Decentralized Web Developer Report 2020

Evgeny Ponomarev
Jun 8, 2020 · 26 min read

Introduction

The Web 3.0 is often acknowledged as a nebulous umbrella term for a suite of new technologies that will revamp many aspects of the modern web over the next few years. Some endeavors include overhauling core protocols for routing web traffic, while others involve upending the centralized data storage and sharing models that have allowed big tech firms to build vast moats of wealth.

In any case, the primary emphasis has been a bold return to the origins of the Internet. Projects are chipping away at the stranglehold of major tech firms and financial intermediaries whose collateral deficiencies continue to surface.

The current iteration of the web has drifted away from its decentralized origins. Initially crafted by Tim Berners-Lee to serve an open community of users and developers, the web has been hijacked by major players (e.g., Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple) to lock-in users and extract value from them.

Consequently, abuses of data privacy, security vulnerabilities, and subpar performance have followed suit. But that early vision for a decentralized web never dissipated.

Behind grassroots projects in the early 2000s such as Napster, Tor, and BitTorrent was a narrative burrowed deep into Internet user sentiment — a return to decentralization. Unfortunately, many of these projects have been outshined by their centralized counterparts over the years. Wielding user-friendly applications, companies have flourished extracting value from users by building platforms on top of the Internet’s core protocols.

Flashy (and free) apps like Facebook herded users into vast closed networks of value capture, effectively launching the modern age of the social media and advertising paradigm. But with all that social interaction and web tracking has come censorship problems, privacy abuses, and more political consequences — all of which are a product of centralized data control.

Grassroots projects like Tor and BitTorrent were pushed to the background during the meteoric rise of the likes of Google and Amazon. And it wasn’t until Satoshi Nakamoto reignited a decentralized and cypherpunk ethos with his release of the Bitcoin Whitepaper that the movement towards decentralized grasped a foothold again.

Over the last several years, and bolstered by the rise of an entire crypto industry, decentralization is once again a primary effort among a ballooning community of supporters. Emerging protocols like IPFS are leading the way in a fundamental shift of the web as we know it, and the implications are tangible. And surviving projects from the early 2000s such as Tor, I2P, and even Mixnets are making significant strides.

Now, an entire generation of projects and developers are striving towards the original vision of the decentralized web conceived by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 at CERN. With technological breakthroughs by their side, we sought out 231 projects (out of 631 respondents) with a tech background currently working on the bleeding-edge of the new Web 3.0 — the decentralized one.

The responses cover a myriad of topics, provide some intriguing insight into ongoing progress, and highlight some of the major hurdles still facing the manifestation of a thriving new Web. Like all major technological endeavors, there are bound to be bumps along the road, but the picture painted by the respondents is promising, and well worth your time.

There are notable rifts about what constitutes the new Web, but our report sheds light on some of the general principles maintained by developers working in the space, and how differentiating between the DWeb and Web 3.0 applies to real-world scenarios. Specifically, the respondents are strongly aligned across three main points — data sovereignty, privacy, and robustness (e.g., censorship-resistance).

All other responses can be broadly injected into these three categories, with subtle differences and nuanced mixed in.

Our report begins by examining some of the most salient problems with the current web and concludes with how the new Web can overcome its obstacles, as expressed by our respondents. The respondents were mostly software engineers, but also included founders, business ops, students, and investors.

Summary of Report

Some of the most salient takeaways are highlighted below.

Key insights:

  • Most of the projects surveyed were created less than 2 years ago, confirming that the DWeb space is still immature and emerging
  • DWeb is mostly ideologically driven, but not yet understood by a general user, said three-quarters of the respondents
  • Data privacy, data sovereignty, and tech resilience are the most expected features from the DWeb
  • Biggest technical challenges preventing from developing for DWeb are peer-to-peer connectivity and tech immaturity
  • Among the existing internet protocols, DNS worries people the most, followed by communication layer and HTTP
  • Business models in the DWeb ecosystem are lacking, with more than half of projects having no monetization method
  • IPFS and Ethereum are by far leaders among underlying technologies respondents use to create DWeb applications
  • DWeb interest among developers is high, but the road to adoption is an uphill struggle as the infrastructure needs to improve and users need to be educated on the advantages of using the DWeb over centralized counterparts.

However, the foundation and opportunity to decentralize the web are palpable, and if the ongoing viral COVID-19 pandemic has any silver lining, it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on a wholesale transition to more decentralized services.

