What is WebCloud?

WebCloud is a new approach to sharing content on social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. In brief, WebCloud moves from a completely centralized form of content sharing (e.g., today, sharing photos with your Facebook friends requires fetching the photos from Facebook's servers in California) to a partially decentralized model (e.g., your friends can fetch the photos directly from your machine). WebCloud is novel because it enables this sharing using existing web sites; Facebook looks the same as it always did, but the content is exchanged directly between you and your friends.

How do I install WebCloud?

WebCloud is supported on Firefox, Chrome and Safari. To install WebCloud only requires changing a single setting on your machine. Please go to the install page for instructions specific to your browser and operating system.

How does WebCloud work?

WebCloud works by adding a small amount of Javascript to a site's web pages. This Javascript intercepts content uploads and store them on the user's browser local storage, as well as in the local storage of any of the user's friends also who happen to be online. When a user browses to a photo not in the cache, the Javascript will fetch the content from another user, instead of fetching the data directly from the site.

Figure showing (a) how content is shared today, and (b) how content is shared with WebCloud using the redirector proxy.

To do this, WebCloud uses redirector proxies, with one placed in each Internet Service Provicer (ISP) much in the same manner as Akamai servers are today. However, in contrast to Akamai, the redirector does not actually store any content, and only serves to connect together friends who are online. A diagram of how WebCloud connects together users for content exchange is shown above.

Why should I use WebCloud?

For web users, WebCloud has the potential to remove many of the limits on content sharing that are in place today. For example, Flickr only allows 100MB of photos per user per month, and YouTube restricts videos to only 10 minutes in length. These limits are partially due to the expense of serving the content. With WebCloud, the content exchange does not require any bandwidth from the provider, enabling users to share the types and amount of content they wish.

For site operators, WebCloud has the potential to reduce costs without having any noticable effect on the web visitors. Operators have the choice over which types of content will be shared via WebCloud, a backup copy is still made on their servers for availability, and they still receive the content metadata. However, the actual content exchange is often directly between the users themselves, reducing the bandwidth necessary to serve content.

Essentially, WebCloud forms an on-demand content distribution network (CDN) by sticting together the resources of the visitors to a web site.

What information are we collecting?

As WebCloud is part of an ongoing research project, we are collecting statistics on which photos are viewed, how often they are served by your friends versus Facebook, and what the structure of the social network and photo workload is. All data is anonymized (so even we can't figure out who is who), and will not be released.

Who we are

We are researchers at the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University studying content distribution networks for social network content.