TL;DR: Arweave’s permaweb enables the creation of a brand new type of web app ecosystem that is not organised around companies, but around open source software. The consequences of this for the new web could be enormous, resulting in a far better user experience for all.
In the early days of general-purpose computers, software was open source by default. Companies and developers sold their code directly to end users, and when you purchased a new computer the code for its software was usually bundled with it. This direct access to open source code allowed savvy users to hack, modify, and upgrade software as they liked.
By contrast, something entirely different happened at the birth of the web: applications were closed by default. While server software has often been open source (Apache, Nginx, etc.), we never had the expectation that the services we use on the web would be open source, too. One of the reasons for this — amongst any others — appears to have been that computation for web services typically happened on servers paid for by the company that ran the service. This computation itself (and the storage, bandwidth, etc. that came with it) was expensive. Subsequently, the developer of a successful web service was pushed to immediately find a mechanism of funding their work — or they would need to shut it down. In practice this has led to web developers either seeking VC funding (who intend to extract value later in the product lifecycle), or heavy monetisation through advertising.
Whichever path the developer chooses, they typically avoid open sourcing their code, in order to protect their ability to fund the ongoing operation of the service.
An open web
Because the permaweb is cheap to publish to, and in the default model users pay for their own usage (with micro transactions so small they barely notice), major opportunities are presented for open source communities to disrupt the traditional web services market.
When publishing is cheap and developers don’t pay for maintenance, open source web services become possible.
In order to launch an open source web service on the permaweb, developers simply have to submit a single transaction to the network containing their app, then users can run it whenever they like, indefinitely, at no extra cost to the publisher. When contrasted with the traditional model, which would require the open source publisher to pay considerable maintenance fees (scaling with usage of the project) each month to keep the service online, the difference is stark.
For example, consider AskWeave, a social question-and-answer application with economic rewards for good responses, built by Arweave community member @Lyner. @Lyner paid a fraction of a penny to store the application, and will never pay another Winston for it. AskWeave’s users can now submit questions for an imperceptibly small fee, and answerers can earn tokens for giving helpful responses. You can find the source code here and make your own fork if you like! You can checkout more awesome open source permaweb apps on the new ArweaveApps site, built by Zeus, one of our Discord community members: https://arweave.net/35IFq9BcIgpSPti9YDYDiaQy4wMfMIKZ25t7hHZrhek
Permaweb apps do not have to be open source of course, but we strongly believe that this new, lower barrier for entry will help fuel the development of open source alternatives to existing web services.
The open source philosophy can have the same impact on the new web as it did on early desktop computing: greater competition and openness, leading to greater choices and higher quality for end-users.
Encouraging the open source permaweb ecosystem
We’re passionate about the opportunities and advantages that an open source web ecosystem brings to users and developers alike. As such, we’re taking two exciting steps to encourage and nurture this novel environment.
Firstly, we have started a new initiative — a perpetual open web hackathon! This ongoing hackathon is designed to encourage and reward developers building open source permaweb apps that address real use cases. Read all about the hackathon here.
Secondly, as well as using the permaweb to decentralise data storage and access, we are also experimenting with ways that the community can decentralise the ownership of a permaweb app. To demonstrate and play with how this might work in practice, we are turning the governance of weavemail into a DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation). Contributors to the weavemail repositories will receive governance tokens that they can use to vote on whether to accept contentious new features, and how any potential future revenues will be spent. More on this soon…
These are just two starting points for building up the open source ecosystem on the Arweave. What next? Join the discussion on our Discord server and get involved in the open web hackathon!