Posted by: John Erickson | January 11, 2021

Don’t Cry for Parler; or, Edge Computing for Revolutionaries

Created 11 Jan 2021; Updated 15 Jan 2021

A few thoughts on why the de-platforming of Parler and the removal of thousands of accounts associated with QAnon from Twitter should be a reminder to online communities about the importance of platform independence — and also a reminder of some things forward-thinking people tried to warn us about starting more than two decades ago, but most of the “cool kids” building and adopting apps and platforms have refused to listen to…

Reminder #1: The risks inherent in relying on device-specific apps and the distribution channels (aka app stores) they rely on: When developers create “native” apps they are subject to the whims of the channels that control the distribution of those apps. Developers who instead create Web apps can instantly publish and do not require the approval (technical, content or otherwise) of platform owners.

Reminder #2: The risks inherent in using cloud-based services for data management, service provision, yada-yada: Live by the Cloud, die by the Cloud. Cloud services enable companies and organizations to spin up quickly and to scale efficiently; you get as much infrastructure as you can pay for, as quickly as you can pay for it! The Cloud also makes you entirely dependent upon the whims of your provider, within the limits of your service agreement (which will naturally favor your provider). The alternatives to The Cloud are to purchase and maintain your own infrastructure, subject only to the whims of your landlord, Mother Nature and the scalability of that infrastructure; or to find Alt-Cloud-equivalents of AWS (which probably exist). Again, you’d be dependent upon their whims, but perhaps you’ll find one with appropriately Left- or Right-wing sensibilities. An even better approach is to adopt a decentralized social network architecture; see next….

Reminder #3: The risks inherent in keeping all of your eggs — your users’ data assets — in one basket: Parler reportedly scrambled to get its millions of users’ data out of AWS before the January 10th shutdown. This is a duel “boo-hoo on you”: first on Parler, for trusting that the data in AWS would always be accessible to them; then on Parler users, for relying on a centralized service to manage their personal data. It has been clear forever (at least in Internet time) that decentralized, or edge-based, data persistence is the most robust approach, enabling personalized data (self) management.

For more on e.g. decentralized data management see this New York Times story, coincidentally also from January 10th, about Tim Berners-Lee’s open-source software project, Solid, and his Solid-based start-up, Inrupt:…/tim-berners-lee-privacy… Others are leveraging Bitcoin technology to implement decentralized cloud data storage services.

DISCLAIMER: I’m in no way defending Parler and their users; indeed my message to them is, “Hmmm, sucks being you!” But online communities of any orientation may be subject to the platform interventions that we saw take place in the aftermath of January 6th; for more thoughts on the potential consequences, please see the related links that follow.


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