Welcome to the Decentralized Developer 2020 report.

Web 3.0 vs DWeb

We had to construct the DWeb report by navigating several nuances in the perception of distributed web technologies vs. the Web 3.0. Specifically, how developers and community supporters differentiate the prospects of the two rather nebulous terms.

The responses from the survey indicate that, although different emphases and language are deployed by different groups, the overall goals and vision of the DWeb and Web 3.0 have significant crossover.

Differentiating between the two isn’t entirely semantic either. The Web 3.0, primarily pushed by the blockchain community, places stark importance on commercial developments like finance, e-commerce, AI, security, and big data for enterprises. On the contrary, DWeb proponents (e.g., IPFS & The Internet Archive) are more ideologically-driven, focusing on decentralization, data sovereignty, security, privacy, and censorship-resistance. DWeb projects have diverged more from the blockchain narrative to encompass a broader set of technological innovations.

At a high level, the two perceptions of the web’s next iteration are not in conflict, and may actually complement each other more than anything. In terms of navigating the report, it’s best to lean your outlook to that of the vision of DWeb proponents, and how those technological developments (e.g., P2P communication, decentralized storage, data privacy) will shape the infrastructure of the future web.

As far as the more internal argument over what constitutes DWeb, you can view the issue as one of more semantics. The shared ideological vision of a decentralized web breeds many of the same outcomes despite slight nuances in opinion, which the responses below indicate.

Study Participants & Demographics

The study was completed by 631 respondents, of which, 231 are actively working on DWeb-related projects.

The survey contained 38 questions. The percentage distribution in the answers is premised on the unlimited selection for the multiple-choice questions — answers will total to more than 100 percent in most cases.

The demographics of this report focused primarily on developers and engineers working on projects related to the DWeb or contained crossover with some of the DWeb’s blossoming technology suite. We did not target blockchain developers explicitly, and they comprised only a small allocation of the overall respondents.

Of the 645 respondents, 417 cited a direct tech background.

For those of you who would like to dig for more information, we have also published the anonymized raw results.

~

The web as we know it has flourished over the last two decades. Information is instantly accessible for free, powerful applications can be built on top of the existing infrastructure, an entire services-oriented cloud computing industry is thriving, the entire world is connected via instant communications, and the power of the web has advanced human technology at a much more rapid clip than possible prior to its creation.

The Internet is one of our most transcendent creations that evolves every second, absorbing more data, character, and technology to grow alongside our search for knowledge.

However, the current web has come with some underhanded trade-offs. As data and power aggregate in walled siloes, the users have become the product and privacy is an afterthought at the hand of ad revenue. In this section, we examine the ideological and technical considerations among survey respondents about the structure of the current web.

Biggest Pain Points

The general sentiment regarding the state of the current web revolved around some major pain points. Primarily, these problems draw from a shared issue — centralized data storage and the adverse collateral effects that ensue, ranging from major data leaks to censorship leverage by major tech firms and governments.

At face value, many of the most significant pain points may appear ideologically-driven and confined to developers and privacy proponents, outside the scope of the mainstream. However, the problems are increasingly leaking into the view of the mainstream web user audience, specifically younger generations, who are tired of intrusive ads, data leaks, and a general lack of data control or privacy.

Of the total respondents, massive personal data leaks, exemplified by the likes of Marriott and Equifax, were the leading concern — according to 68.5% of respondents. Censorship and access restriction, instituted by both tech giants and governments, came in a close second and third position, both cited as the leading concern by 66% and 65% of respondents, respectively.

Ads based on personal data (61%) and user data held by applications (53%) rounded out the top five.

Interestingly, the range of views expressed among respondents indicated a strong dislike of the current web paradigm when it comes to the apparatus of how the web has monetized itself. Whether the adverse long-term consequences of ad-based monetization were anticipated or not (e.g., centralized data control and privacy intrusions) is beside the point — respondents are unhappy with the result.

Additionally, respondents expressed antipathy towards the outcome of continuously building closed systems. The discontinuation of products or lack of user control over their data leads to a dearth of options for users.

Users have little influence over the direction of content, data, or navigating closed systems. More accessible and user-friendly open standards are a necessity.

Responses to what should be fixed in the first place of the current web closely reflected the comments about the biggest pain points. For example, data sovereignty was the clear leader as the initial fix cited by respondents, with 75.5% of respondents indicating the reversion of data control to the user as paramount.

