What is Scuttlebutt?

As mentioned in Why Decentralization, a big focus of this site is the technologies that will make a decentralized world possible. Scuttlebutt is one I’m most excited about because it has a usable social network, and more applications can be built on it for free, without permission, by anyone. 

Scuttlebutt solves multiple problems plaguing the social networking world:

  • One company having control over and access to everything people do and say on the network
  • AI algorithms sorting your timeline to decide what you should read, taking control away from you
  • Ads and the ability for companies to purchase attention, shoving themselves into your personal social timeline
  • That people have to have one profile tied to their real self 

Technically Scuttlebutt isn’t a social network, it’s a system for building any kind of decentralized application, but explaining it in the context of a social network helps. Later I’ll be explaining how it has the potential to be so much more than this.

Scuttlebutt – the social network

Decentralized, open-source social networks have been tried before, the two most well known are Diaspora and Mastadon. With these services there are still servers that people gather around, so if you want an account you have to find a server and register for it. There is still moderation, there is still federation (you have to register an account, and you can get banned) and there are a few central points of failure (the servers themselves). While these networks are a great first step away from centralized corporate-controlled networks (I like them and will be exploring them in more depth soon), Scuttlebutt is how I believe the social web should function in the future.  

Scuttlebutt’s fundamental difference is it is fully decentralized. Scuttlebutt is completely peer to peer, meaning there are no central servers that you connect to, and no one manages or controls the network. You don’t use a website to view Scuttlebutt, instead you download a client to your computer. When you use a client, like Patchwork, it talks directly to your friends over the internet. When you make a post it gets sent to all your friends, so they have a local copy of it. If a friend comes online while you’re offline, their client will automatically download your post/s from your mutual friends. Messages can spread between people constantly without everyone always needing to be online, just like the real world. 

Patchwork Screenshot
Patchwork – A Scuttlebutt client

When you download Patchwork and run it on your PC it’s initially empty, because you don’t know anyone and don’t know how to connect to anyone. You’ll notice you only need to enter a name, picture and description, there is no signup form. Why? Because Scuttlebutt has no central service to register with. You can be anyone you like, and no one can tell you otherwise. Instead of having a registration service Scuttlebutt creates a private key on your computer. This key is used to prove you are who you say you are to your friends, so that no one can impersonate you, and it’s controlled by you alone. 

To begin you should connect to a “pub” with an invite code. A “pub” is a super-friend on the Scuttlebutt network who makes friends with everyone. Pubs are just like normal users except that they’re almost always online, identify as pubs, and will friend you automatically when you redeem an invite code. After you redeem an invite you become friends and can start downloading information about its other friends, their friends, and those people’s friends (3 degrees of separation). These pub servers are mostly run by Scuttlebutt developers. Connecting to a pub doesn’t restrict your network in any way, as they are just super-friends, not central servers. 

While connecting to a pub isn’t required, until you have a few friends it’s worthwhile friending one. For one, pubs are almost always online, so whenever you come online you get all the latest gossip, instead of having to wait for friends to login. Second, pubs can help you discover more people, as you can communicate with anyone up to 6 degrees of separation away (3 degrees in each direction), and pubs are connected to other pubs, so they connect you to the whole Scuttlebutt universe.

Once you’ve downloaded the local gossip from the pub, you’ll see you now have a social feed in Patchwork. This feed is comprised of everything your friends are up to (of which you have 1 right now, the pub) and everything their friends are up to (2 degrees out). Though your client has information about people 3 degrees out for network redundancy purposes, you don’t see them in your feed by default. You can see them under the “extended network” menu option in Patchwork. So now you are connected to all these random people, what do you do? First I’d recommend checking out some of the hashtags/topics which you can see on the left, and subscribe to some that you find interesting. Once you’re subscribed to some topics you’ll see every post from everyone you know about that includes that hashtag.

 You can then follow others who have similar interests to you and post anything you like to the network. Have fun out there! If you want to follow me my ID is: @Py8stqMfjhdc4Ln92R4Lg+3jITszP94G3P5BNuH+lWY=.ed25519 

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