How do we organize society for a whole-systems approach for developing the Internet?

What I’m interested in seeing in regards for the development of the Internet is to explore the potential of the development of the infrastructures in a free software and open-source manner, without a Benevolent Dictator for Life. Considering that the much of Internet infrastructure is built on free software and open source technologies, it makes me wonder “What if we would organize the infrastructure development of the Internet in a similar manner?”. To do this by gathering companies, government, civil society and have open and collaborative processes in order to include a multitude of perspectives of this complex issue and overcome the challenges causing devastating consequences for societies, organizations and humans.

I do not know of any projects working on the organising of society in relation to the internet, only W3C and IETF working on technical collaboration and standardization. My interest in this is mainly in connection to the recent developments and consequences from the Internet that people can experience in their daily offline life or when surfing the World Wide Web.

Specific events I’m thinking about are examples such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal with Facebook and how similar events have happened. These are having a big effect on societies and democratic processes, at least in the representative democratic processes such as election. In that sense we are experiencing consequences of an Internet that is continuously being developed but we do not know how, when it is done, it’s simply having an impact on us as human beings, with potential large scale negative consequences.

The consequences can mostly be loosely drawn as humans and scientific research can’t really keep up with the silo-based, non-coordinated nature and speed of development, making it harder to connect the dots between source of change and consequences.

My hopes are that we can gather a group of organizations and individuals from different sectors of society who are willing to collaborate and take a more holistic approach, a systems thinking approach on building a Internet infrastructure which serves humans and society as a whole.

Perhaps establishing an ongoing collaboration with experimentation and action for the development of Internet with discussions and analysis happening when the group designs and reflects on experiments that are to be tested or have been tested.

These thoughts and my background leading up to this is mainly based on my experience as a human. In this information society it becomes more evident and feels like a lot of actors are acting independantly and unknowing, or not caring, of the different directions they are pulling toward, and the consequences which come from everybody trying to pull in different directions. It gets easy to create a sensation of chaos.

I believe that this goes for a majority of challenges we are facing, climate, mental health, economy. It’s basically the Wild West whereas I believe that many expressions we can see on the Internet are symptoms of this experience for many people.

I think that with the current information overload many people have, that can really pacify a lot of us.

I think we’re at an interesting point in this time in which these big challenges are becoming more and more transparent, evident and tangible. We need to take a new approach in order to show that we can overcome these challenges, prove that a new approach can be done and then overcome all of these in parallel.

I strongly believe that this is more of a challenge of how we organize the work with these common challenges as a society rather than finding one or many technological solutions to all of it. Technological solutions solve technological challenges.

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Are you picturing an alternate open source physical infrastructure? Or do you picture adapting the one that already exists so that it operates in a more open and cooperative way?

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Agree! The educated middle-class is bigger than ever, full of boredom, seeking after visions, motivation, meaning. We are right in time, but we have to fight the cynical “what’s in it for me”-individualism. I will attend the 11th of May in Blivande.

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One need only take a good look at the planet’s overall health and then there should be plenty of motivation. One of my burning questions is how the internet and information technology is going to help turn it around. Right now I see a whole lot of tech stuff being developed that I would place more in a “because you can” category rather than “because you should.”

I have read a pretty compelling argument for why a lot of dedicated driverless cars are more efficient than big transit systems, which are not efficient and are always subsidized. But I think that might be pretty far away in time still. And I also think the “shakeout” period for driverless/autonomous vehicle tech is going to be pretty hairy. At least i have no intention of beta testing them and for sure hope to not get in the way of those who do.


In response to your comment: “I do not know of any projects working on the organising of society in relation to the internet, only W3C and IETF working on technical collaboration and standardization. My interest in this is mainly in connection to the recent developments and consequences from the Internet that people can experience in their daily offline life or when surfing the World Wide Web.” ----- I suggest you research Holochain. It is an engine for building decentralized, scaleable, secure apps that are focused on helping society organize in groups for social, political or economic aims. It is a functioning viable alternative to the growing information capitalism with its all invasive surveillance strategy that dominates the internet today.


As I understand it, both @kristofer and @zaunders have dabbled in Holochain?

@jean_russell too

Yep. We have been fiddling with Holochain and will continue doing so. Possibly we will be looking to create something based on the Valueflows vocabulary / REA to enable new flows of value within the food system.

Holochain provides a few key features which, combined with open standards and protocols, could prove to be a really strong setup:

  • P2P application platform - no middle men

  • Single sign on and verified identities while retaining anonymity and data ownership - facilitates trust between parties

  • Built for component reuse - enabling remixing of functionality between applications and easy integrations

  • Fully encrypted if needed

  • Distributed hash tables without the performance bottlenecks of cryptocurrencies - no need to maintain a global state

  • No need to maintain global state means… resilience - your subnet gets disconnected from the internet and your application keeps running

  • Built for performance - no global state and no middle men means no maximum number of transactions. (same as for any of the old open protocols - what is the maximum number of transactions per minute for http or smtp world wide?)

