Open Thinkering


Tag: ZeroNet

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

New blog: Doug, uncensored

TL;DR: Head to or for my new blog about freedom and decentralised technologies.

One of the great things about the internet, and one of the things I think we’re losing is the ability to experiment. I like to experiment with my technologies, my identity, and my belief systems. This flies in the face of services like Facebook that insist on a single ‘real’ identity while slowly deskill their users.

I’ve been messing about with ZeroNet, which is something I’ve mentioned before, and which gets close to something I’ve wanted now for quite some time: an ‘untakedownable’ website. Whether it’s DDoS attacks, DNS censorship, or malicious code injection, I want a platform that, no matter what I choose to say, will stay up.

To access sites via ZeroNet, you have to be running the ZeroNet service. By default, you view a clone of the site you want to visit on your own machine, accessed in the web browser. That means it’s fast. When the site creator updates the site/blog/wiki/whatever, that’s then sent to peers to distribute. It’s all lightning-quick, and built on Bittorrent technlogy and Bitcoin cryptography.

The trouble, of course, comes when someone who isn’t yet running ZeroNet wants to visit a site. Thankfully, there’s a way around that using a ‘proxy’ or bridge. This is ZeroNet running on a public server for everyone to use. There’s several of these, but I’ve set up my own using this guide.

I encourage you to download and experiment with ZeroNet but, even if you don’t, please check out my new blog. You can access it via or — the rather long and unwieldy actual IP address of the server running the public-facing copy is

Finally, if you’re thinking, “What is this?! It’ll never catch on…” then I’d like to remind  you about technologies that people didn’t ‘get’ at first (e.g. Twitter in 2007) as well as that famous Wayne Gretszky quotation, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”.

Decentralised technologies mean censorship-resistant websites

As I write this, I’m in an apartment in Barcelona, after speaking and running a workshop at an event.

On Sunday, there was a vote for Catalonian independence. It went ahead due to the determination of teachers (who kept schools open as voting centres), the bravery of firemen and Catalan police (who resisted Spanish police), and… technology.

As I mentioned in the first section of my presentation on Wednesday, I’m no expert on Spanish politics, but I am very interested in the Catalonian referendum from a technological point of view. Not only did the Spanish government take a heavy-handed approach by sending in masked police to remove ballot boxes, but they applied this to the digital domain, raiding internet service providers, blocking websites, and seizing control of referendum-related websites.

Yet, people still accessed websites that helped them vote. In fact, around 42% managed to do so, despite all of the problems and potential danger in doing so. By way of contrast, no more than 43% of the population has ever voted in a US Presidential election (see comments section). There have been claims of voting irregularities (which can be expected when Spanish police were using batons and rubber bullets), but of those who voted, 90% voted in favour of independence.

People managed to find out the information they required through word of mouth and via websites that were censorship-resistant. The technologists responsible for keeping the websites up despite interference from Madrid used IPFS, which stands for Inter Planetary File System. IPFS is a decentralised system which manages to remove the reliance on a single point of failure (or censorship) while simultaneously solving problems around inefficiencies caused by unecessary file duplication.

The problem with IPFS, despite its success in this situation is that it’s mainly used via the command line. As much as I’d like everyone to have some skills around using terminal windows, realistically that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon in a world of Instagram and Candy Crush.

Instead, I’ve been spending time investigating ZeroNet, which is specifically positioned as providing “open, free and uncensorable websites, using bitcoin cryptography and bitorrent network”. Instead of there being ‘gateways’ through which you can access ZeroNet sites through the open web, you have to install it and then run it locally in a web browser. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, and the cross-platform functionality has an extremely good-looking user interface.

I’ve created a ‘Doug, uncensored’ blog using ZeroNet. This can be accessed via anyone who is running the service and knows the (long) address. When you access the site you’re accessing it on your own machine and then serving it up to — just like with bittorrent. It’s the realisation of the People’s Cloud idea that Vinay Gupta came up with back in 2013. The great thing about that is the websites work even when you’re offline, and sync when you re-connect.

As with constant exhortations for people to be more careful about their privacy and security, so decentralised technologies might seem ‘unnecessary’ by most people when everything is going fine. However, just as we put curtains on our windows and locks on our doors, and sign contracts ‘just in case’ something goes wrong, so I think decentralised technologies should be our default.

Why do we accept increased centralisation and surveillance as the price of being part of the digital society? Why don’t we take back control?

Again, as I mentioned in my presentation on Wednesday, we look backwards too much when we’re talking about digital skills, competencies, and literacies. Instead, let’s look forward and ensure that the next generation of technologies don’t sell us down the river for advertising dollars.

Have a play with ZeroNet and, if you want to really think through where we might be headed with all of this, check out Bitnation.

Image CC BY-NC-ND Adolfo Luhan