The Object Network

The Object Network: freedom and empowerment

Your apps and services are a double-edged sword - while we couldn't live without them any more, they imprison our data and can leave us trapped, surveilled and controlled.

The Object Network empowers you over your connected devices by freeing your data. The Object Network has no apps or services and is a re-imagining of the World Wide Web.

Disempowered by mediating apps and services

We all benefit from the instant social communication and life-enhancing powers of our favourite apps and services: Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., plus online apps from Google, etc, and mobile apps on iPhone and Android. We can't imagine what life would be like without them, or can't remember what life was like before them.

We use these apps and services collectively every day to create, publish and share huge volumes of content. We manage our social connections, create messages, articles and media, arrange meetings and events. We make notes, write documents, build spreadsheets, and then share these with others over email or other channels.

All that data that we create seems to be under our control, but there is always a mediating app or service between us and our data. We're aware there's "our" data somewhere, on our device or in a remote service, but can only access it through the user interface of the particular app or service. And sometimes the control that those apps or services have can be disempowering.

You can usually only "open" or access your data with the original app, and if that app falls out of maintenance, your data goes with it. Or if the app insists that you have to pay or "upgrade" to be able to export your own data, then you're stuck if you don't want to do that.

When you publish a message in Twitter or post it to Facebook, that data item is partly under your control, partly under theirs: you can delete it or add to it, but they can also delete it, without warning. And your followers may or may not see it, depending on the inscrutable algorithm.

And, of course, the fact that they have full access to our data means we're effectively under 24x7 surveillance!

Also, and it's only strange to say this because we're used to it, but why can't we reply to a Facebook post with a Twitter message or vice-versa? Indeed, why can't we have one set of friends or followers instead of one per service?

If you are able to export your data, it then becomes a much less useful blob of inert, lifeless, disconnected data. Or you may be allowed to share snippets by copy-paste or one of the allowed sharing methods, but this is always clumsy or difficult.

You can only do what the app or service allows you to do to your data, with the currently offered set of functions, which may change next week. You have limited customisability.

Our two most powerful and liberating inventions - computers and the internet - are controlled by Them and their apps and services, not by Us:

Bye-bye apps and services, hello linked-up live data

Now, of course, Twitter, Facebook & co. aren't going away soon, and your data will always be lost there, but we can start working now towards an alternative. The Object Network is such an alternative.

The Object Network fixes all these issues by simply getting shot of apps and services! This will free our data from its prisons. We will be able to own and control it ourselves and interact with it directly.

The best example of an existing technology that works without apps and services is the original World Wide Web from the early 90s. This simply had pages that linked to one another, in a seamless global cyberspace.

There were no individual apps or services per host site in this early conception of the Web. There was a single browser for visiting every site, found by its URL. There were no app or service boundaries to trap you, as each site was just a link away. Almost anyone could view another's Web page code and create their own pages.

The Object Network takes that simple early design of the Web, and makes an important update to consolidate that original potential.

Web pages are presentational documents, linked together across the globe; any data is hidden "behind" them. How about we replace those documents with chunks of our live data, also linked together across the globe?

If we start with data not documents, we go directly to the thing that's most important to us and that we currently have no visibility over. If we can link that data up we can build on each other's data and share anything with just a link.

Our live chunks of data are called "objects", and the global Web of objects linked up is the Object Network:

Imagine such a global, seamless, shared cyberspace, where all your data, and that of your friends and family, is free: visible, graspable, directly updatable (of course, you'd still want to make sure others can only see the data that you let them, and that only you can update your own data!) A space where all our data is tied together, linked up, into a global network of our shared stuff, like the Web does with URLs.

This can form the basis for any functionality we like, from social networks to home automation and virtual worlds, all under our control.

Render or display of different object types

Unlike the Web, these data chunks are live: if they change or update, anyone watching gets to see that, without hitting refresh all the time. Just like the Web, with its standard document format of HTML, we will need standard data formats for all our data, so that everything can work together.

Each type of object - messages, lists, calendars, articles, media, etc - would be rendered in a particular way, and if there were nested objects linked, such as the person who created the message, then those would be rendered inside their "parent" object's render. These nested objects may have a smaller render with limited live data and interactivity, until maximised.

Of course, we may want to have documents, or layouts we design ourselves just like HTML. So one type of object is available for creating styled layouts, and since we've now been learning about the issues with such things for decades, we can begin again with something that's considerably less painful to work with!

What you could do with the Object Network

Just imagine the transparency and flexibility of that. You would be able to create anything you like and link it to anything else, owned by you or someone else, make lists of (links to) random data that you want to collect.

Messages link to other messages they're replying to, and to the people chatting; people link to people, friends, family and colleagues; calendar events link to lists of people invited and attending; news feeds link to lists of news articles; articles link to embedded media, and to embedded people, events, anything at all.

You would even be able to build your own chat rooms, your own groups with event calendars. If we need chat, we wire up some chat objects. We can knock up entire social networks, just built from shared objects.

You have full visibility of objects, you can configure things any way you like simply through links, lists of links and object properties. You can have as many of anything, any object, you like.

So just add chat rooms. Grab a link to a chat message and post it into another room. Link inside messages to people or to quoted messages on any room. Link from a message to another room, link up rooms on several devices into a single master list, then they create another "master" list somewhere else. Add people to the room by playing with lists of links, or links to lists of links to people. Put a link to either a calendar (list of events) or single event in a message, link from an event to the message that kicked off booking the event, or the room to be used to hold the event. Grab the attendees list off the event and use that to seed the chat room members.

You'd like a new calendar to share, so create one, add a couple of events, open it up to some friends by adding their person objects to the list. Drag some other relevant events in. People start to RSVP, see attendee lists. You'd like a new chat room for this, so create a chat object and you're off. Now to add some people to the room; you want the same list as on the calendar so that's easy, just grab a link to it and drag it in.

Grab Bob's news feed list link, grab Ann's, put into a new list, then switch to display mode, now both feeds are interleaved. Put everything in dashboard lists that collect together things in one place, and render as a single UI.

How that looks in practice

The practical implementation of these ideas is in an app called Onex. So let's go through how we can use Onex, in this short slide presentation:

Building a cyberspace ourselves

In the Object Network:

The time is perfect for us to collaborate on a new, free and empowering technology that we own and build ourselves. We can wind everything back to the original design of the Web, then wind forward by replacing static documents with our live data objects, creating the Object Network.

With the Onex app, we can build the Object Network together, spanning the globe. An infrastructure that can't be controlled or surveilled, and where everything we create links together and works together.

We can build our own social networks for chat, publishing and file sharing, our own interactive objects for todo lists, calculators and calendars, our own home automations, even our own 3D "Metaverse".

Of course, it's a hugely ambitious project when taken to its ultimate conclusion, but it only needs to deliver a slice of value early on to be worth investing our time in, even if it never fully replaces the "Us and Them Web". Perhaps we can begin with those chat groups with event calendars, the most flexible and transparent social network ever created!

Next steps..

The code for Onex has been started, but there is still a way to go for it to be useful. If you can program in C, then it would be great to have your help!

If you're not a techie, then you're the target audience for Onex and the Object Network! Perhaps you'd like to guide its design, or maybe you know people who would be interested in testing the concept and the code? If you're a marketing type, or someone with many connections, you could help spread the word about the Object Network.

There's a contact email at the base of the page.

Read more

Go here for more on how the Object Network works.

Go here for many more articles and presentations.

Duncan Cragg, 2020. Contact me