Test-driving Twister: The NSA-proof Twitter clone

An impressive piece of technology, the privacy-focused service is still trying to become a useful social network.

Many of you may have heard about Twister – a Peer-To-Peer, decentralized, Twitter-style social network. The idea is an interesting one - to create a social network that nobody can censor and with zero IP address tracking. A sort of "NSA-proof" Twitter, if you will.

The Twister project builds on top of both BitTorrent and Bitcoin, which, quite frankly, boggles the mind a bit. So, naturally, I had to take this new social network for a spin. Here's how it went.

First of all, the installation is simple enough. Twister, being a Peer-To-Peer system, doesn't have a traditional website that you log in to. Instead, you download and run the Twister daemon, and then connect to that daemon on your local machine using your web browser.

Once you've gotten that far you will need to download the block chain. You need to do this before you can do anything else (including creating a new user account or logging in). This process, in theory, should take a few minutes. For me, on my first attempt, this process went on for roughly three hours before I killed the Twister daemon and tried again. On the second try it seemed to stall about 10 minutes in.

At this point I gave up on Twister on my Linux desktop and decided to try the Android client (which was still simply a background daemon that you connect to using a web browser on your Android device). This time the block chain downloaded successfully and I was able to move forward using the Android version.

From there, I was able to create my profile (user name, website and whatnot)... and I waited. At this point your profile must be accepted into a new block by the Twister network. Once this was complete (took roughly four minutes for me), I clicked the "Save" button and was off and running. My user account (the aptly named "BryanLunduke") was complete!

At which point...I hit a brick wall. There was nothing really to do. I couldn't find any way to find other users to follow, nor could I find any way to point people to my own posts. Or my user account. I could successfully post to the Twister network, but I couldn't tell where it went or who could actually see it.

So, as a social network (with, you know, the social aspect), Twister obviously has a long way to go. But that doesn't detract from the fact that this is a potentially interesting basis of a social network once some additional features are added.

It's worth noting that this infrastructure is incredibly complicated. Building a complete social network utilizing functionality of both BitTorrent and Bitcoin is a major undertaking that is, in my opinion, possibly a lot more complex (from a code perspective) than it needs to be. This can be seen, in part, by the fact that Twister has been the victim of two major attacks in the last 10 days, which resulted in significant lost data (including user accounts themselves).

To the credit of the folks working on Twister, fixes have been incorporated relatively quickly. And they continue to release a steady stream of new updates that add in fixes and features. The fact that they've got this bad boy working at all is downright impressive.

At this point, I don't really have a verdict on Twister. It's interesting, and I truly hope that development on it continues. But, at least in its current state, it's not really usable for anything other than a technology demo.

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