Although Planetary feels a lot like a normal social network, it works in quite a different way. This is because it works as part of a 'Distributed Social Network' based on an open protocol called Scuttlebutt.
In practice this means two important things:
- Planetary's apps don't have to talk to our servers—or to anyone's servers—to work. They can talk to each other and to apps or servers created and run by other people;
- That no one organization owns or controls the social network. You can download compatible apps—or use servers—made by a variety of companies, individuals or non-profits and still be able to talk to any of your friends and family.
Read on to find out more about Distributed Social Networks, how they work and why they're different from the products you're probably used to.
Centralized vs. Distributed
Most online products work a bit like this: a company builds a service - normally a website or an app which people interact with. Behind the scenes that company may have a lot of 'servers' - computers on the internet - that the website or app uses to store information, or for various kinds of data processing. The app or website has to talk to the server to work.
The servers, the website and the app are all owned or run by one company and that company controls how you can interact with them. Normally they won't let you interact with the data on their servers (even if it's your data) through other apps or websites. Some may let you access their service through different apps, but fundamentally they control if and how that happens.
This is the way Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and almost all other big tech products work. We say these services are 'Centralized' - the apps always have to talk to a central server to work, and the whole service is owned and controlled by one company.
How are Decentralized Projects different?
In a decentralized project, the core idea is that you shouldn't always need to talk to one central server, but that the various apps can talk to each other, or to lots of different servers in a 'peer to peer' kind of way. The app should still work in a way that's familiar and easy, but it never relies on one central set of servers, owned by one company, to function.
Often decentralized projects are also based on 'open protocols'. This means that lots of different companies or non-profits or individuals can build apps or services, and they can all work together.
E-mail and the web aren't strictly speaking distributed but they are built on open protocols. That means you can send messages to someone who uses a completely different e-mail application to you. And you can read a web page created or hosted anywhere in the world by anyone on any number of different browsers created by completely different people. No one company controls the web or e-mail.
So what's a Distributed Social Network?
A Distributed Social Network is a kind of Social Network that doesn't need to talk to one central server to work and which no one company owns or runs. You can use apps created by lots of different people to connect to the network and you'll still be able to talk to your friends whatever app they're using.
Why is a Distributed Social Network better than a centralized one?
A Distributed Social Network like the one Planetary is part of, built on Scuttlebutt, is better than a centralized network in a few really significant ways:
- It works offline
- You own your data and have control over it
- You can choose to write encrypted posts to other people that no one else can have access to
- It makes centralized data collection much harder
- It's a true public space that's not owned by any one company
- If you don't like the app you're using or the company you got it from, you can switch to another without losing your friends, content or connections