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Justin Dorfman
Justin Dorfman

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Building a decentralized web is hard. Who's in?

The first web page went live on August 6, 1991. It was dedicated to information on the World Wide Web project. The engineer behind the project was Tim Berners-Lee (who I blew off once) and his vision for the web was for it to be decentralized. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way, so today there is a growing community of people who want to see the next version of the web move in that direction. Many of these folks have created projects around the idea of a decentralized web. Heck, Tim has his own called SOLID, though they haven't tweeted anything since 2017, and their last commit was nine-months ago which does give me some concerns. 😬

I think that's okay though, building a decentralized web is hard. And as someone once said, we should do things "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Come to think of it, deploying a completely decentralized web might be harder than getting a man to the moon. πŸ€” Only the crazy ones are attempting to.

Enter Web3

While the Web3 ecosystem as some call it isn't the first to revive the idea of a decentralized web (projects like dat://, Matrix, Secure Scuttlebutt, and others have been hard at work for a while), it's sparked a renaissance of sorts in the volume of interest in the subject. But what does Web3 mean?

As one source puts it,

"The decentralized web, also called [Web3] is a vision of the next generation internet as a peer to peer network built around blockchain technology, where users own their own data, data is portable, computing and storage resources are provided by end-users within distributed networks, apps run locally on end-user devices and platforms are decentralized and autonomous."

I remember reading about blockchain a while back, and I just rolled my eyes. My understanding of the Web3 movement at the time was:

"it's just magic internet money, and besides my coins were easily stolen from MTGox, how could this ever get anywhere."

But in the last few years, it's become clear that there's much more to Web3 than just tokens. Some cool Dapps (decentralized apps) are launching like Status (messaging), and Our Zora, are starting to grow, and tools like IPFS and Arweave (check out this neat permanent chess app) are starting to power more of these types of applications.

Tell me more

There are many ways to get started with Web3 development. But what if I told you that you could get learn from Web3 experts for free? There is a six-week online hackathon/incubator program called the Open Web Incubator. There is an investment pool of $100,000 😱 for winning projects that will help build a decentralized web (the kind of web Tim Berners-Lee envisioned πŸ™Œ).

Not only that, but you could demo your Dapp (permaweb app in this case) in front of investment firms such as Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Union Square Ventures, and others. Learn more here. πŸ‘ˆ

πŸ’¬ Let's get this discussion going:

What are your thoughts on Web3 and/or blockchain?

Top comments (16)

louy2 profile image
Yufan Lou

Decentralization is not a virtue per se. The Web did not become ubiquitous and successful because it was decentralized. Another attempt at decentralization for decentralization's sake will not succeed.

In the context of early internet (ARPANet), decentralization meant eliminating single points of failure, in the face of a nuclear threat. In the context of bitcoin, decentralization means eliminating single points of responsibility, in the face of legal threats. In the context of smart contracts, decentralization means eliminating enforcement bottlenecks, in the face of shortage of court resources. In each case decentralization serves a use case other than for the sake of decentralization.

What has made the world wide web as we know it so successful? It was not the fact that it could still remain in operation after a nuclear strike. Ironically now we have built such a brittle network that a BGP configuration mistake can cripple half of it. No, it was Netscape and Internet Explorer, popularizing web browsing. It was AOL, Yahoo, Google, Wikipedia, helping laypeople reach into and make use of the information on the WWW. It was Adobe Flash, Chrome, iPhone, pushing the limit of what use cases the WWW can deliver.

IPv6 had all the resources in the world to replace IPv4. To this day IPv6 adoption has just climbed to around 40%, mostly in internal networks, and IPv4 has seen no decline, with prices for IPv4 addresses increasing. That was an official effort to replace the Internet. Nothing else has even come close to it. Ethereum is still an experiment after 4 years. IPFS is a glorified Is anyone still using Namecoin? How many know ZeroNet?

Research it, push the distributed system frontier forward, cool. Like ZeroTier, maybe you can make a better VPN. Just don't expect it to be "the next generation internet".

baso53 profile image
Sebastijan Grabar

I can't even comprehend how a peer-to-peer network would be implemented, how we would make a transition from a current state and many other mind-melting things come to my mind.

