How

Aether is a free app that you use to read, write, and participate in community moderated, distributed, and anonymous boards.

If that doesn't mean anything to you, that's okay. Let's go through one by one.

“Community Moderated”

If you have ever perused an online community before, you might have run into the two archetypes of communities. The first is the forum, virtually unchanged since the days of Usenet. In forums, users' posts under threads are shown chronologically. The only interaction possible with the system for a regular user is writing a post, which will in turn be added to the thread at the bottom. This is simple, but can be a little tough to follow, because the posts replying to one another might not be immediately preceding each other. Especially in case where multiple discussions happen on the same thread, it can quickly get out of hand.

The second is a newer breed of community platform that has arisen to fix the problems associated with classical forums. Spearheaded by Slashdot, this style adds a new element to this mix: voting. Now, in addition to posting, people can vote, plus or minus, to express their sentiment towards the post. This allows the static, chronological forum thread to be moulded into a list where the most liked comment surface at the top regardless of when it is posted, thereby eliminating the effort that would otherwise be exerted to find valuable content amongst a great many mediocre others. Since this style is freed from the yoke of chronology, it also shows the replies to posts right below them with an indent. if there are many replies to the same post, they are also ordered by popularity.

Aether adheres quite strictly to this latter class of online communities. In addition to the basic ruleset, Aether does not at all have privileged users such as moderators or admins to allow for manual moderation, therefore all judgment you face comes expressly from your peers. This is what “community moderated” means.

“Distributed”

Think of Facebook. It is, for our purposes, a giant, powerful computer, a server, to which people connect to by typing to their browsers www.facebook.com. If, say, Alice wants to send a message to her friend Rachel over Facebook, Alice's message will first traverse Facebook, which will notify Rachel to come claim her message. This works reasonably well under most cases.

Now, imagine Rachel lives in Eastasia, a country equally famous for bad upper lip facial hair fashions and a tendency to block what it doesn't like to hear. Naturally Facebook and Twitter is blocked. Rachel and Alice are not blocked from each other, but since Facebook and Twitter, their venues of communication, is out, they can't talk. Rachel misses Alice.

Aether, in response to such a possibility, entirely does away with the middle–man, and links Alice and Rachel directly together. Now, when Rachel wants to send a message to Alice, she just rings her. The world is full of people in their situation, so if the line between them gets blocked, Rachel will just leave a message to one of their mutual acquaintances, perhaps to all of them, for Alice to claim. Each of these people will repeat this step. A thousand strangers allow Rachel practically infinite amount of potential paths to Alice.

To improve even more on the inevitability, Aether does not send messages for delivery to a single target, instead it sees to that the message will be delivered to all computers within Aether. Naturally, everything is public. Aether is a massive auditorium, not a private message delivery service.

Consequently, all information contained within are distributed across all users' computers. This makes Aether very hard to block. Removing the information published is comparable to removing a drop of ink from a glass of water after it is dropped. This is what “distributed” means.

“Anonymous”

We have seen that when Rachel sends a message, it diffuses across the network to all others. Let's say Rachel's message first arrives to Wei, Alex, Aisha and Nate. Each of these people will deliver this message to their own group of acquaintances. For example, Alex, after receiving the message from Rachel, delivers it to John, Sherlock, Mycroft, Jim and Irene. These five people have no idea who Rachel is, since messages do not include information about their source other than a piece of text as a pseudonym: “Rachel”. As far as they can see, the message is coming from Alex. They do not even know how many degrees they are removed from our Rachel. It could just be Alex who is in–between them, or about half the population of the European continent.

Moreover, even Alex, who directly receives the message from Rachel, does not know whether Rachel is the source of posts with the pseudonym “Rachel.” Rachel might have taken that post from someone else, also using the same pseudonym. In fact, anyone can change their pseudonym to Rachel, post something, and switch back. Only Rachel knows if she has written that post or not, but even she cannot prove she indeed has. More importantly, neither can anyone else.

If somebody could wiretap all the cables between all the people, he would be able to figure out where a post first appeared, thereby pinpointing its origin. To prevent this, connections between people are encrypted, so wiretapping only results in a bunch of garbled bits for the wiretapper. Needless to say, all that is said is automatic; Rachel just reads, writes and votes. Aether handles the rest.

In summary, not one person using Aether have any idea about authorship of posts they transmit, because whoever he or she is receiving a message from might have created it, or might merely be transmitting somebody else's message. This is what is meant by “anonymous.”

Caution: Do not trust the anonymity provided by Aether just yet. Thorough security audits are needed, and found holes fixed before it can be deemed safe.