Open Thinkering


Tag: decentralisation

Investing in decentralised crypto file storage

Image of a centralised (bad!) and decentralised (good!) network

In October 2017, during the Catalonian independence referendum, I travelled to Barcelona to talk about decentralised technologies. It was perfect timing. Not only was I talking about technologies such as IPFS and ZeroNet, but they were being used to circumvent government blocks on sites listing places where people could vote.

As we saw with Parler and Amazon Web Services, the technology stack underneath apps can be used to take them down. That’s good if we’re talking about places for the alt-right and fascists to organise. But it’s not so good if the technology is used against us and the things we think are important.

That’s why I think there are two pinch points that have been coming into focus over the last decade:

  • DNS
  • File storage

The first of these is out of scope for this post but I continue to keep my eye on progress being made through, for example, the Brave browser having native support for Tor websites, and perhaps projects such as Namecoin becoming more mainstream.

It’s the second I want to discuss, because while control of DNS is largely in the control of governments, control of file storage (‘the cloud’) is largely in the hand of Big Tech. For example, I host many of my websites through Digital Ocean, but they, in turn, get their storage capacity through services provided by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.

There are three particular technologies that I’ve had my eye on, ever since doing the initial research for MoodleNet back in early 2018:

  • Filecoin“a decentralized storage network designed to store humanity’s most valuable information”
  • Sia“decentralized storage for the post-cloud world”
  • Storj“decentralized cloud storage is here”

The reason I’m writing about them now, is that all three are cryptocurrencies I’ve invested a small amount of money in recently. Interestingly, they’re all taking slightly different approaches to the question of decentralised file storage, with each having useful pages explaining how they work (Filecoin, Sia, Storj).

One thing they have in common is that, a bit like people renting out their unused rooms via Airbnb, the idea is to take the world’s unused storage space, and make it available in a decentralised, trustless way.

The obvious next question to be asked, I guess, is to do with liability: if someone is trying to store something illegal and it happens to be stored on a device I own? Will I get prosecuted?

The Sia FAQ suggests not:

In the United States; hosts are considered safe from user submitted content under section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Storage providers, websites and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are considered protected under 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act. No cases in the US have specifically accused websites of CP. Section 230©(1) is considered a “safe harbor” but has never been tried in a court of law.

In the European union; hosts may be protected by Directive 2000/31/EC as long as they meet certain criteria.

I’ve used Bittorrent since I first found out about it, and in 2005 talked about it potentially revolutionising the way educators share resources. A few years later I was using Grouper to share gigabytes worth of resources with other teachers, before it was acquired by Sony. By 2013, I was experimenting with Bittorrent Sync, and even last year I was demonstrating how to seed torrents via the Internet Archive.

The reason I mention this is that I’ve been a fan of decentralised ways of sharing files for over 15 years now, and feel that we’ve really got to get away from the centralisation of the internet that’s been going on over the last decade. While we can’t wind the clock back, we can design easy-to-use services that make the default be decentralisation rather than centralisation.

So, yes, I’m putting my money where my mouth is with decentralised storage tech. I’m not sure which will end up being the most used, but I like the fact that, with Tardigrade, Storj has created a drop-in replacement for Amazon services which is not only cheaper, but decentralised and encrypted by default.

This post is Day 86 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at Image via this awesome article on IPFS at Make Tech Easier

Skin in the game?

Simple tattoo looking like a hummingbird (or the Twitter logo)

Almost four years ago, I joined the Fediverse through Mastodon. I’d been researching, writing, and speaking on decentralised technologies for social good and had experimented with a whole range of things.

Since then, I’ve switched Mastodon instance a few times and, at the time of writing, you can find me on Fosstodon, a place dedicated to free and open source software. I was so enamoured by the potential of decentralisation that I led the MoodleNet project for a couple of years, taking it from zero to one.

Until earlier this year, I was an active user of Twitter, and had been for 13 years. While I still auto-post my published articles there, I only login a couple of times per month to check everything is working and look at my notifications. People still occasionally tag me in threads.

One thread I saw when logging in this week was about the ‘viability’ of, well, everything except mainstream social networks. Other platforms, according to the people posting in the thread, just don’t have the “traction”.

All I can say to this is that there are those that expect a thing to exist fully-formed before engaging with it, and there are those people who expect to help bring anything they engage with into being.

Either position is fine, but know where you stand. If you’re a builder of new software, networks, or communities, then get on and build. If you’re a user of those software, tools, and communities to further your professional career, then do that. But perhaps don’t wring your hands about ‘viability’ if you haven’t got your skin in the game of building something new.

This post is Day 70 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

The perfect non-technical book on decentralisation?

This morning on Mastodon I asked:

If you were looking to write the perfect non-technical book on decentralisation, what would you include?

There were some great replies and I’m not going to do justice to them all here, but I want to summarise below some responses that I hope to return.

If I do get around to writing some or all of a book like this, I envisage it will have discrete, overlapping chapters like Anything You Want by Derek Sivers or 33 Myths of the System by Derek Allen. As a few people said, it’s probably best not to put ‘decentralisation’ in the title if it’s meant for a general audience.

My thanks to all who took the time to respond!

This post is Day 10 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at