web analytics

An interview with a Hyperboria user

I’ve been active lately over in Hyperboria, getting assistance with technical issues, as well as getting to know some of the people there. I also have a blog that’s accessible only within Hyperboria. I published an interview there today with one of the residents of Hyperboria, and I decided to re-publish it here as well. I hope you enjoy it .

One of the things I intend including in this blog is interviews with people who are actively engaged in the things that I’m interested in. I want to do this so I can learn something from them, as well as share their journey with my readers. Today I’m interviewing ‘jph’ of Hyperboria.

Hi ‘jph’, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. I’m quite new to Project Meshnet and Hyperboria, but I’m involved because I’m fascinated with new technology and wanted to play with it. I’m also excited about it because I see a lot of future opportunities as more services are created for it and it becomes more popular. I’m exploring it because I want to take advantage of some of those opportunities.

But I’m curious – why are you involved?

It’s interesting and it’s there. It’s also really early days, and the idea of a blank slate network makes me think that Hyperboria today must be similar in some respects to the early days of ARPAnet and the Internet – where it was primarily a research platform amongst a small group of very clever people.

How long have you been involved in Project Meshnet, and what was it that inspired you to become part of it? What do you love about being part of it?

I’m a newbie amongst the ranks of those on Hyperboria. I had heard about the various meshnet / darknet / etc efforts that spawned post-SOPA, and finally at the beginning of the year decided to check it out. I think the key differentiator for me is that Hyperboria and the technology that powers it, cjdns, isn’t another TOR or I2P network. It hasn’t been tarnished as a haven for drug purchases and child pornography (see silkroad and freenet). The principles that guide (cjdns) development include promoting the free flow of information and using cryptography to prevent censorship. In the technology space, too often we see it used to enable censorship and reduce freedoms, cjdns is one of the few technologies doing the opposite. For that reason, we should support its development.

How would you describe Meshnet and Hyperboria in your own words to the uninitiated?

Hyperboria is a network similar to the Internet but separate from it. It is an opportunity to rebuild a new type of Internet with new ideas and approaches. Unlike TOR (for those familiar with it), Hyperboria isn’t a way to anonymize your access to the Internet. It is an Internet of it’s own. It has mail servers, blogs, websites, chat and game servers. It has membership from most continents around the globe. It’s also tiny compared to the Internet, and there are high technical barriers to adoption for the average user.

“Meshnet” is a confusing, overlapping topic which means different things to different people. One of the more common definitions is the idea of an alternate Internet, comprised of a (mesh) network of interconnected wifi access points.

Temporary aside: A mesh is distinct from typical Internet services, where there are dedicated, centralized network routers connecting ISPs to each other. Instead, mesh networks are decentralised and often have a P2P-like approach towards connectivity. This enables them to survive even if a “router” goes offline. A goal of mesh networks is to reduce the risk of a central router causing the network to go offline.

A core goal with these mesh networks is to be able to provide an Internet-like service, even if the Internet is switched off or filtered (ie SOPA). The challenge (from my perspective) with meshnets is they are difficult to scale beyond local communities without relying on the Internet. The other challenge is that even if you have a community hooked up to a “meshnet”, what then? They still need popular Internet services such as email and social networking. These services would still need to be built and maintained per community. These aren’t fatal obstacles, but ones that need to be overcome to enable wider adoption.

Some of my readers are probably wondering why Project Meshnet and Hyperboria exist, and why they would be interested in it. What are its benefits? What would you say to them?

Assuming continued growth, Hyperboria and Hyperboria-like networks will provide a competing option to the Internet, much like Bitcoin is proving to be a competing option against mainstream currencies. If you’re entrepreneur-minded, then you might consider Hyperboria to have a bit of a wild-west, gold rush feel about it. As the users on the network grow, they require services that they are used to from the Internet. For instance, there’s nothing like Ebay or Amazon or Craiglist on Hyperboria. There’s nothing stopping someone from being the first in this space.

