Based on my conversation with Boris Mann about Fission, and visiting a Decentralised Web Meetup in Amsterdam because his Fission co-founder Brooklyn Zelenka, I started exploring the technology they work with and are building. First step was getting access to and understanding the ideas behind IPFS.

What makes IPFS interesting

The IPFS about file (if you click that link, you’re visiting a file on IPFS from your browser) says a variety of things, but a few elements are key imo.

First, it is a peer to peer system, much like we’ve seen many before. When you download a file to your system it will come in bits and pieces from multiple other computers, somewhere in the network, who have that file available. Whatever is the easiest way to get that file to you, is the way followed.

Second there is a key difference in how file addresses work in IPFS, compared to the web or on your local drive. We are used to files having names, and addresses being a representation of the location of that file. The URL for this blog points to a specific server, where in a specific folder, a specific filename resides. That file returns the content. Similarly the address for a file on my drive is based on the folder structure and the name of the file. IPFS addresses files based on their content, and does so with a hash (a cryptographic representation of the content of a file).
Naming things based on a hash of its contents means that if the content of a file changes, the name will change too. For every file the content will match what it says on the tin, and versioning is built in.

Combine that with a peer to peer system, and you have a way of addressing things globally without being tied to location. You also have a way to ensure that whatever you find in a given file is exactly what was originally in the file. https://mydomain.com/catpicture.html may have had a cat picture at the start that later got replaced by malware, but you wouldn’t know. With earlier p2p systems to exchange files like Napster of Bittorrent you always had to be careful about what it was you actually downloaded. Because the content might be very different from what the name suggested. With IPFS those issues are done away with.

Currently (location based) addressing on the web is centralised (through domain registration and DNS), and decoupling addresses from locations like IPFS does allows decentralisation. This decentralisation is important to me, as it helps build agency and make that agency resilient, as decentralisation is much closer to local first principles.

Getting IPFS set-up on my laptop

Boris was helpful in pointing the way for me how to set-up IPFS (and Fission). There is a IPFS desk top client, which makes it very easy to do. I installed that and then you have a basic browser that shows you which of your own files you are sharing, and which ones you are re-sharing. It also when you are looking at a file shows where it comes from.

I uploaded a PDF as a hello world message. In the screenshot above the Qm…… series of characters you see underneath the local file name helloworld.pdf is the hash that is used to identify the file across the IPFS network. If you ‘pin’ a file (or folder), you prevent it from being deleted from your cache, and it stays available to the wider network with that Qm…. string as address. Which also means a drawback of hashed-content addressing is non-human readable addresses, but they’re usually intended for machines anyway (and otherwise, there’s a use case for QR codes here maybe)

With IPFS set-up, I started playing with Fission. Fission builds on IPFS, to allow you to deploy apps or websites directly from your laptop. (“build and go live while on a plane without wifi”). It’s meant as tooling for developers, in other words not me, but I was curious to better understand what it does. More in a next post.

Cornucopia
Abundance isn’t shipping containers full of stuff. (image by me, CC BY NC SA)

Last month I was at the Scifi Economics Lab, and Cory Doctorow
was one of the speakers. There was much to unpack in his talk, and he has a style of delivery that makes you want to quote a lot of things. I won’t give in to that urge, but will highlight one expression.

At some point he talked about abundance. It’s a term I’ve struggled with over the years because it’s so easy to interpret as having mountains of stuff, as per the image above. Or have everything free. A Dutch expression or rather admonition “we don’t live in the land where chickens fly into your mouth already fried” is probably an image our Calvinist culture associates with abundance: no work, but all the fruits of it. I have a sense of the meaning of abundance other than that, but never felt I had the right words to express that other perspective on abundance.

Doctorow’s metaphor for abundance was useful for me. He described back packers always having to carry a roll of toilet paper with them and that if not used it would desintegrate in your backpak, and therefore regularly needs replacement. Backpackers spent resources on replacing their toilet paper and spent mental energy on keeping an eye on still having it with them. A constant worry, and an inefficient use of resources (as you don’t use much of the toilet paper for its intended purpose, due to degradation).
Abundance then is being certain there is toilet paper when and where you need it. This is a qualitative metaphor that adds location, timing and actual need as dimensions of relevance. Abundance here is also more efficient, reduces worry, and is always there when needed. But it’s not limitless, free, or available anywhere for anything at any whim. It’s about qualitative abundance not quantitative abundance (‘heaps of free stuff’).

Hotel Room Toilet Paper Roll FoldMetaphorical Practical abundance, image by Tony Webster, license CC BY

This makes a vast number of things abundant in the society I live in, because it is there when I need it, without worry. Water, food, energy, clothing, transport, and everything else including toilet paper. (I once had a Central-Asian colleague who told me she thought, having visited, the Netherlands was totally boring because of that predictable abundance: no need to improvise anytime/anywhere.) Especially in the context of the six ways to die, abundance is an important notion, also because that abundance is often acquired by increasing the complexity of our systems. That complexity can break down.