  • Built for limitless microtransactions without fees

… and probably some other stuff I forgot just now…


Yes, and to add a bit of prose to what Kristofer pointed out.

My entry to Holochain came from a long quest of trying to figure out why we (in the corporate mindset I had been trained) spend so much time on things that do not make peoples (and the planets) life better which to me is a lot of what I hear in your critique @mattiasx.

So after having spent years looking into the control schematics of money I was out there campaigning for publicly created non-debt money when I came across the Metacurrency project that pointed out that money was a very poor signalling system that is extremely lossy of information.

What the Metacurrency project suggested, of which Holochain is a part, was that we needed a new way to individually creating the expressions that we need to better make visible what has happened (money says very little about what actually happened) and our desires for future things to happen. And we need to be able to weave all these expressions, like I am now weaving the words that I have learnt, to make new meaning.

So, this was a long winded way of motivating why I am very excited by Holochain for creating a human internet. Not because it couldn’t be done by other people, other protocols or in another way, but because the driving force behind the project is fully set on transcending the scarce reality of the monetary environment. Turning a world of transactions into a world of interconnected flows and people.

Sure enough Holochain is not THE framework for EVERYTHING. Lots of applications require different tech but at its core it is, in my view, deeply human and respectful of human integrity in the way it allows for you storing your data until you decide you want to share something with someone, just like you do with your everyday experience as well as enabling as few as two people to start using a new app together with no involvement of things like servers.

Agent-centrism also allows for these applications not only to bridge between each other, but to many other systems where you allow the application to act on your behalf. Integration with things like SSB which is already creating a much more human experience should be easy enough given that they are both offline first, cryptographically signed information exchanges.

As for actual use right now, in addition to what me and @kristofer built I have one more application prototyped and a few more designed, but there is still a lot of changes going on in the core framework so things are breaking a lot. A few more months until apps see daily use I am guessing.

Anyway, sorry for ranting, but the efforts for open-source “organizing the work with these common challenges as a society” are very much front and center in the Holochain/Metacurrency community as far as I can tell.


This might be interesting to @matthias and his PayCoupons project. Matt, what’s your take on Holochain?

Good questions which makes me reflect on my post. An open source physical infrastructure would be interesting, @zelf got interviewed about that. I think that would be interesting for redundancy and a resilient solution better than the idea of a “backup” if the mainstream infrastructure goes down.

However in regards to your question I am picturing the current physical infrastructure being governed in a different way socially. Like right now there are 11 “keyholders” to renew the DNS root zones(?) of the entire Internet and that crucial infrastructure is entirely based in the U.S. which I think can be a security issue if things go wrong over there and someone tries to do something to that single node. I’m not putting emphasis on the technical side even though it is important, I’m putting more emphasis on how society organizes socially to develop a common infrastructure. At the current point it seems to me that a few strong players seem to build and run the entire infrastructure apart from servers and websites run by a larger variety of operators.

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Oh, money is a very poor system for a multitude of reasons :slight_smile: For one thing, state currencies try to be both a means of exchange and a store of value, and these two monetary functions are in conflict. And there is the more fundamental reason that money as a “token of value accepted by a multitude of parties” is inherently a social construction and needs social governance to be successful, and that often fails, both in states and in grassroots projects.

So what we did to support economic exchange in PayCoupons is to switch from money to mutual credit notes. In a way, everyone there issues their own currency and we solve the problem of “but how does everyone get what they want” with an algorithm for multi-party bartering that we made.

I remember we looked into Holochain, Bancor, Stellar etc. but so far, there is just no distributed ledger technology that could run PayCoupons in a privacy-protecting way. The mathematics for running our algorithm in that manner are just not there yet. So we have to stick with a centralized or federated platform architecture for now (and it shows that distributed ledgers have some limitations left, but it will be figured out).

When it comes to actual use of any new value accounting or exchange system, the experience we made is this: it’s a challenge to hide away all the tech complexity from the end user, but without that there will be no mainstream adoption.

I’d love to hear what the privacy-protection needs that you have are?

I agree that especially all of the blockchain stuff I have seen is super unaccessible for anyone non-technical. Hoping that the key management parts of Holochain will help make it much easier to hide that stuff. Would be fun to have a conversation around this a little further down the line, mutual credit is basically built into the structure of Holochain since it is fully peer-to-peer with no miners and that heavy stuff.

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Transactions on distributed ledgers are public and pseudonymous, and would show the “zero-sum mutual credit exchange transactions” that we calculate for our users. With that information and a few user accounts taking part in the transactions (de-anonymizing a few trade partners which is still ok) one can then apply network analysis techniques and de-anonymize everyone’s identity.

