Designing the New Internet: SAFE Network UX Roadmap
We’re at that magical phase in the project where the graft of computer science, research, and engineering, begins to turn its face toward the end user. We have the joy of putting these tools into the hands of people.
As you may have seen from the latest updates, the development team are making blistering progress towards not just a Beta Network, but bouncing on to the launch of the SAFE Network proper.
This is a mega-project. There are so many facets to it, from the technical intricacies, to the philosophical, and to sociological impacts. It can be hard sometimes to grasp the ramifications of SAFE, and the ways in which it has the potential to change the face of the Internet as we know it. So when we’re considering how to design and build-out the core user interfaces to the platform — we’ve kept this in mind.
If you’ve dug into the detail of the the Roadmap you’ll notice some User Experience milestones. We’re breaking down this frontend work into discrete understandable chunks, each of which will showcase a different feature-set of the Network as a whole.
I’m going to unpack what each of these milestones will mean, how they’ll combine together to complete the core UX for launch, and then how we are going to get there.
The Perpetual Web
This is our first feature set, and one that as been referred to as “the Internet Archive on Steroids, baked into the web by default”. It’s a reasonable summary pitch if you bumped in to Brewster Kahle between floors, but it’s actually way more than that.
Not only does the Perpetual Web grant the data you choose to make public an immutable, uncensorable, permanent home in the worlds digital history — giving each published site its own version history to be explored — it also brings with it the beauty of the serverless Internet. Just how easy can we make web publishing? Well, just you wait and see. But put it this way, if you can open a web browser and choose an address, you’ll be fine.
Not only that, but the Perpetual Web will start to reveal what the future of the web will look like with Linked Data. What does it mean when information is no longer siloed to apps or services or domains, but when it’s free to span the entire network? When I can have a single identity and reuse that everywhere; or as many as I want; or when I can verify sources across multiple news outlets and have them all referenced in a single timeline?
This will be a network of honesty, and a network of truth. And, lordy, it will be unstoppable.
Much of the work we’ll be doing here will be centred on the Browser, as you might expect — especially then we’re focused in on the read-only view of things, no account necessary.
But naturally this will also touch on Safecoin wallets, and as we’re enabling web authoring, a data management tool. These will be built on top of the SAFE CLI (a powerful software tool that will interface with the network) and will enable the creation, uploading and management of web data in the context most useful to the user depending on their goals. So don’t simply think of these as single standalone applications, but portable elements of the UX with in reach of the user when they need them.
This feature set is one of the most hotly requested, and readily apparent use-cases for the SAFE Network. Secure, private, unsnoopable messaging, with no reliance on centralised service providers. In itself this will be a game changer for people seeking truly private space to communicate, collaborate and create.
Even just a straight alternative to Signal, WhatsApp, or humble email would be killer. But let’s stretch our expectation just a little shall we? Here’s where designing a network, rather than just an app, comes to the fore; yet again thanks to the secret sauce that is Linked Data.
So, not only will users be provided with the tools to create and communicate with multiple identities (be they real, pseudonymous or anonymous), but we will be able to create global contacts management tools on the other end which will always be up-to-date.
And again, joy-upon-joy, we get this whole thing network-wide, with conversations started in a channel desired by the sender, and with a context appropriate for the recipient.
Oh how people will cherish portable data when they can use it, even more so when the penny drops that they don’t have to move the data, the data moves around them to fit their needs.
And for some Extra Bonus Points: These comms tools will be readily pluggable in to any app, so I think you devs are gonna have a good time. Users can choose an interface that suits them, and developers can get creative and live their best lives: inventing new wheels, not repackaging the same old ones.
So, again, as you might expect, we’ll be creating tools for messaging that should be readily familiar (send button, speech bubbles and address books you say?), but how and where these elements fit together within the wider context of the network is the really exciting part.
Take Control of Your Data
When it comes to private data, the SAFE Network promises big. So big in fact, that it’s hard to visualise what it might be like to be put back in control of your personal data. It starts to break down the mental models that have become so ingrained for users over the past decade or two.
It means that we are fundamentally re-inventing how web-apps interact with our data and our relationship with them. It’s a bit like going back to the pre-internet days, where all of your data would reside on your home computer hard disc. In those days, you simply installed software on that PC that enabled you to create, edit and and manipulate your own data, in any way you chose. The air-gapped machine sat happily on your desk, safely containing your ‘personal data’, before that phrase even needed to be coined.
What SAFE enables is very similar, but instead of a PC hard drive, I have my own little slice of a network, accessible from anywhere in the world, to me alone. ‘Apps’ are no longer 3rd parties to which you ‘sign-up’ and hand all your data to, with a pinky promise that they’ll not leak, sell, lose, or deny you access in the future.
No. ‘Apps’ are now software that you use to manipulate your own data, for your eyes alone. Should you want to send that data elsewhere, or share it with a friend? Well, that’s up to you, and you should have the same confidence in that 2-party operation as you did in sending an email, or posting a letter back in the day.
This changes the fundamental business model of the web.
On SAFE, surveillance capitalism is no longer viable. A software developer is building software that can help the user manipulate his or her own data. The more useful software is to the individual, the more successful it will be. The value of an application will be on its utility to humans, not on its ability to harvest private and personal data. We’re turning that tap off.
From a UX point to view, this will take a bit of work. Going back-to-the-future in mental models will no-doubt be a challenge. It’s a combination of the underlying architecture of the network, the language, and UI layers that sit atop of it that will provide the solution.
Yes, users will have the ability to have fine-grained control over access to their data, but security itself is not the entire objective of SAFE. Feeling secure, and knowing freedom, are the aims here, and allowing users to realise their full potential when they are granted their sacred freedom of inner thought and private space, is the prize.
You don’t get that from a series of checkboxes.
So, we’ll be starting simple, testing, and progressively building on the design of the tools of data management and sharing controls, with these goals front and centre.
The New Digital Economy
No prizes for guessing that the mainstay of this milestone will be enabling the use of both Safecoin and Vaults.
It means financial inclusiveness, and participation in the circular economy of the SAFE Network. With the underpinnings of a currency that will have near instant, private, and free transactions, and the power of Linked Data and SafeIDs, we’ll have the makings of truly human centred global cryptocurrency.
It can, and will, be easy and elegant to use. No more grappling with complex addresses, or panicking about who-does-what-with-which-part-of-what-key(!?). If you are comfortable sending someone a payment via PayPal, or even just a WhatsApp message, then you should be more than able to manage and make use of Safecoin.
We’ll be working on wallet components here that allow straightforward management of spending and transfers in the context of multiple identities and contexts.
Likewise with Vaults. Not just the preserve of a data centre owner, or command-line wizard: offering up resources to the network should be with in easy reach of all client users.
And on top of that, while we’ll be starting this thread of work in earlier iterations, we’ll be in a position to refine elements like the account creation process, ‘seeding’ and account from scratch via farming, or even gifting a new account to a friend from your own Safecoin balance.
So that’s a brief overview of how we are breaking down, and layering up, the User Experience of the SAFE Network at launch.
Stay tuned though, tomorrow I’ll be explaining how we’re going to to get there, the design approach, and what exactly you can expect over the next few weeks.