This post is a creative piece offering some ideas for the Starfinder roleplaying game. Any resemblance to real life entities are purely coincidental. Please feel free to use this content in your own campaign or discuss or expand on these ideas in the comments.
In the Starfinder science fantasy setting the equivalent of the Internet is called an Infosphere. The Infosphere is actually a collection of separate networks: it stretches across the Pact Worlds system at the macro level, but is only as synchronised as comms technology permits. Each major world and space station has its own copy of the Infosphere, changes are synched as much as comms bandwidth permits between these islands of information. Ships entering orbit or docking at a station can update their own limited Infosphere cache at that moment.
The Drift presents a particular challenge since it takes time for comms signals to travel through this plane of reality. Real-time or even regular Infosphere synchronisation between solar systems is unrealistic from bandwidth, time delay and cost perspectives. Data merchants plying the Drift outwards and back to Absalom Station do bring large ‘data dumps’ to other systems and return with parallel updates – consequently the Absalom Station is the most ‘complete’, albeit chaotic, Infosphere in known space.
Some Infosphere services of note are likewise shaped and constrained by the technological realities of intra- and inter-system communication delays.
An Infosphere service and company of the same name, HoloSphere offers a combined hologram record and upload service with a related suite of text and multimedia sharing services. It’s used by individuals, groups, communities and other companies to share updates on every day life, opinions, trends and commercial products.
The service is massively popular in the major Pact Worlds, it’s the dominant social networking service. It has slowly spread across the Pact Worlds system, and even beyond, since its inception in 45 AG (After Gap). Interestingly the service originated as a ‘public good’ initiative by the nascent Pact solar government to help foster a sense of wider community between the still fractious world societies. As such the service has always been free to use, these days it is supported by targetted advertising. Although HoloSphere has since transitioned to be a for-profit company its neutrality in political terms is still a clear part of the service’s mission, and the Stewards retain a role in monitoring this.
Detractors of the service complain about the latency between different world’s versions, a fault of the limitations of Drift beacons, and the complete lack of meaningful real-time connections between systems. HoloSphere’s research division are working with the Church of Triune to improve upon the Drift beacon network to better connect systems together in the future. Some Pact World citizens avoid the service for fear that the company, or the Stewards, are able to monitor their activities too closely – it is not popular among criminals or the residents of the Armada. It has earned the nickname ‘HollowSphere’ among other detractors and social commentators who feel the visual nature of the service encourages narcissism amongst citizens.
HoloSphere security at the infrastructure and system level are top-quality and very robust. There are no recorded instances of successful hacks of the service or its components. However individual accounts are only as secure as the computers they are accessed on combined with the individual’s own computer security practices – if a computer expert has physical (or near-enough) access to a computer with an active HoloSphere account then they can use the service under that other user’s name easily enough. Computer checks are not possible against the HoloSphere service in general, but an Engineering or Computing check will grant a character unauthorised access to a user’s HoloSphere profile on any computer or device that has previously accessed that user’s profile: a DC 15 check of the appropriate skill is needed. Faking biometric proof to grant access to another user’s profile on a new device requires access to DNA samples or other means to falsify the other user’s identity as well as a DC 25 skill check (Computing or Engineering) to fool the system rather robust login security. Failure of the check of either level will temporarily block the profile and require a call with HoloSphere’s security team to remove the block.
A more limited-audience service, Past Lives originated on Eox in 223 AG. It is mostly limited to Eox natives since the focus on this social network service is to memorialise the lives of elebrians and other sentient undead. In a society where necromancy is commonplace and can revive a dead body, or re-house a spirit in a new one: some way of keeping track and remembering one’s past ‘lives’ was deemed necessary. This being Eox, Past Lives is a heavily censored government-sponsored service. It presents a sanitised, some would say glorified, view of how elebrians view life and death. As well as holo-records of individuals with images, videos and biographies, the service also includes virtual forums for those seeking someone or wishing to re-establish contact with someone. It is a relatively popular platform for communication among citizens, HoloSphere does also exist on Eox but is frowned upon; if a citizen uses HoloSphere more than Past Lives then they may be marked for closer scrutiny by the authorities.
Access to Past Lives is strictly limited to citizens of Eox, it is not possible to register without proof of ancestry and a permanent address on the planet. Character’s who gain access to a profile with or without authorisation (see HoloSphere hacking notes above) may tap into a much richer source of cultural and historical information than the HoloSphere can provide. If a character is research any cultural, historical, political or personal topics relating to Eox and its citizens then they receive a +2 circumstance bonus while they can make use of this service.
The Church of Triune maintains and expands the network of Drift beacons that service the Pact World system and other systems in Near Space. The church also runs a service, known simply as DriftNet that operates as a low-bandwidth, high-tolerance means for brief communications over long distance. Having a registered DriftNet address means that a simple text or voice message can be sent to you anywhere within the Pact Worlds and Near Space. The service will automatically register your location when you sign on to any Infosphere that is service-compatible (and almost all of them are). So you can be sure, as a DriftNet user, that your messages will find you anywhere in civilised space eventually – subject to the usual Drift beacon transmission speed limitations (see page 430 of the Starfinder rulebook).
Bandwidth is limited for all users, there is a small monthly service charge for using the service but it is a flat fee as the service cannot handle holo-video recordings or other data-hungry services (up to the GM; e.g. 50 credits/month). The integrity and security of the service is of utmost importance to the Church and the service is strictly monitored for any signs of hacking attempts; the Stewards are willing to defend the related infrastructure on the Churches behalf if any such attempt is detected. As with the notes on hacking of the HoloSphere, it is assumed that hacking the DriftNet is not possible or practical: hacking an individual’s computer or other communications device in order to gain unauthorised access to the network under a false identity is relatively straightforward.
This post is based on entries in the Setting chapter of the Starfinder Core rulebook, please see this source for more details on the Pact Worlds system, the planet of Eox, the Drift and communications technology in the Starfinder game.