Aral Balkan

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Small Technology Foundation funding application for NLnet Foundation NGI Zero Core seventh call

Yesterday, I spent most of the day getting Kitten’s new interactive shell working over a socket connection (this isn’t trivial if you want your shell to display Node.js REPL’s preview completions properly).

Then, I took fifteen minutes to submit Small Technology Foundation’s application for funding from the seventh call of the NLnet Foundation NGI Zero Core for our work on realising the Small Web.

(This is the correct allocation of time: my primary purpose is not to apply for funding, it is to do the work that we are applying for the funding for.)

A bit of history

The last time we applied for an NLnet grant, it was two years ago for their User-Operated Internet Fund with Domain, and, after responding to a round of initial questions, we were rejected.

Domain has come a long way since then and my goal is to launch as the first Small Web Domain host this year.

At the time, I’d written the following:

I’m also done wasting time writing grant proposals to organisations that clearly do not care about supporting the work we do.

A recent conversation on the fediverse, however, made me change my mind. I’m going to keep applying without spending an inordinate amount of time on the applications. If we keep getting rejected, so be it. It’ll make an interesting footnote in the history of the Small Web and, heck, might even be useful as a case study to help evolve funding models for the better after the fact.

Back to the present

This time around, and from here on, we will simply be applying for funding to keep working on the Small Web in general with the hope that one day, the work we have been carrying out for almost the last decade – and specifically on the Small Web for over the last half a decade – will finally be funded from the commons. To date, we have not received a single Euro cent of funding from the European Union for our work on creating a peer-to-peer alternative to the Big Web.

(What I have done is sell two family homes in Turkey to fund our work and, currently, Laura contracts in the mainstream so I can work on Kitten, Domain, and soon, Place to bring our vision of the Small Web into existence. We will not take venture capital or sponsorship from Big Tech, but we do have some lovely individuals who support our work and the funds from that pay some of our expenses, like hosting fees. At the end of the day, I basically work for free.)

What I have asked from the fund is €50,000 to pay for my work on the Small Web (basically, at least half of what I would get as a year’s salary in the mainstream as a developer with four decades of coding experience).

Thoughts on effective commons funding

It’s no secret that I don’t agree with the form of these grants. They are piecemeal in nature and usually end up favouring implementation of specific features in already-existing projects instead of funding the long-term development and existence of tools and allowing the people working on them the freedom to engage in research and development; to learn and grow and adapt as necessary. You know, all the things that venture capital allows startups to do. In fact, this is why I suggested that we need a version of venture capital that is not venture capital – commons capital, if you will – in the EU at my talk at the European Parliament.

Basically, we should be giving organisations working on ethical alternatives to Big Tech’s people farming venture-capital-like funding that allows them the time and freedom to build and experiment and pivot while being devoid of the toxic aspects of venture capital: So no exits. You cannot sell. If you’re successful, Google doesn’t buy you; you continue to provide a useful tool for the common good, funded by the commons.

Also, I believe that the allocation of public funds should be a transparent process. To that end, I will also be publicly documenting this (and every other) funding application we make. So, without ado, here’s the application I submitted to NLnet to fund our work on the Small Web.

Grant application

Abstract: Can you explain the whole project and its expected outcome(s).

The Small Web is a web where everyone can own and control their own place.

These Small Web places are:

That implement the emerging Small Web protocol that gives everyone:

Using this naturally decentralised and trivially-addressable topology, the Small Web will become a peer-to-peer Web alternative to the centralised Web of today, by progressively enhancing the core infrastructure of the Web as we know it.

The Small Web comprises the following three projects:

Some recent updates;

Have you been involved with projects or organisations relevant to this project before? And if so, can you tell us a bit about your contributions?

I have been working in this area for the past ten years.

You can find out more about my work at

Requested amount (between 5,000 and 50,000) (in Euro)


Explain what the requested budget will be used for?

Does the project have other funding sources, both past and present? (If you want, you can in addition attach a budget at the bottom of the form)

The budget will be used to pay me, a developer with four decades of experience, a salary from the commons for my work on the commons.

If we get this grant, it will be the first time in ten years that our work will be paid for from the commons.

Compare your project to existing or historical efforts:

There are lots of peer-to-peer projects but they fail at two main challenges:

  1. Findability (addressing; solved on the Small Web with domain names)
  2. Availability (solved on the Small Web by using always-on VPS servers)

These limitations invariably lead to experience degradation and/or centralised relay nodes in traditional peer-to-peer solutions. The Small Web overcomes this by making the always-on Nodes nodes that you yourself own.

On the other hand, there are self hosting solutions that have traditionally had two issues: difficulty in setting up/maintaining them and hosting free/open versions of centralised apps (with concepts such as users, etc.) The Small Web’s goal is to make setting up your own place a 10 second process (already functional in Domain) and to not require technical knowledge to set up or use.

What are significant technical challenges you expect to solve during the project, if any?)

The biggest challenge has been to build enough of the stack so we have full control over the experience from authoring to deployment.

By having this control, having Kitten and Domain aware of each other, for example, we have been able to make the deployment of Small Web places a ten-second process. (We also make creative use of the Public Suffix List to enable this.)

This year, we aim to launch Domain to a larger audience where they can install a basic version of Place, a peer-to-peer social Web app or, for developers, any app they created using Kitten.

Describe the ecosystem of the project, and how you will engage with relevant actors and promote the outcomes?

The Small Web is based on web technologies. Kitten is first and foremost a web server enhanced to be a peer-to-peer web server. I can see it being very useful in web education. Kitten, Domain, and Place together will allow people to own their own web presence, giving them a place where they can be public if they want to be and private – truly private – when communicating with other people through their own Small Web places.