After thinking for a while about how I want a discussion system to work. Since I’ve seen numerous forums get abandoned, old archived discussions getting lost when servers crash, discussions jumping between various forums and chat rooms and blogs and more, etc, I came to the conclusion that I want a commenting system that is directly focused on the posts themselves, and which is decentralized and can easily reference external discussions, and where you don’t simply lose the history of old discussions because one server went down.
So with inspiration by Git and the Bitcoin blockchain, I’ve got an idea about a discussion system based on posts encoded in JSON (or a similar format, maybe XML), where each comment is signed by it’s author(s), references its author’s profile/ID (ideally in a verifiable manner, such as referencing a cryptographic public key), has topic tagging, which references to the comments it replies to with the hashes of the comments (so that anybody reading it can verify exactly what the author was responding to), and more.
The default use case I’m considering is the one that would work like mailing lists (email servers that relay messages sent to it to its subscribers, so you can discuss topics with a group of people by email). In this system the equivalent would be what I call a channel. A channel would be defined by an initial “channel definition post” that declares that a specific method of delivery (or several!) of the messages is to be used, what topics is allowed, moderation rules, where you can find an archive of messages, and other relevant details. You could then register with the server from your client (if registration would be required on the channel), send in your messages through the defined method (uploading to the server by default – serverless distribution methods would also be possible) and it would then relay it to all subscribers. On open lists where anybody can post directly, moderation posts could be used to declare that certain messages that went through are to be considered spam or breaks the rules, so that the subscribers’ software clients could delete or hide them automatically so that you don’t have to see them when you open your client to read the discussions on the channel. In a similar manner, moderation posts could also flag for rule updates and more in the channel.
Since we would be defining a standard format for how to encode the comments from scratch, we could also enable full semantic tagging from the start. Dates and events can be marked as such, just like addresses, phone numbers, even nicknames, and more. Disambiguation would be made far easier when you don’t have to wonder if you should write a long explanation or put details in paranthesis or omit it entirely hoping nobody will misunderstand you. Whenever you think a phrase or word or expression is unclear, you can just add a tag that shows what it means which would be hidden by default and that the readers can chose to display or not (and it would be possible to clarify that for example a word is used as a verb, or even make a link back to a previous or latter sentence in your post).
And since the whole discussions are defined simply by signed messages of a defined format that references each other by hashes, it suddenly becomes easy to let a discussion jump as a whole to other forums when the commenters agree that they want to continue it elsewhere. No longer do you have to simply cut-and-paste raw text if you want to import the discussion history, instead the posts can be reuploaded to the new place together and the whole history can be fetched by the subscribers’ client software when they want to see which posts is referenced or quoted, in a verifiable manner (the digital signatures allow you to verify the comments haven’t been modified).
This actually even enables the subscribers of two or more separate channels to crosstalk easily, since you can directly quote messages from the other channels / forums and at the same time include a reference to the “channel definition post” so that your client can see how to fetch the rest of the history of the discussion. So for example, in a channel about RC cars a quote could be made of a post in an electronics channel, allowing the RC folks to look up the rest of the discussion with just a few clicks, and to even join that channel to post questions which in turn reference the initial crosspost, further allowing the commenters on both channels to follow the discussions on each side. There’s even the possibility of having a shared discussion among several channels on multiple servers where all commenters only needs to reply to the discussion on their own channel, having it automatically synchronized among all the channels on all servers.
Author identities could be verified in several ways. Posts would as I mentioned be digitally signed (using public key cryptography such as ECDSA), and the public key would be included in the message. This public key could then be tied to for example a Twitter or Facebook account, or a GPG key, or a Namecoin profile (see onename.io), or whatever else you like. Your client would then (by default) verify that the public key used to sign the message can be found on the profile in question or is signed by it’s keypair. Combined with the previously mentioned address book software here on my blog, your client could automatically show which posts has been verified to be made by people in your address book, and the client could automatically verify Namecoin registered profiles through the signatures, etc. This way you can verify which posts have been made by the same person, and not just by different people with the same nickname. And since your profile also could have an index of all your previous public comments, your client could also trivially allow you to look up all public posts from people from all channels on all servers where they’ve participated in discussions.
(More updates coming later)