Data privacy (59%) and tech resistance (56%) to disruptive events or shutdowns (e.g., the Cloudflare case) followed at second and third, respectively. Security, specifically the ubiquitous use of cryptographic signatures across applications came in fourth at 51%, followed by network anonymity (42%) — private access to resources.

Again, many of the responses reflected simmering displeasure with centralized silos of data and the stranglehold of several firms over the Internet. Rapid iteration of tools, like cryptography, provide hope in severing the monopoly over data, and by extension, privacy abuse, which is why respondents favor a wholesale departure from the trusted third-party model.

Web Protocols

Responses to this question were more distributed than many other aspects of the survey and revealed some interesting opinions. A native personal data layer was the leading response (44%) and was closely followed by a native user identity (42%), a decent offline default experience (42%), and a native P2P layer (37%).

Some of the responses, like a native user identity and native user authentication (37%) can be tied together under the broader umbrella of a personal data layer. A personal data layer is also closely correlated to greater data sovereignty and privacy, which indicates a strong consistency in both identifying and addressing the acute problems facing the web among correspondents.

From a technical standard, the commentary from the respondents tended to render technical standard development and composability as leading issues to overcome current protocol limitations. Additionally, some projects also cited an innate need for native incentivization models, which are critical to onboarding users to open protocol networks.

A few respondents even argued against the notion of standardization as the approach to decentralization — preaching a more localized development model.

Diving into the more technical details, respondents were more uniform in their preference for specific protocols that need revamping. For example, the resource addressing layer (DNS) led the way at 52% of respondents, followed by communication layers (SMTP, XMPP, IRC) at 38%. The HTTP layer rounded out the top three with 29% of respondents referencing its redesign requirement.

One of the most salient takeaways from the respondent commentary was a need for a more secure transport layer. Specifically, the need to outfit the transport layer with security for data at rest, imbue digital rights management into the design, and even bake Tor into the transport layer were some of the propositions.

However, other respondents cited skepticism with the decentralized approach, detailing a complementary need for revamped hardware explicitly catering to decentralized protocols. Some even were proponents of supplementing existing protocols rather than overhauling them entirely.

~

The Meaning of Decentralization

The “D” in DWeb stands for distributed (or decentralized), which, although often nebulous, can be boiled down to the dynamic movement away from the centralized model of the current web. Doing so does not come without some significant challenges, though. The challenges and promises of actualizing the vision of the DWeb are the focus of this section.

As articulated by the respondents, the movement towards DWeb is ideologically driven and is characterized by a bottom-up grassroots ethos. Respondents generally favor the DWeb defined as an architecturally decentralized web (82%), where there is no single point of failure or data accumulation.

Naturally, these relate to downstream preferences cited by respondents that they prefer a web not politically divided (64%) nor subject to the problems of a single software monolith structure (39%). Roughly 37% of respondents detailed the meaning for distributed/decentralized as “Don’t trust, verify” where everything is verifiable.

Respondents place significant hope in the DWeb as an ideological construct more than just a new technical web, but as a means to foster a more collaborative and cooperative web environment. Powerful open-source collaborations can lead to improved scaling and development of user-facing applications that are bolstered by powerful technology.

As a consequence, companies and general web users can tap into a wealth of resources previously restricted under the confines of the current web.

Values and Mission

As you may have recognized from the previous sections, the general pillars of the DWeb that are beginning to crystallize among the respondents are primarily in data sovereignty, censorship-resistance/redundancy, and privacy. Most of the other rendered responses seem to function as branches from those primary objectives in some form or another.

Respondents echo the sentiment with their projections of the most significant changes that can be brought about by the DWeb. For example, 75% of respondents cited taking back control of personal data as the biggest change. Roughly 55% subsequently detailed an inability to forge or censor content while another 50% cited no tracking or surveillance as one of the most significant changes — mirroring the primary pillars.

The sentiment from respondents is undoubtedly ambitious. But that’s what a new DWeb infrastructure requires, and as we will see next, there is a profusion of technological tinkering underscoring the movement.

The response to this question leaned heavily towards “values and mission,” encompassing 77% of respondents and, once again, reflecting the ideologically driven grassroots character of the DWeb.

Security (43%), community & support (31%), interoperability (31%), and scalability (30%) completed the top five responses.

