Fellow travelers: Thali and telehash

Thali isn’t the only software project that wants to connect people and devices securely and directly. One of our fellow travelers is telehash, which Jeremie Miller describes as “a secure wire protocol powering a decentralized overlay network for apps and devices.” I caught up with Jeremie yesterday on a talky.io video chat to compare notes.

Jeremie’s roots as a networking innovator run deep. In 1999 he launched Jabber (now XMPP) along with the first Jabber server. Then came The Locker Project, a personal data store based on a vision of ownership and control that also guides Thali and other fellow travelers.

The Locker Project focused on data, expecting the right mechanisms for connecting lockers and exchanging the data would arrive. Telehash wants to hasten that arrival. And it’s ambitious. The goal, Jeremie says, is a networking stack that supports always-secure peer-to-peer networking over any available transport — Wi-Fi, 3G/4G, BlueTooth, you name it — and that uses local discovery to find the path of least resistance.

“Networking at the edge is blossoming,” Jeremie says, “there’s crazy growth that isn’t yet widely recognized.” What I’m hearing from potential Thali developers aligns with that perception. The cloud-first pattern dominates, and for many good reasons, but people are noticing that the devices on their desks and in their pockets are equipped not only with ever more powerful processors and capacious storage, but also with ever more robust (and diverse) network pipes. Those pipes connect us to the cloud. They also can and will connect us directly.

Could Thali use telehash? In theory, yes. Both use mutual authentication, both bind user identities to self-asserted public keys. Thali for now builds upon existing TLS machinery. Telehash aims to become an alternative to TLS that’s simpler, more flexible, and built from the ground up for decentralized use. For now we travel parallel roads but we would happily see them converge.

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