Even if you’re not a hardcore technical person, there’s still advantages to learning the technology you need to use to get onto Hyperboria. Learning Linux frees you from paying Microsoft it’s regular dues. Learning networking arms you with key knowledge in our highly-networked world. You can also socialize with smart members of the young Hyperborian community and learn something new.

But let me be blunt. Hyperboria is a test network. It is difficult for the average person to get onto. Once on, there isn’t a lot to see. There is opportunity for technically-minded early adopters, but if that isn’t you, check back in 2-3 years. I say this not to be rude, but to set expectations appropriately.

The methods of entry to Hyperboria are highly technical. Do you think that will ever change in the near future to allow an average ‘real world’ internet user to access it, or do you think its very nature is going to be exclusive to most people?

I believe we’ll see significant change in this space if the vision of ‘CJD’ (the author of cjdns) pans out. Another difference between TOR and the (future) version of cjdns is that it isn’t a charity. The cjdns software will have built-in technology that allows users running a service to be paid to pass traffic using microtransactions. This will stimulate adoption significantly. In turn, we will see greater motivation for someone to come along and build user-friendly software for Windows to access Hyperboria. Right now that person doesn’t exist. It could be someone reading this now.

Where do you see Hyperboria in 12 months from now? In five years? In ten years? What are your thoughts about how it’s going to develop?

I think it’s critical timing right now, but even that doesn’t really matter. Hyperboria is an experiment to test the scalability and concepts behind cjdns. If it fails, I’m sure CJD and the other developers will learn their lessons and try something new. Of course, the original Internet was an experiment too…

In terms of critical timing, for Hyperboria to continue to grow, it has to continue to gain more users, and in turn more services (ie, a Hyperboria Craiglist, Amazon, Gmail). Without a growth in Hyperboria services, there’s little reason for users to stick around. In my view that means the type of people the network needs most right now are builders, those willing to invest time and effort into services for future users. That way, when someone new arrives, there’s something for them to do.

Another driver for the network, in my opinion, is “Hype-only” content. This means that instead of providing something “also on Hype”, we provide something “only on Hype”. This will increase the “stickiness” of Hype, as well as exclusivity.

I think the potential of Hyperboria in five years could be similar to the growth we’ve seen in Bitcoin. There’s been no change in world governments’ desire to stifle free speech and content sharing on the Internet, driven publicly by the desire to prevent terrorism and child pornography, and privately by lobbyist groups and government surveillance desires. The Internet will (most likely) continue to get more restricted and locked down, providing an opportunity for networks like Hyperboria to provide an attractive, alternative experience.

If Hyperboria does attain any measure of success, it will then face two challenges – one from without, and one from within. It’ll likely attract the typical early adopters – drug dealers and less desirable social groups (ie hate groups) who have been pushed off the Internet. This will be a red flag for governments to try and outlaw it.

If Hyperboria manages to hold against government efforts, the next challenge is self-policing. If you believe that a hate group is routing network traffic over your server, you won’t be able to filter it (based on the cjdns design), so would you still want to be part of the experiment? Hyperboria also allows easy IP spoofing. If someone is sending malicious traffic from one address and you block it, they can generate a new one in moments.

We will face significant challenges managing such activity until pay-per-packet (the future vision of cjdns) is implemented. Pay-per-packet would increase the cost of malicious activity, since it would have to be paid for to be delivered (much like paying for a stamp to get your letter delivered).

What do you think is the single most fascinating or amazing thing about Hyperboria, compared to the real world internet? Why is it so unique?

It’s a blank canvas compared to the Internet today. It’s an opportunity for the Hyperborian community to re-imagine what an “Internet” of the next 10-20 years should look like.

‘jph’, thank you for your time to do this interview, it’s really appreciated.

If any of you have any questions you’d like to ask me or ‘jph’ about, or if you have any thoughts or feedback about this interview, please add them to the comments below.

Thanks for reading! Please add your own thoughts below.

Don't forget to subscribe for new posts sent to you by email!

%d bloggers like this: