Why Tent is needed

We've applied for a grant!

Yesterday we submitted an application for a grant from IIS (The Internet Infrastructure Foundation in Sweden), the organization responsible for the .se top level domain. Part of their domain name fees are earmarked for the funding of projects that contribute to the development of the Internet, resulting in a nice chunk of money each year.

Our application is for the development of a JavaScript library and an accompanying Node.js module for Tent. Tent is a very interesting open protocol that has the potential to solve a lot of the issues facing the Internet today. It lets developers create powerful apps and services in a decentralized and secure way, while putting users in control of their own data.

I've learned the hard way that explaining Tent can be difficult, so instead I’ll let the people behind Tent do the talking:

cupcake.io/tent

Are you getting excited yet? Maybe not? Let’s see why Tent could be an important contribution to the Internet…

What problems does it solve?

The Internet is not what it used to be. The original Internet was decentralized, open and really chaotic (and full of animated gifs). This lack of centralized control is what made it such a huge success in the first place (I don't think it was the gifs).

Today though, Internet is becoming increasingly more centralized and regulated. An alarming percentage of online communication flows through a small number of corporations. These corporations have gained a significant influence over the web, and maybe more worryingly over people’s expectations of what the web should be. The underlying technology is mostly the same as before, but the environment has changed drastically.

The terms and conditions of websites (yeah, those that no one reads) increasingly take away your privacy and sell your personal information behind your back, for example to your insurance company.

Lurking in the shadows are corporate interest groups lobbying for increased control over online communication. If you didn't notice, yesterday (September 10th) was Internet Slowdown Day, when some really large tech companies protested against proposed US legislation that threatens net neutrality.

On top of all this, we now know that global mass surveillance is not the stuff of science fiction anymore, but very much a reality. Governments worldwide are desperate to get in on the action, and the tools that are available to them today enable the more repressive governments to create some truly dystopian societies. And give you the creeps.

I’m sorry for turning this into a gloomy and probably depressing read. I know perfectly well how easy it is to forget about these issues when inside the attractive and addictive walled gardens of Facebook and Twitter. But these are real problems we are facing today.

So, what can we do about it?

It’s interesting to note that almost all the issues I mentioned earlier are made possible due to the centralized nature of popular social networks and social media sites. This makes them highly valuable targets for surveillance programs, easy to censor or coerce by governments, and highly profitable opportunities for corporations to exploit its users.

By switching to decentralized applications and services built on Tent, you'd regain the ownership and control over your own data. You'd get to decide who should have access to what, and under what conditions. All communication on Tent is encrypted, and the decentralized nature makes it highly resistant to censorship.

By moving our communication and data storage over to Tent, we can effectively turn the tables on corporate and mass surveillence.

But for that to happen, the alternatives need to be as good as, if not better than, their siloed counterparts. And this is where I believe the biggest challenge lies for Tent and similar technologies.

Dave Winer, the father of RSS, said it best when asked what he thought about Tent:

Think of a protocol like a road. You could have a wonderful road. Well paved. Wide lanes. Great rest areas. But if it goes from nowhere to nowhere, it's not going to be very popular, no matter how nice it is.

Show me content I can get at through the protocol, and I'll say something.

Challenge accepted.

The goal of our project (should IIS choose to accept it) is to increase the adoption of Tent among developers by facilitating the creation of new and interesting apps and services built on Tent. We’ll do so by developing a JavaScript library for Tent, and an accompanying Node.js module that makes it really easy for developers to get started. This will be the bulk of the project's work.

Once we have the library and Node.js module in place, we’ll develop an app (plugin) for the popular blogging platform Ghost, giving you a beautiful interface for your blog, while Tent works behind the scenes, taking care of storage and syndication of posts to followers.

We’ll also develop a “reader” app that will look and work much like an RSS reader, only for Tent. This is where some interesting possibilities arise that you don’t get with RSS, and we look forward to exploring those.

Here’s a very early mockup of what the reader might look like (hint: a lot like Ghost):

Mockup

The idea behind the two Ghost apps is to demonstrate some of the advantages of the protocol, while also helping spread interest in Tent and hopefully to attract early adopters. They will also serve as real-world tests of the JavaScript library and the Node.js module.

But our main efforts will of course be focused on the JavaScript library itself, to create a solid foundation for developers to build the solutions of tomorrow. To put it in fancy words.

We have some exciting ideas of our own that we're eager to try out!

And now we wait

IIS received 105 applications this round, and are now faced with the difficult task of picking out which ones should get a grant. By November 7th we’ll know if we made it.

Until then, we’ll keep our fingers crossed. And hold our thumbs, as Swedes do.

Patience. I has it.

Keep an eye on this space for news about the project…

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