Besides, local-first application design, low latency, and high resilience were cited by respondents as the main technical advantages of the DWeb.

Byproducts of our general DWeb pillars, these characteristics of the DWeb zoom in on some of the shared technical considerations favored by respondents.

The Technical Challenges of the DWeb

The survey responses in this section pinpointed the pillar technologies that respondents perceive are necessary to bring about the DWeb. Among the most popular were P2P communications protocols (55%),content-addressable storage (54,5%), P2P file-sharing (51%), decentralized DNS (47%), and privacy-focused networking (46%).

Some of the leading projects are among the more well-known open-source projects, including IPFS (36%), Ethereum (25%), Dat (14%), and Libp2p (12%). Many of the DWeb applications and protocol layers cited by respondents are among the fastest-growing open-source projects today, particularly IPFS and Ethereum. Developers also mentioned many other projects including WebTorrent, Freenet, Textile, Holochain, 3Box, Embark, Radicle, Matrix, Urbit, Tor, BitTorrent, Statebus/Braid, Perlinks, BitMessage, Yjs, WebRTC, Hyperledger Fabric, and more.

Similar to our previous Dapp Survey last year, many of the cited frustrations with DWeb tech stem from a lack of resources. In particular, respondents detailed a dearth of documentation, tutorials, videos, and other educational resources (44%) as the leading frustration. These concerns were followed closely by a difficult time understanding how to practically apply the technology (42%), difficulty integrating the tech (40%), and the challenges of scaling distributed tech (21%).

Many of these limitations are the same that face blockchains and dApps and are a natural product of innovative fields of technology.

A lack of tools, incompatibility of tools, fragmentation, lack of documentation, and developers feeling overwhelmed by choice of different decentralized protocols were among the most frustrating points cited by respondents.

The next question piggybacks on the frustrations of the current DWeb tech and moved further into the granular details about precise implementation problems. The responses mirrored many of the frustrations, such as scaling problems (34%), but also shed light on some more technical problems — such as connectivity (31%) and performance (25%).

The following batched responses are very informative for developers curious about specific obstacles in the DWeb ecosystem. Some of the problems include complexity (e.g., assumptions about multi-layer architecture of P2P) with reasoning about incentive models, user-onboarding, latency issues, peer discovery, costs of testing the network, and data synchronization issues. Others include hardware and browser incompatibility and network instability, user identity management, and analytics.

Using DWeb Technologies in the Future

Respondents already working on DWeb projects naturally expressed a stronger likelihood to use DWeb technologies on their next project — an average rating of 4 out of 5 was received from those respondents. Conversely, developers who were just interested in DWeb technology cited a slightly lower preference for using DWeb technologies for their next project with a 2.8 rating average.

Interested developers may be waiting on the sidelines for the technology to mature a little more before diving in. On the other hand, developers already working with DWeb tech appear to have made a significant contribution of their time and ideological effort to the sector so far, indicating a preference to stay in the DWeb space for the foreseeable future.

~

Biggest Obstacles

Despite the myriad technical issues facing the further growth of the DWeb, technical problems are not its primary hindrance — that obstacle lay with the user. Roughly 70% of respondents cited the lack of user awareness about what the DWeb, and its concomitant technologies, actually comprise as the most significant obstacle.

The immaturity of the technology followed in second (49%), while the pushback from back tech companies reveals an intriguing third-largest obstacle at 42%. A furtive business model for DWeb projects followed suit, respectively, at 38% and a general lack of integration with web browsers at 37%.

Some of the key takeaways from respondents on the biggest obstacles are well-known problems among open-source projects. Business models are tricky to mold around a grassroots, community-driven project that doesn’t monetize data or privacy abuses with ads.

However, until broader user awareness increases to an inflection point and DWeb projects discover viable means to monetize, the centralized data model and current structure of the web will remain dominant.

Immature projects came in first (59%) followed by the difficulty of educating new users (35,5%) and a small number of DWeb users (24%), in second and third, respectively.

User adoption is necessary to absorb users away from the centralized paradigm that dominates the web today. Along with the UX/UI advantages of centralized systems, the ideological push behind the DWeb is driven by the notion that it provides a net positive for web users. Onboarding is too complicated for non-techies so far, and it needs lots of dependencies to run a p2p app. There’s also no traditional browser compatibility and no daily life use cases. These all accumulate the obstacles facing onboarding more users.

The missing piece to the DWeb?

Respondents referred to the “missing piece” of the DWeb with some interesting and diverse angles. One of the most salient responses was that the DWeb is currently missing a killer application that would serve as the adoption push that would shatter the glass ceiling.

Another perspective focused on the potential impact is public support and adoption by big players (e.g., tech companies, government, influential people, etc.). Signaling support for DWeb applications and the underlying tech could spark a significant migration of users curious about the DWeb. Paired with a killer application, and public support by influential figures in society could go a long way.

Respondents also signaled the promise of discovering a sound business model for DWeb tech. As we’ve seen in earlier responses, monetizing open-source, P2P protocols is challenging. However, successful business models have already been built around cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum and a few other P2P projects.

Should a business model become ubiquitous for the DWeb, such as ad-based revenue streams on the current web, that may ultimately be the missing link needed to gravitate more entrepreneurs to the sector.

Role of the Blockchain

Blockchain technology peaked in the Gartner Hype Cycle during the meteoric run of ICOs in late 2017. Since then, developers and businesses have tinkered with a variety of applications for the technology with varying degrees of success. What’s evident from the respondents is that they are split on the potential of the technology underscoring Bitcoin and its concomitant industry of cryptocurrencies.

Responses in the survey indicate a growing nuance among developers about the advantages and disadvantages of using blockchains. Rather than attempting to build everything on a blockchain and profess it as the panacea to the world’s ills, respondents demonstrate an interest in its future use.

A majority of survey respondents (58%) indicated that blockchain is “not a silver bullet,” which was the leading opinion on the technology.

Roughly 54% of respondents subsequently detailed the practical use of blockchains for digital currency and payments as ideal, followed by 36% citing its application in decentralized identity. Accordingly, 33% cited blockchain’s usefulness for a broad range of DWeb tasks and 31% pinpointed its use in digital certifications. About 14% of respondents said blockchain technology is a “waste of time.”

In the following comments, you will see how some of the opinions on blockchain vary drastically, particularly concerning its performance and disadvantages compared to centralized systems.

~

Categories

Respondents working on DWeb projects come from diverse backgrounds, are geographically dispersed around the world, and work on both unknown and established projects alike. Some of the more well-known projects include IPFS, Dat, and OrbitDB while some of the smaller/less marketed projects include Lokinet, Radicle, Textile, and several independent projects run by nimble teams.

Types of DWeb projects varied significantly, but we can classify them into more general buckets based on their broader goals. Respondents revealed that data storage and sharing (27) was the most popular class of project, followed by other (17), social media (17), finance (16), and blockchain (11).

Interestingly, the areas of data storage & sharing, social media, and finance are some of the critical markets where the respondents draw their ideological preferences. For example, censorship on social media and limited data sharing options without going through a big tech firm’s infrastructure are commonly cited problems with the current web. Additionally, the financial revolution underscoring Ethereum’s DeFi narrative is a fusion of blockchain tech and DWeb P2P protocols.

The type of DWeb projects closely mirror the ideological preferences of respondents, revealing that projects are working on actionable problems not theoretical technology platforms.

Approximately 49% of the respondents working on a project (231) are working on an app for end-users while 44 percent are crafting tools or protocols for developers. The remaining 6,5% are working on miscellaneous projects.

Motivation

Respondents indicated a strong ideological preference for building on the DWeb with P2P technologies. Considering the multiple tech hurdles and frustrations expressed by respondents, the strong ideological preference (72%) reveals a robust foundation for the broader DWeb movement.

Similarly, the “technical reasons” option was selected by 58% of respondents, which, judging by the comments and responses to other sections, seems to also hinge on the technological benefits that bolster the ideological preferences. Namely, censorship-resistant P2P communication, distributed storage, and other P2P developments.

Status & Team

Out of those project fields, 51% are still currently under development, 29% are launched, 15% in the idea/conceptual phase, and the remaining 5% are at some other stage of development.

Relatively speaking, most DWeb projects are new compared to their legacy web counterparts. For example, the largest share of projects (31.5%) responded that they have been working for only 1–2 years, only 21% have been working for 3+ years, and the remaining 17% have been working for less than 1 year.

Team sizes vary within small ranges, with 35% of projects between two and five people and 34% consisting of an individual. Roughly 21% of projects have more than 10 developers (usually the well-known projects like IPFS), while another 10% have between 6 and 10 developers.

