Building the Puny Network: Defining the Goal

Ever since young, I have been dreaming about owning a little piece of internet. Like literally owning it - from the infrastructure up to the actual application running on top of it. I mean, wouldn’t it be cool? to have a little piece of something humongous for yourself. Although as some of you might have guessed, such complete ownership is near impossible.

Let’s imagine a scenario. You have your own Autonomous System along with some public IPv4 prefixes which you completely owned by yourself or an entity owned by you. You also own the hardware such as routers, switches, servers, etc. You also coded and setup your own services and maintain it yourself. Can you proclaim that you completely own your network? Perhaps you could, but you would understand that it’s an illusion.

You don’t own the actual cables running the network into your datacenter or server-filled garage. You also don’t own every single application running in your hardware - prime example would be your Operating System. Heck some might say that you don’t own your hardware - you “lease” it from a manufacturer until the end of life of such system, where they drop the support and you are all alone to keep it chugging.

Like in other aspects of life, complete self sufficiency is a myth.

This ownership limitation, I believe, is noticed by the small/indie web movements as well. While there are a lot of somewhat ambiguous phrases like own your home on the internet, there are some more telling footnotes like Furthermore, I use ownership not in the capitalist sense of the word but in the very specific sense of “not owned by anyone else." (source). The focus looks like on having a common place, one where there’s not a single entity that could demand “ransom” (your privacy, data, or whatever it is without much bargaining power on your side).

I’m absolutely onboard with this vision. A small web for me, is a place where everyone is sovereign. It’s a people centric system where one could have the option to manage their own data, express their opinions, and interact freely with anyone else within the collective norm. It’s not about owning something, but rather to be free from being owned. It’s not about silo-ing yourself out of the big web, but rather to co-exist peacefully, beside or within it.

The practical approach taken by some however, is not something I can say I fully support. The small web made Kitten, described as A 💕 Small Web development kit., under the premise that I quote word by word:

(In other words, Big Tech’s tools will never dismantle Big Tech’s house. The best thing we can do as developers is to build our own tools so we can build our own houses in our own way.)

… with the aim of making it as easy to have your own Small Web site at your own domain

Yet it has over 4.5k lines of README just to get started. And even after reading the thing, I don’t feel any fundamental difference in this project, other than just simply a bunch of frameworks, trying to do everything at the same time. It certainly doesn’t help making the small web inclusive, not even easy to have. My opinion in inclusivity is to let anyone pick anything that they could and would use, without additional opinion or complexity on it, as long as it sticks to the same rules and conventions.

Hence my thought to build something I lovingly called the puny network. It’s a network of public gateways connected to personal devices hosting their own tiny homes on the internet. It’s an enabler which provides people with an easy way to self-host their sites. It’s not centralized as anyone could become the gateway and anyone could choose any gateway they want to be connected with. They can also drop out of the network anytime they wish, therefore sovereign in managing their servers, data, and privacy.

The beauty of the puny network is that it could be hosted anywhere, including the Big Web Megacorps. But we do so without relinquishing any of our sovereignity, as it’s purely transactional. We give them a bit of money, they give us a bit of space. The gateway themselves hold no data and hence is ephemeral in nature. It can be replaced at any time, it could be deployed elsewhere with ease. There’s no binding force (eg. using Big Tech’s proprietary scaling solutions) and therefore, no extortion from one party to the other. Of course, we could also deploy the gateway themselves out of the Big Web Megacorps, and maybe one day, scrap the gateway entirely and the small web would be independent from the big web.

The work has started. I bought the domains and several servers to kickstart the journey. I’m under no illusion that this would be a walk in a park, but it’s achievable.

Even if it doesn’t work in the end, I believe something will and the small web will thrive one day.

#punynetwork #diy #smallweb #network