Peer-to-peer ephemeral public communities

Aether for Redditors

Hey there!

Due to the recent news about Reddit, we’ve had a few redditors coming to check us out. Which is awesome, so I wanted to write a guide about how Aether compares to Reddit, and what it does similarly, and differently. Likely you’ll be fairly comfortable quick, but there are still a few interesting aspects of Aether you might want to keep in mind as you warm up.

We are a small, friendly community, consider this a welcome pack. πŸ™‚

As I hear more and more questions from redditors in the community, this might be updated occasionally.

Aether is a peer-to-peer network

This is the most major, obvious difference. Aether has no servers. It exists … nowhere, really. As a result, Aether is an app, not a website. It’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux, and mobile apps are (eventually) coming.

This has a few implications. When you post on Aether, what happens is that your computer starts to share the content you posted. Other computers will get that content from you, and they will broadcast it to other computers, letting your post spread to the network in a sweeping fashion. As of February 2019, a post takes about ten minutes to reach the whole network.

That means Aether app is an app that needs to keep running in the background, like an email client.

If you post something, and then close the app immediately, that content will not be delivered to other people.

If you want to be sure your post is delivered, wait half an hour or so. Aether just stays on the taskbar / menubar (like Discord), so you can close the window and it’ll continue to work in the background. In the future this is going to be visible in the UI when your post has spread to the network. (Like double checkmark from messaging apps)

Aether is ephemeral (like Snapchat - things disappear eventually)

Anything you post on Aether will be gone in about 6 months. This is nice, because no one can stalk your decade’s worth of Reddit history and figure out where you sleep.

This is both a philosophical and a practical thing.

  • It is a philosophical thing, because having information gone vastly improves privacy. It also makes people be able to discuss more freely, without being concerned about whatever they wrote will bite them ten years into the future. We all grow up, and we were all less experienced when we were younger. Aether tries to respect the humanity in that by deleting too-old content.

  • But it is also a practical thing since it’s a peer to peer network, it is limited by the disk space of its participants, so we try to be respectful of that as well.

Unlike Reddit, in Aether, moderator actions are visible to users

First of all, before anything, no one can edit your posts except you. It is cryptographically impossible. You’d think no one would do that, but given the current climate, you’d (sadly) be wrong.

Beyond that, when a moderator takes an action (delete a comment, let’s say), that action is visible on the community’s mod actions feed. This is a feed of events that mods generate that shows exactly what got deleted, and the reason why.

You can disable any mod, and choose anyone as a mod

In Aether, if you don’t like what a mod is doing, you can just disable him. Flip a switch, and everything he deleted reappears. You can also choose a non-mod as a mod.

There is a ‘front page’ list of communities, called SFW list

These SFWlisted communities are the ones that appear on the front page. This is a limited, curated list of larger communities. You can always create your own community without ever needing to get into this front-page-eligible list of communities if you want. You can also disable this list completely by following the instructions in the app if you want.

Like Reddit, Aether is within the jurisdiction of the United States

That means US law applies β€”Β it is not a free-for-all. We have to remove copyrighted content via DMCA, as well as illegal (and those with reasonable chance of being illegal) content.

Aether keeps a copy of the whole network on your machine

This is why it can be so snappy: you can post offline, and when you connect, those posts will be spread to the network. The ‘whole of the network’ is actually very small, because Aether only carries compressed text. It doesn’t carry images, videos, or anything else, so you need to post to Imgur or other image hosts, similar to Reddit.

This also emphasises the importance of no-illegal-content mentioned above. Since we all carry the text of the whole of the network, it’s in all our best interest to keep the network clean. It’s very hard to make text illegal, however, it’s up to all of us to keep it as such. If you see something illegal, use the report button, or send an email with a link to it.

(And yes, there are guards to prevent spammers from creating a million posts and bloating the network size, such as required proofs-of-work.)

Aether is a work-in-progress

Despite the UI, Aether is still very much a work in progress. There are parts of the app that are being worked on, such as elections, being able to add a second mod to a community *(Aether communities are denoted as b/Community instead of r/Subreddit)* and so on. Things will break, and perhaps repeatedly so. At this point (a month after its release in December) things generally work provided that you have a stable internet connection and can keep the app open appropriately. Nevertheless, this is alpha software. If you have any bugs or feature requests, file them at https://meta.getaether.net. b/Meta is also a good place. (The link requires you have Aether installed)

Here’s an example link:

aether://board/86e782e80681ac580b4d6d102b12e787c066e59f194fee57bb0bf83cc1e42fc6

(this links to b/Meta)

Notice aether:// instead of http:// at the beginning. As mentioned above, it needs the recipient to have Aether installed, though. We’ll eventually have a preview site on the regular web that can show content without needing it installed, but again, work in progress. πŸ™‚

If you want to post on Reddit or Twitter, and have it be recognised as a link, you can shorten the links at TinyURL, which accepts and shortens Aether links. Or if the place supports Markdown, like Reddit, you can always do:

[my link name](aether://board/86e782...e42fc6)

And make it show up as a link that way.

Aether is paid for by the ‘unique’ (orange) usernames and its business version

Since the current conversation is around how Reddit is funded, I want to be completely transparent about how Aether makes money (it makes very, very little money) as well. Here’s how this works.

a) Similar to Reddit’s gold, if you want to support Aether, you can buy a ‘unique’ username (with a checkmark, like Twitter) that makes you the unique owner of that username for the donation duration. If you want to do so, check out the Patreon.

b) Aether also has an upcoming business version, that allows a company to purchase a private instance of Aether for their own internal use. This comes with a few nice additions, like being able to use email to create threads and posts, and get emails back when other people post. It’s good as a productivity, tool, and it’s much better than Slack because it interrupts your people less. If you’re a tech lead and interested in piloting this with your team, please reach out via email and we’ll set you up.


Sounds interesting? Try Aether here. Hope to see you around!