This is a very cool example of how peer to peer systems might displace centralized hubs.

Most email today is stored on centralized servers; i.e. hotmail, gmail, the firm’s email servers, etc. Mail, i.e. the post office, is one of the oldest centralized services. The network effects are strong and they tend toward creating a monopoly.

ePOST is a serverless peer to peer email system. Download it, backup your copy, fire it up, setup your email client, exchange mail. Later blow up your computer (this step is optional). Pull the backup, fire it up, and magic! All your mail reappears.

Your copy is part of a peer to peer swarm that is collaborating to exchange encrypted mail and store all the mail redundently amoung the members.

The hub is unnecessary. Hotmail? gmail? AOL? Uneccessary!

Now to be honest this system is clearly a first generation; a proof that these hub killers are possible.

Christenson’s last book on innovation put a model into my mind about how innovation proceeds. It’s kind of systolic. On one hand innovation proceeds by cobbling together out of parts at hand solutions to problems at hand. These solutions are, well, Rube Goldberg like. But they are cool because the solve problems that weren’t solved before; which makes them valuable. Time passes and these solutions are refined. And then, enough knowledge is accumulated that the modular boundries in the solutions become apparent. These modules are then broken out and fall out as peices. The peices can then engender another round of problem solving.

A system like ePOST feels like one of the highly integrated systems of the first phase. At the same time it’s designers are part of a storm of activity going on in the peer to peer community to find the modular boundries so the component parts can be distilled out.

If you pop the lid on ePost you find first, second, third drafts of a lot of these modules.

  • Peers self assign a place around a ring of integers; that ring is the swarm.
  • FreePastry – allows one peer to send messages the peer nearest any point on the ring.
  • PAST – allows distributed, reliable, key/value hash table lookups in the swarm.
  • POST – allows encrypted objects storage in the swarm along with encrypted user to user messaging.
  • ePOST – build mail on POST
  • Glacier – provides durable storage so that huge percentages of the swarm die you can still recover all your data.

There is the most marvalous amount of research going on around all these modules these days. ePOST is a beautiful example of how what is becoming possible. This work on peer to peer DNS lookups is another.

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