It is, however, a very compelling idea. I imagine that the web would then behave kind of like the economy. Internet itself would be a real web, not just the world-wide-web. What that brings on the table, is the inherent instability when one or more nodes come into problems, which, if the circumstances are right, could potentially bring down a big part of the system.

What are your opinions about this?

notscottmoore profile image
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Fully agree, I think there are a lot of parts to get right before we can build a robust peer-to-peer web, but it's super cool to me that people are trying.

In terms of ensuring the stability of the network / ability to trust nodes, the BlockchainTM solution to this is to essentially incentivize people to run them / check that things are alright. In projects like Tor though, nodes are maintained by a stalwart group of volunteers who believe in the mission. I think the fact that Bitcoin / Ethereum and Tor have both persisted shows that at least in some scenarios both of these models can work, but there's definitely additional work to be done.

094459 profile image
Ricardo Sueiras

I always thought that Web3 was the semantic web - where did that go, did I miss something?

I think the decentralised web is interesting, but it will only happy in my view either with someone with extremely deep pockets, or someone aligns some commercial interests (lets face it, peer to peer and decentralised technologies today came out of wanting to create un-regulated, hidden market places or the sharing of assets without the need to prove you had the rights to share those assets (and correspondingly, folks wanting them!)

vs77bb profile image
Vivek Singh

Hey Ricardo -- I'd check out this talk from Juan Benet, specifically, the last 10 minutes where he discusses how the blockchain movement is built out of the Semantic Web movement:

Also, a brief of the talk if you are interested in written content:

094459 profile image
Ricardo Sueiras

Thanks. I watched this but not sure he truely represented what the semantic web as I understood it - I’m no expert but did get involved in projects in the late 2009. It’s also not dead at all and very much still going. It felt that this speaker was trying to shoe horn the distributed idea into this and I am not at all convinced by his arguments. Thanks for sharing though, interesting talk.

corentinbettiol profile image
Corentin Bettiol

I love personal websites, they're like meeting random people all around the world, and it's fascinating.

Some other projects like the gemini project are really interesting because they allow to focus on the content and not on tracking/advertising.

endymion1818 profile image
Ben Read

Oh that’s a real shame to hear that SOLID didn’t take off and looks like development work has stopped, I remember the fanfare around it when it came out originally and it looked really promising if too early to actually work with.

icesofty profile image

Here is my personal opinion.
It will become possible once it will be easy to create and deploy a decentralised network.
My 2cts ^^

vs77bb profile image
Vivek Singh

This, my friend, is very true :)

sakshatshinde profile image

This is a very interesting topic.

lehmannsystems profile image

I thought the team at Pied Piper pulled it off???

askender profile image

I'm in. I'm building a dweb search engine. People can search ipfs/ipns CC RSS blogs site-with-api ... all kinds of sites which are more open there. And there are many other features. All data of the search engine is open too...

manishfoodtechs profile image
manish srivastava

I think it's a great project. Look at this post :

Also, an addition of service worker may accomplish a stable system.

cgobbet profile image
Cassiano Gobbet

Great text, Justin. It aims right where it's needed.

Adding my two cents here: we will never create a fully decentralized Internet. I think the proposition, despite being theoretically ethical and purposeful, overlooks the costs (financial and not-financial) to do it beyond a tiny fraction of hyperconnected, tech-savvy companies and individuals. The offline world establishment is still too strong to allow a third Internet wave, where the current powers have little influence.

But there is another option I can envisage: a new layer that connects to the current model of Internet in many points and then becomes a sub-network which can manage to become a new, decentralized network in the future. This is perfectly possible, it may have feasible costs and makes the new 3.0 Internet become an everlasting process instead of a new thing. We can think about it as an alternative network that, at least for starters, retrieve data from the Web but, within its own domains, determine and enforce rules using tools like dat://, Matrix, Secure Scuttlebutt, etc, until it has traction to really become a new entity.

fultonbrowne profile image
Fulton Browne

Thanks for the article, I am glad to see more people writing on this topic :]