Friday, August 21, 2009

How about invisible velvet rope social networks?

This morning, I wrote a post that discussed velvet rope social networks. Within the post, I stated:

These smaller networks - well, smaller compared to Facebook or Twitter - normally make you jump through at least one hoop, and sometimes many, before you can get in to the network - provided that you can get in at all. By definition, this trend cannot be measured, because I'm sure that Al-Qaeda, the CIA, and IBM have various secret unpublicized online communities that Forrester Research et al aren't going to learn about. Some velvet rope social networks are more well known, but it still takes a bit of effort to join them - you don't just turn on Facebook Connect and you're in.

When I wrote this, I was not familiar with the concept of the darknet.

A darknet is a covert, private computer network that's used for secure communications and, often, file sharing.

Darknets can be created using a variety of desktop software applications. Such programs, however, typically require a certain level of technical knowledge for proper configuration and use.

That quote is from an InformationWeek article which explains how Hewlett-Packard researchers are pursuing things that may span both the business and home markets - and other markets besides.

Now, thanks to the power of the new generation of JavaScript engines -- Chrome's V8 and Firefox's TraceMonkey -- the encryption necessary to make a darknet work can be handled in the browser, on either a computer or a mobile phone.

Billy Hoffman, manager of HP's Web security group, and Matt Wood, senior security researcher at HP, have developed a prototype browser-based darknet called Veiled as a proof-of-concept project.

They plan to demonstrate this at next week's Black Hat Conference, but HP has no plans to release this as a product. Or if they do, they' it under wraps.

Now this tool, or others like it, can certainly create one of the velvet rope social networks that Loren Feldman and Chris Brogan were talking about. In fact, you could call it an invisible velvet rope social network.

[Billy Hoffman] says it would be irresponsible to suggest, for example, that Veiled could be used by political dissidents in Iran. "However, I do think that this is something that can aid where people are wanting to create communities quickly and take them down quickly," he said.

He describes Veiled as a tool for creating instant, online communities to serve a flash mob.

"You'd go to URL and that joins you to the darknet," said Wood. "When you close your browser, it's gone. There's no trace you're participating in this."

Now technology itself is neutral, and such a technology could be used for good, or for evil. (In fact, people could disagree on whether a particular use is good or evil.) But the presence of these technologies shows that, while there is pressure to keep everything open, there is just as much, if not more, pressure to make sure that some things remain closed.
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