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Decentralized web

Keywords: decentralized, web, blockchain, indieweb, 3.0, freedom
Date:

Source: https://dci.mit.edu/decentralizedweb

  • the decentralized web is essentially blockchain applied to the web
  • Blockchain:
    • Bitcoin is a good example of a blockchain technology:
      • has no central control
      • uses a peer-to-peer network of untrusted computers (user devices) to maintain a distributed source of truth, in this case a ledger of Bitcoin transactions which are atomically secure because of the need for agreement within the network as well as time-based hashing algorithms which ensure uniqueness
      • if something (identity, transaction, etc.) can be inherently verified (hashing) and universally agreed upon, then confidence-based systems like economies can function within as blockchains
      • a primary benefit of a blockchain system is that, since it's distributed, it's more secure because it exists in many places and more trustworthy because its validity is attested to en masse
      • another primary benefit, and the one primarily relevant in the minds of many web activists, is that the distributed/decentralized nature of blockchain shifts ownership and control of the web out of the hands of tech oligarchs and into the hands of users at large, making the web more resistant to corporate or political censorship and regulation
  • decentralized systems can address "mega-platform consolidation":
    • by helping users to interact with content directly, without intermediaries and, therefore, without censorship
    • by empowering user choice and increasing parity/competition within the "free market" of the web, reducing monopolies and, ideally, raising the quality of content
    • some case studies:
      • Freedom Box, a system for personal publishing
      • Diaspora, a federated social network Mastodon, a federated Twitter-like service
      • Blockstack, a distributed system for online identity services
      • IPFS (Interplanetary File System), a distributed storage service with a proposed mechanism to incentivize resource sharing
      • Solid (Social Linked Data), a linked-data protocol that could act as a back-end for data sharing between social media networks
      • Appcoins, a digital currency framework that enables users to financially participate in ownership of platforms and protocols
      • Steemit, an online community that uses an appcoin to incentivize development and community participation in a social network
    • these projects are positive, but they likely won't solve the problems of "mega-platform exlusion and bias" as a whole:
      • one example is content curation, since content that's technically accessible might be buried in a feed, rendering it effectively invisible
      • the majority of web users are not politically inclined/motivated and would rather interact with the web through the sorts of third-party platforms we already have, and which contribute to "the problem"
  • challenges decentralized systems face:
    • adoption
    • security
      • since anyone can join, systems push the security mechanisms into the user experience, often via public key cryptography
      • "it's extremely difficult to develop software that is both cryptographically secure and easy to use"
      • most projects are very user unfriendly because they don't focus on usability, making it difficult for users to understand how to manage their public keys
        • a big example of this problem is IPFS
    • monetization/incentives
    • resisting market consolidation
      • Bitcoin has this in the form of mining pools
      • market consolidation is nearly inevitable due to the great benefits provided by economies of scale