For such an important event, the Decentralized Web Summit 2018: Global Visions/Working Code, hosted by the Internet Archive and Aspiration in San Francisco from July 31 to August 2, hasn’t been widely covered by the press so far.
An exception is a roundup recently published in Computing, written by John Leonard and titled “Decentralizing the web: The key takeaways.” Some of the current developments cited by Leonard will be covered in forthcoming Crypto Insider stories.
“The original web was designed to be decentralized, but over the course of time it has been largely fenced off by a small number of quasi-monopolistic powers we know as ‘the tech giants,'” notes Leonard.
This is, I think, a very important and frequently overlooked point. The web IS decentralized in the sense that anyone can create a website on a private server and share it with the world. But there are almost two billion websites and almost 200 million active websites, so that finding the content one is looking for can be difficult.
Of course, there are search engines. But the problem is that, in practice, there is only one search engine, controlled by Google. How can we be sure that Google doesn’t filter our search results for ideological reasons or (more likely) to make more money? For example, the decentralized web movement is clearly a threat to Google and all other internet giants, because their business model is tailored to today’s web. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google were found out to tweak its ranking algorithms to penalize decentralized internet projects.
These days, we rely on the social web to find news and content. In practice, “the social web” means Facebook and Twitter. If Facebook and Twitter decide to filter out a website, writer, or topic, the censored content becomes invisible in practice.
The internet giants can’t be blamed. Google, Facebook and Twitter are private companies whose sole goal is making more money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is us, the users, who must take the blame for becoming addicted to the convenience of relying solely on the services provided by the internet giants. It is us, the users, who must make the effort to use alternative services, and the effort to fund, test, and most importantly USE new decentralized options.
“One of the key hurdles to decentralization is the lock-in effect and current excellent user experience provided by the large, centralized web services,” said Jamie Pitts, a member of the DevOps team with the Ethereum Foundation. “Decentralized web technology must enable developers to produce high-quality systems enabling users to search, to connect with each other, and to conduct all forms of business. Until that happens, users will continue to be satisfied with the current set of options.”
Leonard notes that decentralized web development “is still very ‘engineering-y’ with most of the effort going into the back-end rather than the user interface.”
“The networking may be futuristic but the front end is (with a few honourable exceptions) still Web 1.0. Which is fine at the development stage but projects will soon need to move on from demonstrating capabilities to making apps that people actually want to use.”
Of course, before wanting to use an app, users must know that the app exists and their contacts are already using it. This requires massive promotion.
Development and promotion need money. Who’s going to fund the decentralized web? Most certainly not today’s internet giants, the very few large corporations that have all the money but also the need to keep things exactly as they are.
The success of crypto token sales (ICOs) for decentralized web applications is an encouraging sign. Leonard cites Filecoin and Blockstack as success stories. Buying these utility crypto tokens, users buy future preferential access to decentralized apps, and at the same time fund the development and deployment of the decentralized web.
I think the important lesson from Bitcoin is that people participate in world-changing projects if (and only of) they see a possible financial return. Therefore, appreciation potential is an important feature of utility tokens for the decentralized web.
Picture from Pexels.