Time, location and the context of an existing need are qualitative dimensions interesting to consider as design factors. What do you do when one or more of them are not to be counted on? Or can be counted upon, but at specific intervals? This is dealing with and designing for intermittence, as building block of both resilience and agency. That’s for another time.

Through a posting of Roel I came across Rick Klau again, someone who like me was blogging about knowledge management in the early ’00s. These days his writing is on Medium it seems.

Browsing through his latest posts, I came across this one about homebrew contact management.

Contact management is one area where until now I mostly stayed away from automating anything.
First and foremost because of the by definition poor initial data quality that you use to set it up (I still have 11 yr old contact info on my phone because it is hard to delete, and then gets put back due to some odd feedback loop in syncing).
Second, because of the risk of instrumentalising the relationships to others, instead of interacting for its own sake.
Third, because most systems I encountered depend on letting all your mail etc flow through it, which is a type of centralisation / single point of failure I want to avoid.

There’s much in Rick’s post to like (even though I doubt I’d want to shell out $1k/yr to do the same), and there are things in there I definitely think useful. He’s right when he says that being able to have a better overview of your network in terms of gender, location, diversity, background etc. is valuable. Not just in terms of contacts, but in terms of information filtering when you follow your contacts in several platforms etc.

Bookmarked to come up with an experiment. Timely also because I just decided to create a simple tool for my company as well, to start mapping stakeholders we encounter. In Copenhagen last September I noticed someone using a 4 question page on her phone to quickly capture she met me, the context and my organisation. When I asked she said it was to have an overview of the types of organisations and roles of people she encountered in her work, building a map as it were of the ecosystem. Definitely something I see the use of.

HandShakeHandshakes and conversations is what I’m interested in, not marketing instruments. Image Handshake by Elisha Project, license CC BY SA

Earlier this week I wrote how European IPv4 addresses have now all been allocated. The IPv6 address space is extremely bigger than IPv4 is. IPv4 has 2^32 possible addresses, as they have a length of 32 bits. IPv6 is 128 bits long, allowing 2^128 addresses.

We have an IPv6 address with our fiber to the home connection (currently 500Mbit symmetrical, which is actually a step down from the 1Gbit symmetrical we had before). I asked our provider what type of address allocation they use for IPv6. They allocate a (currently recommended) /48 block to us. A /48 IPv6 block contains 2^(128−48) = 2^80 addresses. The total IPv4 address space is 2^32 addresses. So we actually have an available address space at home that is 2^16 (65.536) times larger than the square of the total number of IPv4 addresses (2^16*2^32*2^32=2^80). These are mind bogglingly large numbers.

Today, my ‘on this day in …’ widget tells me it is 16 years ago that I triggered what turned out to be the most pivotal discussion my blog generated, the Making Actionable Sense conversation. It became a key building block of Lilia‘s PhD, and the subject of network visualisation research. It shaped my own thinking about the funnel of information input, through processing, to getting to action, and how being deliberately and consciously networked feeds into agency.

UntitledProbably the top left gives the most realistic information. Image by Brooke Novak, license CC BY

An organisation that says it wants to work data driven as well as sees ethics as a key design ingredient, needs to take a very close look imho at how they set KPI’s and other indicators. I recently came across an organisation that says those first two things, but whose process of setting indicators looks to have been left as a naive exercise to internal teams.

To begin with, indicators easily become their own goals, and people will start gaming the measurement system to attain the set targets. (Think of call centers picking up the phone and then disconnecting, because they are scored on the number of calls answered within 3 rings, but the length of calls isn’t checked for those picked up)

Measurement also isn’t neutral. It’s an expression of values, regardless of whether you articulated your values. When you measure the number of traffic deaths for instance as an indicator for road safety, but not wounded or accidents as such, nor their location, you’ll end up minimising traffic deaths but not maximising road safety. Because the absence of deaths isn’t the presence of road safety. Deaths is just one, albeit the most irreparable one, expression of the consequences of unsafety. Different measurements lead to different real life actions and outcomes.

Gauges‘Gauges’ by Adam Kent, license CC BY

When you set indicators it is needed to evaluate what they cover, and more importantly what they don’t cover. To check if the overall set of indicators is balanced, where some indicators by definition deteriorate when others improve (so balance needs to be sought). To check if assumptions behind indicators have been expressed and when needed dealt with.

Otherwise you are bound to end up with blind spots, lack of balance, and potential injustices. Defined indicators also determine what data gets collected, and thus what your playing field is when you have a ‘data driven’ way of working. That way any blind spot, lack of balance and injustice will end up even more profoundly in your decisions. Because where indicators mostly look back in time at output, data driven use of the data underlying those indicators actively determines actions and thus (part of) future output, turning your indicators in a much more direct and sometimes even automated feedback loop.

CompassOnly if you’ve deliberately defined your true north, can you use your measurements to determine direction of your next steps. ‘Compass’ by Anthony, license CC BY ND