IBC2022: This Technical Paper presents ‘HELIOS’, a toolset upon which peer-to-peer social media services can be easily tailored.
The paper will present a technical platform,‘HELIOS’, a toolset upon which peer-to-peer social media services can be easily tailored. Because of the p2p approach adopted, the social media services are independent of legacy social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter.
The paper will provide an overview of the underlying requirement layers and requirements for HELIOS, logical architecture, and the platform components as a whole, as well as provide in-depth description of the toolset available today and discuss about its future plans.
The paper will further summarise the most important features of the toolset, including novel concepts like contextual messaging, information overload control and blockchain-based rewarding for prosumers, not to forget privacy. Open-source repositories and community are supported beyond the end of the project by an interest group established in 2022.
The paper will also summarise, how the original principles of HELIOS evolved, including challenges experienced in mobile p2p.
Social networking platforms are addressingt he deep-rooted need for people communicating with each other. Social networking platforms have a substantial impact on society by becoming the primary place for people to share information and experiences. The motivations for participating in social media networks span beyond just being handy means for keeping in touch; sometimes they serve more imperative purposes, especially in areas of crisis.
One could argue that the main challenges of current social media lie in 1) centralisation or authority (i.e.,rules can be changed whenever convenient) 2) business models based on privacy intrusion and 3) priority in overall engagement (number of clicks), instead of contextual quality (importance of media at present).
Together with 14 partners in eight European countries, project HELIOS was addressing these challenges by developing a modular toolset, ‘HELIOS Platform’ for peer-to-peer (p2p) social media services. Due to the p2p approach, the social media services are independent of legacy social media platforms, thus enabling independent tools, e.g. for customer relations or prosumer production. Furthermore, privacy-by-design is one of the key properties in HELIOS, making it easy to create applications that comply with data protection regulations. Due to modularity, applications built upon the HELIOS Platform can be easily tailored. Four partners of the HELIOS Project have established a non-profit Platform Sustainability Initiative as founding members, and five supporting organisations have already joined it.
Prior to HELIOS, there have been a number of approaches for decentralised online social networks (DOSN), distributed systems for social networking with no or limited dependency on any dedicated central infrastructure as described by ,e.g., Datta et al 2010. Distribution may take place on server level, giving users freedom to pick a server to sign up; these DOSNs are referred as federated networks. For instance, Diaspora, introduced by Bielenberg et al 2012, has federated servers that enable user communications, and so has MASTODON, presented in a publication by Zulli et al 2020. In contrast to federated networks, P2P operates without servers at all, having nodes communicating directly to each other. HELIOS introduced a toolset to assist developers to create serverless social media services using p2p communications —in a mobile platform.
Being mobile, specific challenges in maintaining p2p services exist, as there cannot be any assumptions on peers being online; mobile devices are randomly switched off, roaming or set to flight mode. While one-to-one communications would only need retransmitting, group services are essentially more complex. The technical issues were resolved to the extent that the project launched unsupervised piloting in 2022. The corresponding toolset with sample apps is available as Open Source, in HELIOS GitHub.
The Project followed ‘Android first’ principle, to focus on an operational toolset for at least one major operating system, as supporting low-level differences between iOS and Android would have duplicated the effort during the course of the project. HELIOS Platform is available as Open Source and it currently supports Android versions 9 and above. Having said this, further development for iOS will eventually be a decision by the supporting community.