking "I'll figure out a way to keep Nazis out of text boxes on the internet". This sounds like a huge task but, and I want to be clear: this is _table stakes_ for any new service. The thing you're building isn't a text box, it's a Nazi-free text box. This is the bare minimum.

Then, and only then, can we start building tech that starts to make us feel good about ourselves. That starts to address the loneliness epidemic, or the bonkers decline in adolescent mental health brought on by social media (don't--ironically--@ me on this one), tech that inspires us and brings us together instead of tech that isolates and depresses us, tech that respects us and our privacy instead of surveilling and exploiting us. We have to start thinking about what our tech will do to people when people start to use it, from 10 users to 1000 users to 1,000,000,000 users. We need to start taking responsibility for the things we create, it's no longer possible to just throw your hands up and say, "look I just put a text box on the internet, how was I to know blah blah blah". We have to know better.



camgunz | 4 months ago

how would such a protocol achieve distribution?

viksit | 4 months ago

As an expert in the field of content management and process management I've been considering what would make a better replacement for Reddit and similar social networks for years.

I was deeply involved with Usenet back in its heyday, having creating multiple channels there, and have also written multiple ECM systems for major companies. Obviously used IRC extensively also. Also YIM, ICQ, MSN, AIM, etc.

What I can tell you is that Usenet does not address some of the core needs. The core needs are:

1. A persistent identity system ( Usenet sort of accomplishes this by email but it is insufficient; these days it can/should be done through public key encryption )

2. Anonymous central authority also accomplished via a key. This central authority will only be tasked with maintaining a list of the current approved servers that form the distributed set of nodes. Anonymity is necessary here to prevent various governments from attempting to restrict what nodes are allowed and what software is run on them. If a server appears to be running modified software in any way it will get banned from the network.

3. Moderation with mods per community. This is pretty crucial to prevent topics/channels etc from devolving into chaos. The central authority should also identify which nodes handle which channels/topics, and it should be possible for some to decide to run all their own secure nodes ( possibly to even charge for membership / access to it )

4. Automation. This was accomplished on Reddit via API and bots that acted with moderator power. In a new system this should be more integrated into an adjustable pipeline letting posts be vetted through a custom algorithm determined by the channel.

5. Structured content. Being able to create different types of posts with a structure to them that get fed through templates for display/interaction is very useful. One minor example is polls. There is a wide variety of different types of posts that should be supported, and many more types than Reddit ever provided should exist. I haven't seen any existing system doing what I am imagining here. This ties deeply into ECM and process management systems.

A new system is needed and has been needed for years. The main issue is that few people understand how to create something truly innovative that is better than what exists. Of those who understand how, even fewer have the ability to get one up and running and stay running long enough to establish a hold on the market. Doing so is not cheap.

If people are interested in collaborating on making such a system as an open source project, I would be happy to help guide the work. I would want it to start as an analysis of the existing alternatives to Reddit and analyze the abilities provided by all the various existing systems first. Until it is well understood what exists and whether one of the existing things is viable, it would be foolish to engage in attempting to make something better.

The system I am envisioning is one that simultaneously allows complete freedom and anonymity but also allows moderated communities with rules and verified identities. These are different needs but both are required if we want to address the needs fully.

dryark | 4 months ago

Two years ago this is where someone would chime in with a blockchain-based solution, paying moderators with usenetcoin.

gregw134 | 4 months ago


sideproject | 4 months ago


toaste_ | 4 months ago

Naaaah, Usenet still works great. Last thing Usenet wants is a bunch of nosy moderators enforcing their views on everybody. Just use Reddit if you want a padded room and straitjacket safe space experience.

AmenBreak | 4 months ago


aaron695 | 4 months ago

> The current events of Reddit and Stack Exchange amplifying a thought that communities and users' contributions should be decentralized. The current structure of online communication poses a major risk.

Does it? People have been free to communicate. They are still free to communicate via a different platform. There's no "risk" here. Those companies have investors who expect the companies to make money. Any different organization is going to sit there and expect to pull in enough to at least keep the lights on, but while people find it a worthwhile thing to donate to the Wikimedia foundation, I don't think you'll find that they'd do the same for Reddit 2.0.

> 1. There has to be a movement at both protocol and community-level to bring a Usenet like forum for general consumption. Different decetralized subgroups hosting and replicating the communities for others.

We HAVE Usenet. Maybe figure out why Usenet was abandoned by most people before replicating something that is broken and doesn't work for discussion.

> 2. The model needs to be rethought to ensure that the thoughts and knowledge of communities and users belong to them.

This is literally useless and so far down the list of concerns of users that it only makes sense to the exact kind of people that other people hate to encounter on forums.

> 3. These forums should encourage less anonymity and more persistent communication.


> 4. Trustworthy individuals should run these forums, chosen by the community. Individual groups, academia, organizations running the communities but easily redistributed across to people who want it. This was usenet.

This is a lie. Unmoderated newsgroups absolutely thrived in the heyday of Usenet while the other groups withered on the vine because nobody wanted to deal with the steel-fisted asshattery that was Usenet moderation. Reddit moderation is light-years better than Usenet's ever was, and that's not even talking about the fact that Usenet was designed for an age when people connected to the internet 30 minutes a day and didn't have powerful, permanently connected computers in their pockets.

> Failure to address these issues allows mega companies to exploit data and control access against users' wishes.

Mega companies are going to exploit data and control access regardless of what else happens because there's value there.

> Taking action is crucial to prevent unfavorable outcomes and hold ourselves accountable.

Taking a step back and realizing that Usenet was an epic failure for discussion would be a good starting point.

MisterBastahrd | 4 months ago

What about a crypto token based use net where every message would cost a small token fee that would be credited to the node operator?

This would give an incentive to run a node and would serve as a hurdle to the unwashed masses.

fwungy | 4 months ago