Columbia Law Professor Eben Moglen has a great idea. He wants every household to have a server on the Internet.
It’s not as outrageous as you might think. The hardware exists today. and I’ve talked about it before. The Pogoplug is based on it. Right now it costs about $100. The trouble is making the software easy enough that anyone can plug it in and use it. But that can happen too, and that’s the part he wants to get done.
I can’t wait.
I’ve been running a personal web server for more than 10 years. At various times it’s hosted blogs, a forum, and a genealogy site. My first two iterations were costly and time consuming to set up, and the resulting boxes were bulkier and louder than most people would be willing to tolerate. The device Moglen is proposing would be better. It’s about the size of a cell phone charger, silent, and reliable, since it has no moving parts inside.
What would you do with it?
That’s Moglen’s point. Get these devices into everyone’s house, and you could de-centralize the Internet. You could do everything that people are used to doing in this Web 2.0 world–share status on Facebook, share photos, blog, stuff like that–but you would control it. No more being held captive to the whims of centralized companies who have to put their profits above your rights. You could decide what information to share and with whom. Leaking sensitive personal data to advertisers would largely become a thing of the past.
Some of the software exists today. It would be possible to build a device preconfigured with WordPress and Gallery, and it would be highly effective for blogging and photo sharing right now.
The main thing that’s lacking is a replacement for Facebook. But a de-centralized social network called Diaspora is in alpha testing right now, and could eventually be up to that challenge. As silly as that may sound, there was a time when Myspace seemed invincible too.
Moglen estimates that if he can raise a half-million dollars, he could have a device ready in a year. That timeline makes me suspect his ambitions might be a little bit bigger than just a personal web server, but rather, taking a bit more of a distributed approach, where you host data for other people in exchange for them hosting yours. That way, if your power goes out or if you experience hardware failure, you’re not offline permanently. And, perhaps just as importantly, governments can’t cut you off just because you’re controversial and they don’t like what you say.
Because if the goal was just personal web servers running on a small form factor, it could be done in a month or two and, potentially, there would be volunteers willing to do it for free. Suitable software configurations exist now; the key is just getting them running on ARM instead of the traditional Intel/AMD x86.
Web 1.0 opened a world of possibilities for people who had the ability to connect a server to the Internet and edit HTML code. Web 2.0 brought those capabilities to everyone with an Internet connection, in effect bringing the Web to a new level of interaction.
Perhaps Web 3.0 will be about de-centralization, putting the power behind that interaction in the hands of individuals, not in the hands of corporations that can go out of business or be bribed or forcefully shut down.