With the 8chan refusees making the news by setting up on ZeroNet, I decided to take a look. I especially wanted to see how a decentralized net handled a mass-influx of the type of the people you’d love to block if it were possible.
Similar to Federated social media, ZeroNet connects many tiny sites. (Called “zites”, sigh.) In addition, it uses BitTorrent to spread the load out. If a lot of people are subscribed to a site, the content is peered over many other boxes, the same as with torrent file sharing.
Not wanting any of that on my PC, I used a clean Raspberry Pi 3B with Buster Raspbian.
Installation was dead easy: Other platforms: Install from source, Option B.
By default, it only allows localhost connections. Since it was a headless Pi, I started it to allow lan connections:
python3 zeronet.py --ui_ip "*"
I have to say that was dead easy compared to the various Federated ones that I’ve tried. (And no domain needed.) Many points for that! On startup it checks to see if it’s on TOR. Setting that up shouldn’t be hard. (There are videos on YouTube.) It tries to open a server port to the Internet with uPNP (ha!) but works fine without it, just no peering.
Once on, they have a core of sites to provide a message board, chat, and lists of other sites in categories: Blogs, Services, Forums/Boards, Chat, Video/Image, Guides, News, Politics, Porn and Other.
It is possible to establish a ZeroNet identity, to allow signing posts, likes, etc, as well as being blocked. (No idea how they prevent jerks from auto-genning new key-pairs and coming back.) You can also register a name for your site for pennies or for free.
Naturally, there are the 08channers and apparently pedos. Don’t open any of their sites, and if you do, make sure to delete it from your list of subscribed sites. That should kill anything cached on your ZeroNet node. (Clearing your browser cache is left as an exercise.) It’s a pain that those sites exist, but pulling the list of peers for a particular site’s torrent is a solved problem that I’ll leave to law enforcement.
One thing that’s a disappointment, is that there doesn’t seem to be a Usenet style distributed posting system. If a site with a message board goes down, you can still read messages, if you or others are peering it, but the dead site is a point of failure for posting. And if there are no peers, you get a lonely screen like this: