The decentralized web is coming yet no one knows what it is. A quick exploration of what the future of the internet looks like.
In the beginning, the Internet was open. Founded on open protocols still used to this day, the Internet was an early communication tool owned by no one. Over time, as the Internet advanced and billions around the world plugged in, it changed. To this day, no one person or corporation owns the Internet, however the emergence of players from the private sector has changed how we interact and use it. As a result, the web has become increasingly centralized. For some early users, the original utopian vision of the web has been lost. But it’s not doom and gloom for those wanting a return to the past; with the advent of blockchain technology, we’re slowly entering a new era. Welcome to the era of the decentralized Internet, or DWeb for short.
But First, How Does The Internet Work
The Internet allows two computers on the network to connect and communicate with each other. However, computers are not directly connected to each other or to the Internet itself; they are connected to servers. Servers are connected to the Internet. Your computer, which acts as a client, is connected to the Internet via your ISP. Any website you want to visit is stored on a server. The Internet uses a number of communication protocols to relay traffic across the network — many of these, like HTTP and TCP/IP, are still used today with little major changes. The Internet continues to operate this way. But like many things, as the Internet and its usage has grown, a few websites have risen and now dominate the majority of the traffic. This has resulted in a centralized cluster of power with a number of these large enterprises running data centers further establishing their power over the web.
What Is The Decentralized Internet
It might help to think of the original Internet as Web 1.0, the Internet we know today as Web 2.0, and the decentralized Internet we’re heading towards as Web 3.0. But what does it actually look like? The DWeb eliminates the dedicated servers that currently power the Internet. Instead, a peer-to-peer like structure will emerge where Internet-connected devices host the Internet. Each website and all content on the web would be hosted on potentially hundreds or thousands of devices. The phone in your pocket would power part of the Internet as would your laptop and other devices. The DWeb would include decentralized platforms and applications that offer decentralized versions of what is currently available — think a social media platform where you own your data or a storage service free from centralization. Furthermore, the DWeb would come with a host of new protocols that would replace existing protocols like HTTP among others. By decentralizing the web, we can also avoid the problems inherent with the current centralized Internet.
What Are The Criticisms of the Centralized Internet
For advocates of an open decentralized Internet, the current web has a number of problems which have not been adequately addressed:
- Regulation and Net Neutrality: While no one person or group own the Internet, Internet services providers wield a disproportionate amount of power over Internet users. Not only can they regulate speeds but they can regulate data and the speed of accessing this data. The ongoing net neutrality debate centers around this topic where those that pay more can enjoy a better connection and fewer restrictions than those that don’t pay as much.
- Vulnerability of Single Point Servers: If you want to attack something, a single target can work best and a centralized server is a perfect target for DDOS attacks. Once again, if the server goes down, no one will be able to access web pages hosted on that server. In the situation of a hack like the one in 2017 of Equifax, hackers accessed the personal information of 147 million consumers, including their birth dates, addresses, and social security numbers.
- Data Privacy and Ownership: Do you own your data? Can anyone else access your data? Companies like Facebook and Amazon know more about you, your buying habits, and your interests than you realize. What you share in order to access their platforms is then sold to advertisers to target you. Your data is no longer owned solely by you and your privacy no longer exists.
- Limits on Scalability: The applications that power the Internet — from data delivery networks, databases, computing resources, and cloud storage — face limits on growth on a centralized Internet. This is because these applications are stored on single server machines. While the benefits of a single server means that it doesn’t need to sync states between severs, performance improvements means more bandwidth, processing power, and price (passed onto the consumer) are required. A decentralized Internet is easily scaled — just add more nodes to improve performance. Where do these nodes come from? Just connect your device to the network.
The Origins of the DWeb
As the Internet became more and more centralized, many tech visionaries began to feel unsatisfied with the direction it was taking. It was partly the advert of blockchain technology that finally allowed for the DWeb to emerge. Blockchains are a type of a distributed ledger that can be used to coordinate a lot of information while keeping everything on the network accountable and trustworthy. In a future Internet without a centralized authority, the role of blockchain technology for some projects is integral.
Calls for a decentralized web starting increasing in the last few year. Back in 2014, Gavin Wood published a paper on what the third iteration of the web would look like. The following year Brewster Kahle of Internet Archive fame shared his vision a DWeb that protects users privacy and offers security.
WIth rising interest, a desire to communicate that a decentralized future is possible, and a need to create some common coding standards, the first DWeb Summit took place in 2016, with following summits and camps in the following years.
As of today, interest in the DWeb continues to rise with meetups, conferences, and exhibitions across continental US, Europe, and Asia. New developers and visionaries from the past like Tim Berners-Lee are committed to creating the applications and protocols needed.
Projects To Look Out For
There are a number of websites and projects in development that are currently available and offer a glimpse of what the DWeb can offer. These include Mastodon, a Twitter-like microblogging service; Dat, a peer-to-peer browser; a blockchain-based online word processor called Graphite Docs; IPFS, a hypermedia distribution protocol which stores and tracks files over time; and PPIO which offers storage and delivery for developers, commercial companies, and future decentralized projects and applications.
PPIO and the DWeb
The decentralized internet is based on the fundamental belief that the internet is for the people, not the corporations. The belief that privacy should be upheld, external control should be eliminated, and that your data belongs to you. As a decentralized storage and delivery network, we at PPIO believe in privacy and data protection and have structured our technology to reflect this. Like other DWeb platforms and apps that are removing all centralization, at PPIO we’re doing the same as our data distribution and retrieval is handled by nearby peers regardless of physical location, instead of keeping it all stored in a central point.
The road to decentralizing the web is long with no definitive timeline. Furthermore, the decentralized nature raises questions about how to implement a unified system when everything isn’t in one place. Other considerations include how to convince people to switch from apps that appear to work fine to DApps; how governance is established in a leadership-free ecosystem; how to maintain decentralization and prevent centralization; how to ensure privacy and security related to data and identity; and other legal issues related to censorship, among other challenges.
Where To From Here?
Despite the potential benefits that a decentralized Internet can bring, development is long and challenges lie ahead. For now, a decentralized Internet will not completely replace the current centralized Internet. It is far more like that the two systems will operate concurrently with each other until the decentralized Internet exceeds the centralized Internet in popularity and usability. Until that day, we’ll still be plugged into Web 2.0.