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[Freedombox-discuss] Network effect

>>What do people think of this strategy?
>It's interesting and I'm glad you are talking about
>the network effect -- but....  there has to be a "but" :-)
>You might be overthinking a bit.
>What if instead - and this is exaggerated but not by much -
>the very first freedomboxes:
>a) Did little more than host a user's personal mailbox (ordinary
>mailbox - no extra fancy encryption, alternatives to DNS, etc.)
>b) Booted, was solid has hell, was inexpensive, was a solid foundation
>to build on in the future, and had some minor privacy and feature
>advantages over alternatives like 3rd-party hosted email.
>That's a freedombox that does almost nothing at all (other
>than solve some very fundamental problems without which
>nothing else matters).
>With such a 1.0 people have an incentive to buy a FB even with no
>FB-specific network effect.
>There are lots of similar plans - doesn't have to be email per se.
>It's not just you.  There are huge numbers of interesting
>ideas batted around for mesh networks, overlay networks,
>DNS alternatives,  fancy encryption, new global user id systems,
>on and on and on.   Geeze, looking at what is being collectively
>spec'ed out (roughly and informally):  the militaries and
>intelligence agencies are likely to be our best "customers"!
>Very, very fancy stuff we're talking about.   Industry is
>way behind what we're talking about when we talk about all
>those features.  Way behind.  To a large extent, so is academia.
>All of those fancy featuers are squarely on mission for FB!
>We should catch as catch can.  We should plan for them and add them
>as they become available.  We should not define the 1.0 around
>The fewer of the fancy features we care about for release 1.0 (other
>than laying down a good foundation for adding them later),
>the greater the chance of success and impact, I think.
>I think pretty much everything you say is more or less
>right (close enough) EXCEPT that I think that's way beyond
>a strategic plan.    The strategy should be to build a
>very solid and simple foundation and avoid hard problems
>like "the totality" of protocols and creating a network
>effect and so on.
>There are plenty of things a stand-alone, no other users
>freedombox can be useful for.

Of course you're right: the most important thing is getting out some
box which does something useful and does it well.  Still, you must see
how tempting it is to discuss the freedom box that spits fire.


>On Sun, 2011-03-20 at 17:44 -0400, Boaz wrote:
>> One of our most vicious enemies in the beginning will of course be
>> this thing called network effect, which I'll define as that property
>> of both communication protocols and walled-garden style communication
>> services wherein its value to an individual prospective user is
>> increased the more people already use it and decreased the less people
>> already use it.  This will be our enemy in the beginning because in
>> the beginning no one will have a freedom box and many people will
>> already use unfree walled-garden communication services.  Why would
>> anyone get a thing which won't help them talk to anyone?  On the other
>> hand, if we clear the initial hurdle, in the end game the network
>> effect will be our most powerful weapon.  This post contains my
>> thoughts on how to overcome network effect in the beginning.
>> This is the framework in which I view our goals.  With respect to all
>> the forms of communication that people use in their lives, we desire
>> all of:
>> 1. That they use a free and open protocol, that they could run their
>> own servers.
>> 2. That they do run their own servers.
>> 3. That they encrypt their communications from end to end.
>> As an obstacle to the achievement of our goals, the network effect
>> specifically attacks that first goal.  The nonachievement of the first
>> goal would very effectively stifle our ability to work toward the
>> other two, and it is therefore quite imperative that we overcome
>> network effect to achieve the first goal.
>> One of our first orders of business will be to create and describe in
>> totality the set of protocols that makes up the way that freedom boxes
>> communicate, which for lack of a better term I'll call for now the
>> freedom protocol.  Looking over my own and other people's wish lists,
>> it seems to me that a large portion of the necessary protocols already
>> exists.  SMTP handles mail, HTTP does pages, SIP/RTP for voice, XMPP
>> does instant messaging and a sort of friend request and approval
>> transaction, FTP for file transfer, RSS does feeds though perhaps is
>> not as rich a language as Twitter or Facebook news feed and etc.  So
>> as I see it we're most of the way there on the front of creating the
>> protocol suite.  And there are projects already working on filling in
>> the gaps and integrating into a unified whole of a "social networking"
>> protocol.
