Friday, August 23, 2013

Towards a decentralized social network

These days, social network platforms are a great way to share with people aspects of your life, but once you upload your life to the provider, you have very little control over it. Gaining complete control of your data means you have to host it, but hosting a site can compulsorily expose other private information (e.g. WHOIS) that you don't want to share. One solution is to host an individual's social network profile over TOR hidden services. Here are some notes about how social network might work in a completely distributed fashion using OpenID and OAuth.

A personal profile is an URL. The URL is an HTML page with link rel serving an OpenID. The HTML page can also be a schema.org/Person. Other link rels can also expose RSS feed that your friends subscribe to. Which posts your friends get over RSS depends on their OpenID when they log into your profile site. The streams page where you read your friends post is simply a custom RSS reader. For this to work, you also need to log into all your friend's profile site in order to read their posts. You can use cookies to keep the authenticated state, but this is not ideal.

OAuth is an alternative which works differently. When you log into your streams page and wants to see the posts from all of your friends, their site would request your site to provide them with an OAuth access token. The OAuth would allow them to access just your public information enough for them to decide that you are trustworthy through OpenID Connect. They would then publish an RSS appropriate for your identity. There are two examples: Google+ Sign-In API and Facebook OAuth dialog.

Unfortunately there is no standard way to interact with other social networking services after an OAuth token is granted, e.g. posting messages publicly or privately to the other user.
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