Innovative, P2P Based, Decentralised System for Dissident Journalists – SPARKD

The new project entered Mozilla’s MoJo contest this week under the name of SPARKD. Its platform is based on p2p video streaming and comes with the promise of a new age of anti-censorship tool and more.

As the internet consumption habits had increasingly grown in the past decade, social networks like Facebook and Twitter brought sharing and communication to a whole new level. Started by several p2p enthusiasts at VODO, this project’s purpose is to facilitate citizen journalists to stream for millions, anonymously and virtually invulnerable to censorship.

Mozilla’s MoJo contest – created to encourage new approaches to news gathering and reporting – has opened its arms and signed SPARKD on the list. The project’s goal is to be awarded fellowship with one of the participating news organizations which include the BBC and Al Jazeera.

Streaming with this program is accessible and can be done from whatever device you own. Its technology is based on peer-to-peer protocol, meaning that once the information is out there it stays there.

Jamie King, the founder of project VODO – which stands for “voluntary donations” and was inspired from the experience he gained from releasing together with his partner their own works for free online – and director of “Steal this film”, said that the new project can easily become an extension tool for every journalist.

“It’s clear that public distribution of certain kinds of key information has the potential to contribute to social change. Look at the role of citizen journalists in Egypt, and how this fed through to public awareness of the situation, strengthening the local movement. Or look at Wikileaks, and its recent role in revealing the oil motives behind the invasion of Iraq. That should make it harder, I hope, to sell war to the public in the future. But in both cases, the distribution infrastructure is somewhat shaky, and liable to attack,” King told TorrentFreak.

Various methods of censorship are applied to free media like Al Jazeera or Wikileaks.“This is why SPARKD, based on a properly decentralized, P2P distribution with BitTorrent and the developmental Swift protocol at its core, can be useful. With peers bearing the responsibility of distribution, and trackerless swarms as the main infrastructure, it’s a much harder channel to censor or attack,” King says.

“P2P is perhaps the most pure realisation of John Gilmore’s statement that ‘The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.’ Nowhere right now is it more important to demonstrate this practically than with citizen journalism,” he adds.

Security is the main concern. Therefore, proxies will be placed between the source and the rest of the world. Moreover, everyone is invited to pitch in by contacting the SPARKD team.

“The idea is to use a proxy — probably one that the user can select, we have a couple of partners we could work with — to protect the initial uploader as they upload over HTTP. We can arrange it so that we don’t actually know the details of the uploader, so there’d be no point people coming after us to find out who it was,” King told TorrentFreak.

“If you’re a UI designer, we need you. If you are a P2P-savvy programmer, we need you. If you have an interest in merging social conversation with live video, we want you. We can just about make this happen by ourselves, but this isn’t the point. It’s always great to discover new people to work with,” King says.

A beta version will be released to the public whether SPARKD wins or not the Mozilla contest.

Although SPARKD is clearly designed for political and informational purposes, everyone will have access to the program and hopefully will establish new levels of understanding free-speech and the freedom of information.

Here’s some technical info about Sparkd from the contest website.

HOW IT WORKS

SPARKD makes use of the complete flit suite of tools, as below:

1. Launch

Launch provides initial upload from a given environment or event via HTTPS, either in-browser or through an Android or iPhone app. Where necessary, data is anonymised using Tor or another available proxy.

2. Hatch

Hatch transcodes the video to WebM(2) ready for streaming/sharing and creates a swift hash for a given video file, identifying the file and making it available to peers.

3. Wire

Wire indexes the file in a moderated list displayed on the SPARKD front page. The uploader chooses the relevant index to be added to, and is prompted for thumbnail, title, date, length and other metadata. The SPARKD wire can be subscribed to by any RSS service or flit user.

SPARKD incorporates social influence tools allowing users to share items and indexes with their social graph. Amongst these are the capacity to add hashtags to a particular item such that it can be discovered thematically and linked to live conversation in social networks.

4. Birdseed

Seeding is an important part of making sure that videos stay available under high load. Birdseed allows interested parties to grab a whole Wire index, download it via swift and make it available to otherpeers. Users are able to set the amount of bandwidth they wish to make available within the flight extension, as well as manage which indexes they are seeding.