Four Ways to Improve the Decentralized Internet

Cardstack’s plan to create a better user experience

Chris sat down with Daily Crypto to talk about Cardstack and the future of the decentralized Internet. Here are four principles that describe Cardstack’s unique approach to blockchain:

Make it full stack

The software stack goes all the way down, whether we are aware of it or not. When you use a computer, you’re only seeing what’s on the very surface. The many layers underneath that consist of networking libraries, CPU instruction, and so on.

But in crypto right now, many projects are only working on the very first layers, which are pretty low level — database concerns, logics, triggers and correlations at a data transaction level. Developers rarely get around to even considering the top layers, let alone perfecting it. Cardstack is taking the opposite approach — we build from the top down, ensuring a great user experience.

“There’s a big gap between the software stack necessary for not only blockchain developers, but for app developers who say “I want to build for the blockchain, where do I start?” And they end up dropping seven levels into smart contract territory or even lower than that. And so what we think is that the software stack is necessary to bring decentralization to the masses. A lot of it can be classified as user experience — the user orchestration layer — and that I think gets missing in the industry and that’s what we’re working on.”

Make it composable

Siloed data is bad for many reasons. Under today’s Silicon Valley-led paradigm, your information isn’t easily shareable, savable, or securable, and those who own it hold all of the power. Composability is key to reversing this power dynamic, according to Chris, because it allows for app interoperability:

“So my life consists of something like Gmail and GSuite, Dropbox, Slack, Facebook, Twitter. These are the silos, and they’re locking you in — they don’t want you to communicate outside their box. They want to spend all the time there and give them all your data, whether that’s attention data or just actual photos that you’re uploading. So that’s the lock-in that we have now. And I think we’re beginning, especially in 2018, to feel the downside of these silos and what happens if your data is not under your control.

Make it better than what we’re used to

When you hear about a new blockchain project, it’s often something like “We are making a decentralized version of X!” While it’s important to provide people with decentralized alternatives, the plan falls flat if the alternative does not offer something better than what people are used to — or if those alternatives can’t be easily integrated into the rest of a user’s digital life.

That’s the problem Cardstack aims to solve. We’re building a cohesive experience layer that allows users to seamlessly incorporate decentralized alternatives into their workflows.

“There’s at least two or three projects trying to do a decentralized Slack. We would love to be able to say, oh, by the way, we already built all this amazing UI to integrate with Slack and it works today.
“But if you have a better protocol that speaks the same API, you can try out these pre-built modules and emoji things, and see if your protocol can work just as well as Slack. And that’s where I see the growth for Cardstack. It becomes an experimentation platform for new protocol projects that’s, you know, going a little bit low in the stack and attacking these other problems, the distributed messaging or whatever, to have a way to showcase the parity, or even enhancement beyond the centralized alternative, and not have to say, oh, it’s working really well on the command line but nobody can see it.”

Make it fair

The only way to create a meaningful and sustainable alternative to centralized systems is to bake fair compensation for its contributors into the business model, says Chris:

“It has to be sustainable. Which means instead of just saying, ‘Facebook has these problems so let’s build a free alternative’ and then you realize that you can’t even generate enough value to pay the lead developer or the designer to improve on it because there’s no business model, and there’s no way the customer can support this new alternative.
“But with decentralization and the re-composition of the metering/billing, you get to pay once and have everything come together, and feel confident — and this is the most important part — that all the people who are providing the service are fairly compensated, and have incentive to continue supporting you. Then we can offer it to the end user without feeling that we have huge friction or are being hugely unfair because people are giving away their time and service for free.
“So we see sustainability as bringing makers and miners, software developers, product designer, and hosting companies and token holders, ecosystem designers, together to say, you know what would be sustainable is if the end users are paying for all the stuff we’re doing continuously based on usage.”

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Illustration: Chris Gardella for Cardstack.