>> So once the protocol exists, our task with respect to the network
>> effect then, is to promote the use of this protocol.  How can we do
>> this?
>> We're fighting an uphill battle, so we need to be not just equal but
>> superior to our unfree competition.  There need to be significant
>> aspects of the freedom box which are materially better in terms of
>> utility and experience than Facebook.  Also, many users will weigh
>> into their decision process degrees of importance of freedom box's
>> privacy superiority ranging from slight to compelling.  Best will be
>> if people get diverted away from our competition by censorship.  If it
>> gets to the point where some small but significant minority are
>> already using freedom protocol, and then some group for some
>> controversial cause gets their page on Facebook shut down, bonus
>> points for us.  Likewise if Facebook as a whole is blocked in some
>> country.
>> Clearly there will be a small number of people, like me and I imagine
>> many others on this list, who refuse to use the likes of Facebook no
>> matter how many people we know use them, and will buy one of the first
>> freedom boxes before knowing anyone else who uses one.  This can
>> provide an initial jump start, but this will not be a very large
>> number of people.  Why should someone who knows only one or two or
>> worse yet zero other freedom box users buy a freedom box?
>> The first thing that I foresee will be enormously helpful to us will
>> be the way in which an owner of a freedom box will be able to
>> communicate with preexisting adapters of individual parts of what make
>> up the freedom protocol.  Straight out of the box, the owner of the
>> first freedom box will be able to use his freedom-box-served email to
>> write people, his freedom-box-served website to make announcements,
>> his freedom-box-served XMPP account to chat with, for example, users
>> of Gmail's chat feature, his freedom-box-served FTP server to send
>> people files, and so on.  He can buy the freedom box for these uses,
>> but by doing so he now also supports the entirety of the freedom
>> protocol and is adding to our network effect.  This is why I see it as
>> so crucial that we incorporate those protocols which are already in
>> heavy use.  We would be shooting ourselves in the foot to reject SMTP
>> for example, because we would be killing a powerful ally in overcoming
>> the network effect.
>> Just one single, really useful, really compelling use of a freedom box
>> could propel the freedom box to prominence in no time.  Just as an
>> example, if people have trouble sending large files to each other (no
>> problem, i'll just email it. oh wait, the size limit. okay, i'll use
>> one of those web services. oh wait the size limit. damn) and the
>> freedom box presents a powerful, ultra convenient solution to this
>> problem (imagine right clicking on a file in the file browser and
>> clicking "create FTP link and copy to clipboard"), people might pay
>> $29 just for this one feature.  But by doing so, they would become
>> supporters of the entirety of the freedom protocol and add to our
>> network effect.
>> Many people propose that as an aide to overcoming the network effect
>> the freedom box should provide an interface which aggregates
>> communications through unfree channels with ones through free
>> channels.  Perhaps, but this could also just encourage those unfree
>> channels to linger like a plague.  Imagine that a small but
>> significant minority is starting to use the freedom box.  What
>> encourages someone who doesn't care about the goals of freedom box, or
>> does but is lazy, to get a freedom box to talk to the people he knows
>> who use freedom box if he can just keep talking to them, through the
>> same interface on their side, using Facebook?  In any case, for the
>> help of the person who already uses Facebook and now is trying to
>> switch to freedom box, nothing stops him from having the freedom box
>> interface open in one window, and a web browser opened to Facebook
>> open in the next window.  He's just using a new kind of communication,
>> the freedom box, in addition to the old kind.  Mike says:
>> >I'd be trying to "sell" them on a box which would allow them to talk
>> >to me, but cause it to be harder (or at least no easier) to talk to
>> >all the friends they have on Facebook.
>> But that's not true: the box in no way makes it any harder to talk to
>> their friends on Facebook, and as for making it easier, well, why
>> should the freedom box make it easier to use Facebook?  Also, asking
>> someone who used to use the Facebook web interface to switch to an
>> aggregation of Facebook and freedom box inside the freedom box
>> interface is asking him to change the way he uses Facebook.  Perhaps
>> more useful would be to ensure that the people who are already using
>> social networking aggregators can integrate freedom box into the
>> aggregate.  Better, if possible, not to ask people to change how they
>> do things they're already doing.  And we would certainly want to be
>> very careful that no one finds himself encouraged by the freedom box
>> interface to use an unfree service that he was not already using.
