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Let's do this thing!

15 April 2019

Last week I wrote about my idea to decentralise the business of user-generated online content.

Sites like YouTube and Facebook have effectively corrupted the internet by placing a vice-like grip on the process of publishing user-generated content and serving it up to an eager global audience. By having an effective monopoly, these corporations are able to force *their* biases, prejudices, perspectives, beliefs and culture on the billions of people who simply want to publish and access this content.

Now we have governments wading in and demanding tougher regulation of these libraries of user-generated content. They want censorship, restriction, control and surveillance of this stuff -- all in the interests of safety and security (allegedly).

My solution to the growing problem that this centralisation of curation and control was simple... return to "the good old daysTM" when people published their own material on their own servers. Yes, I'm talking about the *very* early days of the internet when there was no Google, no Youtube, no Facebook.

And now I have decided that this is something that *must* be done.

To this end, I'm going to create an SD card image that can be used with the latest Raspberry Pi SBC to create a personal web/video server system which anyone can set up and use in just a few minutes.

Using such a system should be an exercise in simplicity:

Download the SD card image for free (or buy a pre-configured card at a very low cost), plug it into your Raspberry Pi, plug that Pi into a power-source, temporarily plug in a screen and keyboard, fire it up, enter your WiFi's login details then shutdown.

The keyboard and screen can be unplugged from the RP and the system rebooted.

Fire up the browser on your PC, laptop or smartphone and log into the RP's personal server system -- configure a few simple fields (such as server name) and start uploading (publishing) your content -- just like you do on YouTube or Facebook.

Obviously there are some other key components of this system -- there'll need to be some kind of dynamic DNS system for those whose internet connection doesn't provide a static IP number and there will also need to be search engines which are configured to automatically index whatever content you choose to make public.

When you upload a video or whatever to your content server, that server will automatically contact the chosen search engines (probably custom-built search engines designed solely to handle these personal servers) and submit an update that will then be added to those engine's search database.

So how will anyone make money from this?

Well I'm not looking to make money -- or I wouldn't be publishing the concept without some kind of IP protection in place. However, the basic design does provide plenty of scope for others to make money.

Doubtless there will be those who choose to create or configure hardware/software solutions that are totally shrink-wrapped and turnkey -- for a price. In fact, I have been approached by a well-known Chinese company that is keen as beans to move forward on a joint project such as this where they would provide a shrink-wrapped hardware/software product that could be bought online.

The search engines which effectively curate and order all the content from the huge number of personal servers will probably carry advertising to provide revenue.

The content creators who are looking for an alternative to YouTube's "revenue sharing" monetization program will likely find that the search engines will offer something similar by inserting a pre-roll ad before they actually deliver Net users to the videos in the search results. The money generated by that pre-roll ad will be shared with the owner of the video and also help fund the search engines themselves.

It's a win, win, win situation.

As I said in my original column... nobody (but NOBODY) has the financial might to compete with YouTube or Facebook as a centralised library of this content. However, by distributing the storage and server overheads to each and every participant, the resulting solution is self-scaling and completely mitigates the "barrier to entry" that previously prevented anyone from taking on the giants.

Of course it's been a very long time since I was at the coal-face cutting code so this is not a project I see myself being involved in at that level. I'd love to hear from people who'd like to play a pivotal role in the dismantling of the corporate monopolies that currently exist and have the ability to contribute their knowledge, skill, experience and time to create such a solution.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that this could be crowd-funded via IndieGoGo or KickStarter but I really think that the core of this idea should be plan old open-source, non-commercial teamwork. Those who want to make money out it will have plenty of scope to do so by the mechanisms I've outlined above. However, being imortalised as one of the team that beat Google and Facebook might be worth far more than any pay-cheque :-)

I'd love readers' thoughts on this. What do you think might be the best way to go about things?

I'm particularly concerned about security, because we don't want this huge network of servers to become the world's most powerful botnet by accident! This project will require some seriously clever people and some hard work. Is it worth the effort?

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