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 - our messages, social networks, etc - and can leave us trapped, surveilled and controlled.

The Object Network empowers you when using your connected devices, your mobiles and PCs, because it gives you full control over your own data. The Object Network has no apps or services and is a re-imagining of the World Wide Web.

Disempowered by apps and services

Apps on our PC and mobile devices and online services such as Facebook and WhatsApp have changed our lives, but the data we create - our followers and friends, our messages and media - aren't truly ours to control. We are allowed some access to them via the apps and services, but we and "our" data are very much at the mercy of the whims of a remote Big Tech, and Big Government.

They use our data to make money from their advertisers through their "surveillance capitalism" business model. We also know how they facilitate government surveillance. We don't have a durable handle on anything we consider "ours", and they can take it away from us on a random pretext, or on a nod from whichever power. Also, we are stuck with the functions they decide to offer us each year to access or process our own stuff, and the rules they keep us to are constantly changing.

Because our data is locked away in apps and services, we can't easily re-use, re-mix or re-mash chunks of it. For example, we can't reply to a Facebook Messenger post with a WhatsApp message, even though WhatsApp is now owned by Facebook. And we have been so brainwashed into the apps and services model of isolated brands - of "walled gardens" - that we don't even ask ourselves why not! We have to maintain two completely separate social networks which may contain many of the same people. We can't re-use arbitrary lists of people in different contexts, such as grabbing the list of attendees to an event in Facebook to form a chat group in WhatsApp.

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

The Object Network aims to avoid these issues by simply not having any apps or services at all - or at least by having only one app! This allows us to get our data out in the open and back on our own mobiles and PCs where we can create, view, control and link it up how we like.

The design of the Object Network is similar to the original design by Tim Berners-Lee in the 1990s of his World Wide Web of linked documents, where one document may refer you on to another through a highlighted piece of text. In this simple hypertext model, there are no isolated apps or services, just websites linked together by URLs and viewed by one browser app.

So we can start with this basic World Wide Web, and change it so that it handles the kind of data we are currently creating in apps and services and that we want to bring back to our own devices. There are three important changes we need to make to the Web to create the Object Network:

The Web has pages that link up around the globe and, similarly, the Object Network's objects can link together into a global "People's Cyberspace".

The first host app is called Onex.

More details

Feel free to skim or skip this section for now!

Like the browsers of the Web, there is not an app per online service, there is only one host app for doing everything in the Object Network. However, it's possible in future that there will be alternative Object Network host apps, like there are the Firefoxes and Chromes of the Web.

Not only do hosts talk to each other peer-to-peer, but objects inside hosts do too, because our objects can be "live" or updating, and may depend on one another like cells in a spreadsheet. So an object can watch another object that it has a link to, and update when that one updates. Indeed, objects can have "conversations" with one another if they watch each other. For example a message object "tells" the message that it is replying to that it exists, and that original object can then put in a link back to this reply. This is how we re-create the functionalities of the "missing" apps and services: through "internal animation" of our live objects.

Unlike in the Web, users are first class citizens in the Object Network. So an important object is the user object, which is responsible for watching whatever objects the real Onex user is viewing at the time, and updating the user interface when any objects change that it is watching. Since you can also see other users (given permission), the Object Network becomes more like a Metaverse or Cyberspace with our avatars interacting within a virtual world.

The Web has pages created in the standard HTML format and, similarly, the Object Network's objects come in standard formats for each of the types listed above (users, messages, events, etc). Objects of each of these types will render appropriately in an Object Network host app. So a list of events can be rendered in calendar form, a list of messages can look like a WhatsApp chat, etc. A list of objects with GPS location can be rendered onto a map. Of course, if you want to do more Web-like things such as write styled documents or create interactive user interfaces, then there are object types for those too.

Simple example

So, for example, I may be hosting a meetup calendar object on my PC Onex in London which may contain a link to a meetup event object you've created on your mobile Onex in Liverpool. If you change the date on the event, I get to see that immediately if I'm viewing the calendar in Onex. Here's a short slide deck demonstrating such a scenario in the Onex app - don't press the play button, just touch a slide to advance to the next, or swipe left and right on a touchscreen:

Building Back Better (!) - on a new platform

The Object Network won't see the end of Facebook and WhatsApp - or, indeed, Tim's Web - any time soon, but we can start to quickly build alternatives in the Object Network in a way that empowers us, not them. Also, since we're going to build things ourselves, we don't need any advertisers in our spaces, unless we choose to host them.

Now that we own and control our own data objects, no-one can delete our stuff, deplatform us or wipe our online identity. Being decentralised, the Object Network is also resistant to censorship and surveillance. We control who can see our objects, and they then are protected by end-to-end cryptography. We also control how our objects change and what other objects they can interact with. If our stuff becomes popular then there are multiple copies of it in the Object Network, so even if our own devices are compromised we will still be out there, just frozen. More personal stuff can be backed up onto shared online hosts.

Now, we don't have to ask a techie in order to create spaces to exchange our messages. We can create our own lists of people and messages and link up anything to anything else.

Since we own and control our own data in the Object Network, there is no one place, site or "walled garden" where the elements of our social networks reside. Every person involved has their own identity, user and profile objects, and manages their own lists of friends, family, contacts and followers, all on their own devices.

You can create your own news feed, which is simply a list object linking to each new message or post object. Then you and your friends will create lists of each other's feeds, and the Onex app will watch and interleave them for you into one newsfeed. If you wanted to create a group with a chat area and an event calendar, you can go right ahead and spin up the chat and calendar objects, then link to the user or profile objects of some people you'd like to invite. You can use any list of your contacts to start this new group, or you could add them all to a new calendar event invite. Everyone can add messages to the chat, or events to the calendar, but they'll be owned by them not you.

Even though it's easy to create Facebook- and WhatsApp-like functionality in the Object Network, they won't be isolated applications and will work perfectly well together. Say you have a post visible only to your friends, like you may on Facebook. If I have a chat group, like on WhatsApp, I could then reply to that post, but my reply could be posted to that group. The group members would see both my reply and the original post, as long as they were friends of yours. There'd be a link from the chat group object to my reply, and from my reply to your post.

I don't need to ask you permission to do that, and equally, you don't need to show my reply to your post. However, if you wanted to allow that, you could back-link to my reply from your post so that it's also visible to your friends. You could also have configured your timeline objects' behaviour so that this link was put in automatically. But that's up to you not me.

Building the Freedom Web, the People's Cyberspace

In summary, the Object Network is a freer Web, a People's Cyberspace, where we are in full control of our data, our live objects, and how they are configured, how they update and how they interlink. Together we can build our own social networks, chat, groups, event calendars, indeed anything at all that we use connected devices for, including todo lists, calculators, home automation and virtual worlds. Without censorship or surveillance.

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, 2021. Contact me