Why Scuttlebutt

I fell in love with the scuttleverse because of the people who are inhabiting it. Regardless of UX/UI, I continually come back because here I found people discussing practical ways of building their own airships, and what life is like doing guerilla gardening in Berlin or living in a self-reliant shack on top of a lava flow. There’s a distinct social anarchist bent to the discussion, and folks are not only discussing alternate societies at length, but also have the skills to realize them. – Zack! -> here

The other day André Saltz wrote about A Plan To Rescue The Web From The Internet, which had some good points, wrapped in a lot of… extra that tended to make my eyes glaze over. Before that he explained how the web has been dying since 2014. I definitely recommend you read the latter.

The heart of André’s post about saving the web is important though. Instead of trying to restate his thoughts I figured I’d give you mine on why you, like André, should care about Scuttlebutt, and the similar new ideas that are emerging and trying to take the internet back from the highly controlled walled gardens of Facebook and their ilk.

Once Upon A Time…

Once upon a time the web was a free-for-all. It was glorious. It was ugly. It was filled with failed and successful experiments. Every page looked and worked differently, but you could at least count on there being links you could click on that would take you somewhere. Making pages required learning some “HTML” thing, but then we got blogging software got better until we had things like WordPress which made that problem go away entirely.

It also wasn’t filled with ads. You didn’t have to log in, or launch an app to see the contents of a site. Maybe you used bookmarks. Maybe you used used an RSS reader. Regardless, you read the stuff you wanted, in the way it was intended, and it was good; occasionally ugly, but good.

More Recently… More recently we got Facebook. I say “Facebook” but really

I mean any of the similar walled gardens than have come and gone, and the future ones that will come and go again.

Facebook and friends have done some very good things. They’ve made it easy to see all the posts from the people you care about in one central place. The pages have a consistent navigation, and while it’s hard to say that Facebook is gorgeous, It is fairly easy on the eyes.

Unfortunately the things you upload are only technically yours, and once they got everyone on the site, they changed the rules.

The Oatmeal’s comic on “Reaching People On The Internet” summed it up nicely.

Eventually Facebook will stop being “the cool site”, and everyone will move on to something else. The doors will close and billions upon billions of posts, photos, memories, and well-wishes will be lost. There’s already evidence of this starting with younger generations and Facebook.

Enter Scuttlebutt

Scuttlebutt is one of a number of new ideas emerging to address the problem of these walled gardens, government censorship, corporate BS, and more.

Technically it’s a protocol, like the HTTP protocol that most of the internet is built on. Some people use it share blog posts and Tweets. Some people use it for chat. Some people build games. Some people use it to serve data for specific applications.

Scuttlebutt has some huge differences though:

  1. Once it’s been shared, nothing can be lost, or deleted, or censored.
    • links to old articles and blog posts never die
    • great for people living under oppressive regimes
    • politicians can’t take back stupid or racist statements
    • companies can’t walk away with years of your posts and images.
  2. everything is silently encrypted
    • private messages are truly private.
  3. it’s decentralized, and works offline
    • millions of people in rural and/or poor areas don’t have constant, or fast, internet connections.
    • no company or government can control it.
    • no-one can act as a gatekeeper

Patchwork is one of the many applications that run on Scuttlebutt. It’s one of the social apps, but really they’re more akin to web browsers than “social apps”. Some people like this one. Some people like that one. They all look a little different, but they generally let you do the same thing.

So what do you do with it?

Using Patchwork is conceptually similar to Slack or irc: There are public channels that are topics for discussion: #games, #birds, #boats, #esperanto, etc. But there are also public channels that are blogs: #spider-farm being an oddly enjoyable one that has nothing to do with spiders. All of these posts can be filled with images, and attachments, that work perfectly offline. The big difference between it and Slack or IRC is that most people are posting thoughtful multi-paragraph things, not chatty one-liners.

You can also send private messages that are truly private thanks to the encryption working behind the scenes.

It’s also a little like Facebook. You have a profile page, and a network of people you follow, and they have a network of people they follow, and you can see who you have in common.

But, like real life, you can only send a message to someone if there’s a chain of connections between you and them. This is because Scuttlebutt transfers data using the power of Gossip. No really, that’s the name of the protocol. Messages pass from person to person across the network, but you don’t have to download every message for every person. It’s all about the network of people you’re connected to, and who they’re connected to.

And that, is where the “distributed” and “offline” aspects come in to play. I can turn off my wifi, and still read other people’s posts, still see images, even reply to posts, create new ones, and update my profile. When i get back online everything all of that will go out to the people I’m connected to and they’ll see it the next time they connect.

But, it’s better than that sounds. Imagine I’m in a rural area but one of the people in my Scuttlebutt network comes by. We can connect over a local network (think AirDrop). I can get the latest stuff she has, and she can get the latest stuff I have. Every time one of us connects to another friend the information will continue on until one of us connects out to a wider network like the internet.

This sounds like it’d be very slow, but when everyone is online, message transfers are actually very quick. And when you’re in the middle of nowhere and it takes two days for a friend of a friend to connect to the internet, it’s still a lot better than no connection. Plus, you can still use the system in between visits.

Right now, Facebook is useless to the 4 billion people with poor or intermittent connectivity. Imagine if those people started using a tool like Scuttlebutt before Facebook was able to get its hooks into them.

[quick implementation note] you don’t have to know someone on the network to use Scuttlebutt. There are “pub servers” whose job is to be someone you can connect to, and help you share “gossip”. Connecting to one is generally the first thing you do when you start up a new client.

And one more thing

Right now the internet is a toxic place for those of us in the US. You can’t look at any of the social networks, without encountering a constant stream of stress-inducing pro or anti-Trump rants. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place online where you could go, and be social with others without all of that?

On top of all that, the people on Scuttlebutt right now are actively thinking about ways to make things better: their lives, the internet, everything.

Share some gossip

Watch the video overview. Grab a copy of Patchwork, and join me and others in an ad free oasis filled with some pretty cool thinkers.


P.S. Patchwork is stable and good, but we’re still figuring out how best to use it. It’s like the early days of web browsers. I recommend you don’t install it on your work computer, because it likes to only be run on one computer at a time, and if they suddenly fire you (or burn to the ground), you’ll loose the computer with the keys to prove your identity, and decript all the private stuff you’ve shared and received. It’s not hard to share the same identity on multiple computers though.

P.P.S The links to Scuttlebutt posts and profiles in this article are not links to Scuttlebutt itself, but to a read-only web view into it.