I made a simple single page site as an archive for Peer-to-Peer Web / Los Angeles. The total size of the directory is around 550mb; large for such a simple page as it contains several long video files. Considering the spirit of the project, the videos wanted to be hosted outside of centralized platforms, like Youtube or Vimeo.
Self-hosting video on a shared server is expensive, both in storage and accrued bandwidth fees. CDNs make this cheaper1, but continue placing money in the pockets of monolithic tech companies. The question was how to circumnavigate these platforms in an economic way. I found the answer in recontextualizing a tactic increasingly used by failing media corporations; the pay-wall.
Instead of requiring payment, and limiting access to those who can afford it, you are asked to share a resource.
You are able to stream around 15 minutes of video when visiting the page with a traditional browser as you are directly accessing the media from a central point—my server, which can be expensive.
In this solution, to access an unlimited stream it’s requested you assist in making the content available to others by visiting the page in a p2p-enabled browser, or syncing the archive to your machine.
As the number of requests to view the content increases, so too does the number of those providing the content, effectively removing the need for a pay-wall to generate revenue for supporting centralized infrastructure.
The question of incentive remains, not only in how to point towards adopting peer-to-peer systems, but also forming mental bridges connecting existing convention and future paradigm without leaning on technical language.
What is the form?
By adopting familiar interface such as the pay-wall and choosing to deviate from established flow we can subvert expectation, creating opportunities to generate new meaning. What is now a tool of exclusion becomes one of inclusion; the wall becomes a path.
Instead of creating systems of artificial scarcity to expensively host media on centralized servers behind pay-walls, we can consider creating systems of abundance by freely sharing the media (data) amongst those viewing it on distributed networks, thereby replacing capital transfer with resource exchange; you can view my data if you help make it available to others.
It’s important to acknowledge traditional pay-walls serve an array of purposes, not only in supporting infrastructure but also providing salaries to those producing the work.2
Someone encountering a pay-wall clearly engages with what is being viewed, otherwise the wall would not be reached. In attention economics simply applying more than a passing glance is a form of support, but increasingly extreme income inequality makes financial support a painful request when one can not pay for a meal by expending pure mental faculty.
When so much wealth is centered around platforms requiring the data of billions of users, a short-cut to asserting change is through redistributing the media, data, and power amongst those creating it.
Evolving the pay-wall and other tools of scarcity as means of cultivating peer-to-peer ideals may appear contradictory at first, but I propose a capable peer-to-peer culture should consider ways of introducing new meaning and setting new expectation of centralized platform convention through design.
Although a server is still often required to initially “seed” or act as a persistent peer for content on the peer-to-peer web, the current project is to cultivate data awareness. So yes—perhaps at the the end of the line your site is currently hosted on an Amazon CDN, however methods like the one detailed above will assist in migrating off platforms.
Of course, employment and the nature of work are being rapidly redefined. It’s naive to approach future possibility squarely within a previous generation’s labor structure.