Technology

Concerning open-source licensing, respondents heavily leaned on MIT (42%), AGPL 3.0 (21%), and Apache 2.0 (16.5%). Approximately 18.5% cited no decision on licensing so far and 10% are not using open-source licensing for their projects.

The type of tech stacks deployed by respondents were a mix of some of the most well-known front-end, back-end, and DWeb tech. On the front-end, React (20), Typescript (13), Angular (8), and Electron (6) led the way as the most popular options.

On the back-end, GO (25), Node.js (33), Rust (24), and Python (18) were the most popular. Respondent sentiment on the front and back ends of their tech stacks closely mirrored broader open-source and developer trends expressed in Github’s most recent “State of the Octoverse” report.

Finally, DWeb technologies were led by IPFS (32), Ethereum (30), libp2p (14), and DAT (10).

Business

Business models around DWeb technology were cited as one of the most significant problems facing developers. It’s difficult to extract value from open protocols that don’t adhere to centralized data monetization schemes.

Accordingly, 30% of respondents indicated no way for them to extract money from their projects, 22.5% decided on kicking the can down the road on monetization, and 15% cited a “Freemium” model.

Only 15% of the respondents had a paid product for their DWeb technology project.

Some of the conceptual ideas floated around for monetization and business models were only half-baked too. For example, generic SaaS and licensing were mentioned several times in the comments. Blockchain-based staking and governance were also referred to by several projects, and while they show potential, they are still in their very early stages and not ready for widespread adoption.

Funding

Funding is critical to the conversion of an idea into a viable project. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 fallout may have thrown a wrench into many funding hopes over the next several months or years. That will not portend favorably for DWeb projects already struggling to obtain funding.

More than half (53%) of DWeb projects respondents are self-funded. Roughly 19% are VC/Angel funded, and 15% are based on grants. Token sales continue to count for a diminishing amount of funding, only contributing to the funding model of 10% of respondents — a far cry from the ICO days of 2017.

And respondents are not shy about expressing their funding frustrations.

Monthly users

Correlated to the user adoption problems detailed earlier in the report, the monthly user numbers of the DWeb are insignificant compared to legacy (centralized) applications. Roughly 35% of respondents haven’t even launched a product yet, 21% have less than 100 monthly users, 10.5% have no way of estimating their audience, 10% don’t know their monthly users, and only 9% have between 100 and 1K monthly users.

~

Considering the aggregate responses from the survey, we conclude with several takeaways.

  1. The DWeb’s definition among its proponents is mostly subject to semantics, and the broader goals of decentralization, data sovereignty, privacy, censorship-resistance, and their concomitant developments appear to be the primary theme and channel for growth.
  2. Many of the projects and interested respondents are driven by an ideological preference for DWeb. Preferences range from stifling government surveillance to severing the advertising/user data hegemony abused by major tech firms.
  3. Developers are excited about the DWeb, but mainstream recognition of DWeb tech and applications is subpar at best. Educational material is lacking, and the problems of data sovereignty and privacy are only in their early stages of public awareness. Developers face myriad hurdles ranging from a lack of developer documentation and tools to the incompatibility of DWeb tech with existing infrastructure.
  4. Most users would tend to agree with the premise of the DWeb, but technical limitations hindering developers and poor user-facing applications, whether from performance or complexity, are prohibitive factors in the broader adoption of DWeb tech.
  5. Governments and big tech firms are demonstrating palpable resistance to the emergence of decentralized technologies, whether in finance, data privacy, or censorship-resistance. Big tech firms will not relinquish control over their vast user data moats easily. However, the technology of the DWeb has the potential to supplant them. The foundation is there and it has a strong grassroots movement behind it, now it’s just about building out the tech’s infrastructure, providing more educational material, and appealing to the mainstream web user.
  6. Monetization and funding are critical problems for DWeb technologies right now. Access to capital will surely be thrown into flux following the COVID-19 fallout, and DWeb projects need to explore new ways to extend their financial runways besides VC/Angel funding options. Their centralized competition, in the form of Google, Facebook, etc., hold troves of cash and have shown a penchant for suppressing competition. Without adequate monetization, DWeb projects will struggle immensely to remain relevant and appeal to mainstream users.

What’s evident is that the technology underscoring the DWeb is both fascinating and just blossoming. Not only does it induce ideologically austerity on the part of its supporters, but many of the ongoing projects are tinkering with compelling breakthroughs in decentralized protocols, communication layers, and storage models.