>> I think it's much more important, rather than to make it easier for a
>> freedom box user to communicate through unfree channels, to make it
>> easier for a user of unfree channels to communicate with users of
>> freedom box.
>> Imagine a hypothetical person who knows one or maybe two people who
>> use freedom boxes, and doesn't want to spend $29 to talk to one or two
>> people.  What for this person?  One feature that would really help
>> there is a way for someone who has a freedom box to extend an account
>> for the freedom protocol to someone who doesn't have a freedom box.
>>  It needs to be dead easy for both parties.  And for privacy, it needs
>> to, when possible, encrypt the person's traffic from the people he's
>> talking to all the way to his own computer, not just to someone else's
>> box.  I see this as being a powerful way to expand the user base and
>> create network effect in our favor.  When one of the first freedom box
>> users who doesn't know any other freedom box users is trying to
>> connect to his friends in freedom, perhaps his closest friends will
>> set up accounts on his own box just to talk to him.
>> And, for a person in the position of the hypothetical person from the
>> beginning of the last paragraph who doesn't know any of those one or
>> two people very well or simply doesn't like relying on (even very
>> small) favors, imagine an account provider who provides an account for
>> the freedom protocol on their server.  This situation utterly fails at
>> the second goal, and is not at all what we want in the long term, but
>> it is potentially (at least partially) compatible with the third goal
>> and does satisfy the first goal and so can grow our network effect.
>>  It allows this person to communicate using the freedom protocol to
>> that one freedom box user he knows, and increases the value of a
>> freedom box to anyone else who knows him and may be interested in
>> buying one.  This service, provided by the "businesses" that Bjarni is
>> so excited about, can be a stop gap measure which helps us to achieve
>> the first goal.  That hypothetical person might buy his own actual
>> freedom box at some later time.
>> So these are a few of the things that I think might help us overcome
>> the network effect.  And now I'm about to propose one more strategy
>> that I think could compliment those others quite nicely, and prove a
>> powerful force in our favor.
>> Enter the smaller closed garden social networks.  Of what interest
>> could they be to us, you ask?  In the US market at least, the network
>> effect of Facebook is so powerful that it's becoming hard for any
>> other closed garden social networks to compete.  As time goes on, this
>> effect will only increase.  They will feel the heat, and they will be
>> desperate for their very survival.  How can a small closed garden
>> social network hold a candle to the network effect generated by the
>> behemoth mass of user base that Facebook controls?  What I propose is
>> that we approach them with our protocol, and we make a simple
>> proposition: "You, so and so closed garden social network, on your
>> own, will dry up like a worm on a sidewalk under the heat of the
>> Facebook sun, and so will all the other closed garden social
>> networks.  But you, throwing together your network effect with the
>> network effect of all the other social networking websites other than
>> Facebook, have a chance of competing head on with Facebook, surviving
>> and flourishing.  Adapt the freedom protocol and become interoperable
>> with all the other social networking websites that adapt the freedom
>> protocol and with users of freedom boxes."  Armed with our protocol,
>> the swarm of small, currently walled garden social networks will band
>> together for their own survival.  And in doing so, they will harness
>> their existing user base to create a mass of network effect which can
>> feed the growth of freedom box.
>> The people at http://onesocialweb.org are trying this approach.
>>  Without commenting on the technical merits of this particular
>> project, which I'm perhaps not qualified to do, I find it noteworthy
>> that they're pitching their protocol to operators of walled garden
>> social networks.
>> Imagine a world where a free and open social networking protocol was
>> already the standard.  In such a world, the task of moving people over
>> to running their own servers, while still facing significant
>> challenges, would not need to make enemies with the mighty network
>> effect.  And it goes without saying that in such a world the likes of
>> Facebook wouldn't stand a chance.
>> What do people think of this strategy?
>> Boaz

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