We’re building the system for businesses though, and they would not be happy to see that all their trade partners, orders and order volumes are exposed publicly :expressionless: The only way to solve this would be to run mathematical optimization in a distributed way over a network, with each node having only limited knowledge about their own orders. But that’s wayyy too slow. So we have to wait for functional encryption and the like to become more mature so that we can do the same but on a single machine.

The “winner take all” mentality that governs the internet as well as the whole capitalist world is a core part of the problem. Unchecked, it leads to mass extinction.


Thank you very much for this discussion. I am still very much starting to learn about Holochain. Thank you very much for having this discussion and linking explanatory texts :).

Similar to the underlying capitalistic mentality shaping solutions through their development as brought up by John, I want to mention the general problem of scaling at this point.

Many solutions, if not all, change their character when scaled up. How do you think would it impact the Holochain and Pay-coupons models you are discussing here if they would be used by large and not fully self-informed communities?


I’m glad it was helpful @MariaEuler , if you have other questions around Holochain I am happy to talk about it to the extent of what I know.

It’s hard for me to say much about the character of Holochain-based software since it’s all still very experimental. There are no production-level apps and I don’t know how well it is all going to turn out, but in theory and prototyping it is looking fascinating.

I think that there is a possibility of not needing to scale as much with self-hosting. Especially if we can bridge all of the different applications through the person using them. If it is as easy to create an application (or at least instance of an application) for three people as it is for 10 000 people then how large a scale would we need?

One aim with Holochain is to have small packets of composable code that can be used to create the local applications that are needed within a community. While there are probably going to be applications that span actors from all over the world, including knowledge sharing and bridge-building applications between networks, there is a possibility for an approach to network building that promotes smaller, evolvable applications that are run by a bunch of people that want to coordinate activities. Is there really a need for global scale applications? The one network? If not, what is the appropriate scale of a network?

I am guessing that people will be bridging different networks and applications in the area of their interest and expertise. I don’t really have a clear picture of all this yet, but I don’t think we’ll see these 4 billion people applications like FB. Maybe not even 4 million people applications. More like a multitude of interconnected 400 people (or 40 people) applications. Many people may have similar applications but they could all be running slightly different versions and tweaked interfaces, at least that is the promise of the infrastructure as far as I understand it. We could hope that this would lead to more self-steering, self-directed and self-informed groups, but I guess time will tell if that actually comes to fruition.


I would be very keen to hear more about your view on how SSB and Holochain would be combinable?

I’m also curious to hear more about what holochains relation to monetary structures embedded within the applications. Would currency be a possible integration in the core protocol of Holochain? Would it be in the application layer?

In general I’m curious as to Holochains relation to monetary-issues :cherry_blossom:

Well as both SSB and Holochain are frameworks that store information locally, author (and cryptografically sign) and gossip what you as an agent signal (post) into the systems, it seems to me that building bridging applications would be relatively straight forward. You could have an application, lets call it SimplePost, that is able to cross post (through your cryptographic signatures) both into the SSB blob and some Holochain local chain and DHT.

You could also authorize an SSB application to request data from say your Holochain contact book by simply opening the “API” of the Holochain application to allow it (authorizing the keys of the application requesting). I write API in quotations since, in my understanding, good Holochain design is based on separating the UIs and data layer of all the Holochain applications so that we can create UIs that utilize many different DHTs for richer applications. Through that design, all data function calls are effectively APIs and just as accessible from, for instance, an SSB application as from a simple localhost webapp (using things like websockets).

As for currencies and Holochain that is a bit of a rabbit hole. This whole thing grew out of the meta-currency project and there is some pretty deep and heady material on what Holochain is trying to enable in this space.

But as a short reply, yes, one of the reasons why Holochain has focused so much energy on creating peer-validating functions and temper-proofing local chains of entries is that it sets the stage for super simple implementation of currency.

Currencies on Holochain would not require tokens or mining but are a way of issuing credit to one another which is then a circulating supply. This can be done within applications, but are possibly better thought of as micro-services usable by any application you have installed. Currency is a simple app. And as all other apps, the UI could weave it into another app.

Say for instance a carsharing application. The application that is keeping track of car usage and maintenance costs can call into the carpool credit application and shift credit from one user to another. Maybe the carpool credit application can also be the tool library credit application, all that requires is using it in both apps.

I don’t know if that makes things clearer @zelf, if not, please help me clarify where I am confusing, I’m happy to exercise and grow my understanding like that. :smile:


Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m seeing two issues you’re touching one. The primary one being about project governance: how do we run these projects?

There I find it difficult to avoid BDFL when starting the project, but the question is how to transition to something better as other contributors come on board. I’m not sure quite how that relates to governing the Internet though.

But with your concerns on information overload (as well as the practicalities of helping people find the conversations they need to be a part of) seems to tie into my interest in how to improve search and discovery.

I’m definitely interested in hearing more about how this would work!

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