At a high level, the broader vision of the DWeb is to upend many of the centralized models (e.g., the client-server data model and advertising paradigm) from the ground-up, which is nothing short of ambitious.

Prominent projects like Ethereum and IPFS have swaths of ardent supporters, but the user numbers and recognition of smaller projects wanes after the consolidated few at the head of the market. For these projects to gain further traction, better infrastructure, such as developer tools and documentation, are a must — along with levers to attract the mainstream web user to DWeb applications.

User numbers across crypto, blockchain, and DWeb are largely irrelevant when compared to mainstream applications, but sundry developments over the next few years may serve the rise of DWeb well. Some of them include:

  • A surging global sentiment towards better privacy following the revealing of government surveillance, big tech privacy abuses, and massive consumer data leaks. Users want control over their data and digital privacy is now at a premium. DWeb can show them the way.
  • Uncertain economic and monetary policy during the fallout of COVID-19 may push many users towards crypto-specific technologies, introducing them to the DWeb.
  • The global surge in open-source development, projects, tools, and licenses is accumulating influence and applying pressure to major industries to ease barriers to access and unlock the Internet’s decentralized potential.
  • Major web browsers integrating DWeb protocols (Opera) and new emerging browsers (Brave) can make the switch to decentralized technologies seamless and almost invisible for end-users.

Tim Wu’s venerated book “The Master Switch: The Rise & Fall of Information Empires,” discusses what he terms “The Cycle” of transcendent technologies radio, TV, and the Internet. Initially gaining traction among tinkerers and hobbyists, these technologies grow to bedrocks of cultures and economies. However, they slowly digress from clusters of competitive projects to a consolidated few industry monopolies. The Internet, despite its humble, decentralized origins, has been transgressing towards centralization for decades.

A revival of decentralized technologies, and the fervent grassroots movements underscoring them, has shed a glimpse of hope in stifling the further centralization of the Internet. A return to form would mean a decentralized, open, and accessible Internet free from the caprices of both government and major tech firms.

That’s a vision worth building towards, and why so many developers are working towards that goal today. The responses in our survey reveal several significant hurdles facing the realization of a thriving DWeb, but the potential is real.

We conclude that, while clearly in its very early stages, the DWeb and its accompanying technologies are progressing at an opportune moment that will collide with evolving preferences by the modern web user. A decentralized Internet landscape should follow suit.

Acknowledgments

We had the opportunity to learn about lots of amazing projects and teams. Every DWeb project faces obstacles, which are expected in the early stages of any new technology. We sincerely hope that these obstacles can be seen as opportunities and that the decentralized ecosystem will continue to grow. Huge thanks to everyone who participated in the research and helped to spread the word!

Special thanks everyone who helped build this report and provided valuable feedback: Brian Curran, Addison Huegel, Anna Lekanova, Tom Trowbridge

The list of projects attended: 2Gather, Aardwolf, Abundance, ai network, Bt, Cartographer, CCXT, cobox.cloud, COMIT, Consento, CounterParty, dat-editor, DCRM-sdk, DeLance, Disintermedia, DnCov, dShare, Duniter, MESG, DWXR, ElectraSeed Fund, Energy Web, Etovoteto, Federated Git Platform, fediverse.party, Filecoin, Friendowment, Full Stack Rust, G1 Monnaie Libre, Gavln, GUN, Holochain, Hyper Hyper Space, Hyperpost, Hyperspace, Infuse, Internet Archive, IPFS Cloud, IPFS, ki, Kresus, left gallery, Liberate Science, libfabric, LibreMesh, libtorrent, litentry, Lokinet, magnetico, Matrix, Melon-Tropics, MindGraph, Misskey, NEDAO, Newton, Now search [xyz], occamsfuncer, olki, onionr, Open Index Protocol, Open Network Development, paxos-raft, Peertube, Pinfactory, Pleroma,py-IPFS, Radicle, SAFE Network, Sea of Stuff, SemApps, Siderus Orion, Sprawl, TallyLab, Textile, TrailHub, TrailMarks, Tribler, ValueFlows, Veriblock, VGraph, Vortexledger, Web Cookies Scanner, Whirlwind, Wolf Pack, Wwff, Yjs.

Fluence Labs

Open internet protocols

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store