[p2p-hackers] darknet ~= (blacknet, f2f net)

zooko at zooko.com zooko at zooko.com
Fri Dec 2 07:45:57 PST 2005

Ian, p2p-hackers:

It's not my goal to quibble about etymology (except inasmuch as it is useful
preserve the historical record).  My goals are:

1.  Avoid ambiguity -- where some people think that word X denotes concept 1,
    and others think that word X denotes concept 2.  Especially if concepts 1
    and 2 are related but not identical.  Especially if one of them is
    politically incendiary.

2.  Make sure we have names for our useful concepts.

However, before I get to that I am going to go through the history one last
time in order to cast light on the current problem.  I turned up some
interesting details.

Let's start with a Venn diagram:
         _______      _______
        /       \    /       \
       /         \  /         \
      /           \/           \
     /            /\            \
    /            /  \            \
   |            |    |            |
   |        1   |1^2 |   2        |
   |            |    |            |
   |            |    |            |
    \            \  /            /
     \            \/            /
      \           /\           /
       \         /  \         /
        \_______/    \_______/

Let 1 be the set of networks which are used for illegal transmission of
information, and 2 be the set of networks which are built on f2f connections,
and 1^2 be the intersection -- the set of networks which are used for illegal
transmission of information and which are built on f2f connections.

[bepw2002] introduces "darknet" to mean concept 1.  In their words darknet is
"a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content",
they use it consistently within that meaning.  They refer to concept 2,
starting in section 2.1, using the term "small-world nets", and they clearly
distinguish between what they call "small-world darknets" and

However nowadays some people in the mass media seem to think that a "darknet"
means primarily a network which is "invitation-only", i.e. a "small-world" or
"f2f" net [globe].  When did the meaning shift?

Ooh -- how interesting to examine the evolution of this word on [wikipedia]!
The original definition on wikipedia was written on 2004-09-30.  It read in
full: "Darknet is a broad term to denote the networks and technologies that
enable users to copy and share digital material.  The term was coined in a
paper from four Microsoft Research authors.".

The next change was that two months later someone redirected the "Darknet"
to just be a link to the "Filesharing page", with the comment "Just another
word for filesharing".

The next change was that on 2005-04-14 someone from IP wrote a
definition beginning with this sentence: "A Darknet is a private file sharing
network where users only connect to people they trust.".

By the way, I should point out that I have a personal interest in this
because between 2001 and 2003 I tried to promulgate concept 2, using Lucas
Gonze's coinage: "friendnet" [zooko2001, zooko2002, zooko2003, gonze2002].
I would like to know for my own satisfaction if my ideas were a direct
inspiration for some of this modern stuff, such as the Freenet v0.7 design.

So much for etymology.

Now the problem is that in the current parlance of the media, the word
"darknet" is used to mean vaguely 1 or 2 or 1^2.  The reason that this is a
problem isn't that it breaks with some etymological tradition, but that it is
ambiguous and that it deprives us of useful words to refer to 1 or 2
specifically.  The ambiguity has nasty political consequences -- see for
example these f2f network operators struggling to persuade newspaper readers
that they are not primarily for illegal purposes: [globe].

My proposal to rectify the lack-of-words problem is to use "blacknet" to
to 1 specifically and "f2f net" to refer to 2 specifically.  I don't know if
there is any way to rectify the ambiguity problem.

 Ian wrote:
> ...
> defining the term "darknet" as a f2f network that is designed
> to conceal the activities of its participants (this being, so far as I
> have seen, one of the main motivations for building an f2f network),

So you think of "darknet" as meaning 1^2.

That's an interesting remark -- that you regard concealment as one of the
motivations.  I personally regard concealment as one of the lesser
-- I'm more interested in attack resistance (resisting attacks such as
subversion or denial-of-service, rather than attacks such as surveillance),
scalability, and other properties.  Although I'm interested in the
properties as well.



P.S.  Here's some obligatory link juice for Gonze's latest sly neologism:

[bepw2002]  "The darknet and the future of content distribution" Biddle,
            England, Peinado, Willman (Microsoft Corporation)
            (The .doc version crashes my OpenOffice.org app when I try to
            it.  Does this mean something?  The .pdf version has screwed up
            images when I view it in evince.)
[wikipedia] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darknet
[zooko2001] "Attack Resistant Sharing of Metadata" Zooko and Raph Levien
            presentation, First O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer conference, 2001
[gonze2002] http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/2428
[globe]     "Darknets: The invitation-only Internet" globeandmail.com
[lightnet]  http://gonze.com/weblog/story/lightnet
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