Brazilian programmer Miguel Freitas has released the alpha code for a new project which aims to replicate the functionality and ease of use that has made Twitter a household name, and which was instrumental in the various political insurrections around the world in 2010.
Using a combination of Bitcoin (for handling user registration and logins), BitTorrent (for peer-to-peer handling of posts), and Lavabit (for message security) protocols, Twister aims to provide a decentralized peer-to-peer microblogging service that, unlike Twitter, is not controlled by just one company. As Freitas told Wired,
‘As much as I like using Twitter for news reading, the possibility of a single entity being able to control this important flux of information made no sense to me.’
Although the Bitcoin mining protocol is used, it has been completely repurposed to ensuring the order of registrations, so that a nickname belongs to whoever registered it first (similar to the way in which the Bitcoin network ensures that no-one double-spends Bitcoins, and everyone spends only their own coins).
Because it is necessary that the blockchain advance, incentive is needed to persuade people to play the role of ‘miners’, and this is provided by allowing anyone who ‘wins’ to send an advert to all other Twister users. Only one ‘promoted message’ (which Frietas is keen to point out can be used by non-profit organizations to promote a cause) would be shown to users per day, so this should pose only a minor inconvenience.
The Twister service is protected by secp256k1 ecliptic curve encryption, the encryption used by Bitcoin (not the EC encryption compromised by the NSA), while messages are protected by the encryption used by Lavabit, the company that closed down rather than co-operate with the NSA. Frietas, who admits to not being a cryptographer, reasons that if Bitcoin encryption was broken then people would know about it, and that if Lavabit’s encryption was not very secure then the NSA would not have needed to use a court order to force owner Ladar Levison to hand over all its encryption keys.
Although this reasoning seems sound to us, others have expressed doubts, and Frietas himself suggests using Tor if you are really concerned with hiding your IP address.
At present the software is at the alpha stage only (i.e. it is not feature-complete, and is likely to crash), is very user unfriendly, and is only available for Linux and Android (although you are free to compile the code for Windows yourself). The code is open source, and freely available for inspection.