Unchained By The Blockchain

Why The World Is Busy Reinventing The Internet

Historically, July 4th has been celebrated as the US independence day since 1776. This year, though, Malta became the first country to metaphorically signal the importance of a new revolution i.e. a Blockchain revolution. Proponents of Blockchain around the world are busy envisioning a new version of the web called “Web 3.0" that will be based on Decentralization and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). A version of the web, they think, will liberate us from Internet monopolies. Liberating the internet from itself so to speak. This article provides a ringside view of the new architects busy shaping the new web and their vision of the future.

Why Do We Need A New Version Of The Web?

Source: safaribooksonline

The short answer: there are no free lunches. All the services we use (including Facebook and Google) basically monetize our personal data. They also happen to be monopolies in whatever they do barring in a few countries like China.

Tim Berners Lee and Vint Cerf, the original architects of the internet, are busy advocating a move to a decentralized version of the internet. What does that mean? Today, if the Google server goes down, our files stored on the Google cloud drive wont be accessible by us. Now, imagine if the files were stored on multiple servers on the internet. Even if one server goes down, we can still recover our files and call it a day. That’s what decentralization does. It allows us to create a new filing system that is not based on centralized servers i.e. it eliminates the middleman. Your work data can directly talk to your social media data directly without going through a central server (i.e. Facebook).

As per Blockstack:

“A decentralized internet is one where users don’t need to trust any intermediaries or remote services. We envision a world where users control their own data, and power flows back to the users”.

However, is this enough of an incentive to move people away from their stickiness to Facebook and Google? After all, even the Cambridge Analytica case did not make a big dent in Facebook’s user base. Even though people know that they are a data point for an elaborate algorithm to distribute advertisements to a massive user base, they are still kosher.

How Can You Build A New Web?

One of the easiest ways to explain is to use today’s interface as a starting point. Let’s say you want to login to your Gmail account. You enter the URL on your browser, enter your username and password and get access to your data (email in this case)through a centralized Google server.

Now, instead of the data residing on the Google server, what if the data resides on a cloud (a peer to peer network ) .

That local application can be a simple browser like Chrome. The difference is that the new local application stores your ID and uses it to access your data stored on a cloud based on your permission.

A developer writes an application that does not reside on a single server but rather the application is a ‘Decentralized App (Dapp for short) and resides on a cloud (made up of a peer to peer network of computers). All the data is recorded on a Blockchain and is immutable.

A user uses his local application(browser) to access a Decentralized App which interacts with data stored on a cloud storage option of the users choice (such as Dropbox, IPFS etc. ) and which can be read or written to depending on access provided by a user. In other words, it is a dumb storage with the intelligence residing in the browser.

In other words, the app talks to the browser directly for verifying the users identity. The browser talks to the storage system of users choice (Dropbox, IPFS etc.) directly instead of going through a single server such as the Gmail server in our example.

Source: Blockgeeks

There are two competing visions of the new Web i.e. Ethereum and Blockstack. As per Blockstack:

You can think of Ethereum as a “heavy” blockchain that does everything for you. All the complexity is handled on-chain, computations are run there, and all scalability and security concerns need to be handled at the blockchain level. It amounts to a “mainframe” that runs all the applications in the ecosystem. Blockstack puts minimal logic into a blockchain and handles scalability outside of the blockchain by re-using existing internet infrastructure.

In short, the new web consists of a Blockchain for recording data, a peer to peer network (cloud) to store data on the Blockchain, a browser to access Decentralized Applications in a user friendly manner, a plethora of Decentralized Apps and a new web architecture.

Of course, it is way more complex than a simple example explained above. However, it will give you a glimpse of what’s being built (resources: the Internet of Blockchain foundation (iobf.co))

Who Are The Builders Of The New Internet?

There has been a confluence of seemingly different developments ranging from cloud storage, Blockchain, big data and a software movement stoked by the creators of Bitcoin that has coalesced in redefining what the new internet will look like. The new internet is far from complete and has its own plethora of issues. However, these issues haven’t deterred the builders of the new web.

Just like the new internet, the architects of the new web are also decentralized across the globe. The Ethereum project is at the vanguard of building the new web. Other players include Blockstack, Essentia etc. which are busy building browsers and operating systems (OS’s) that can interact with Distributed Applications (Dapps).

Then, there are the creators of Dapps. Bitcoin is an example of a currency-like DApp. There are a plethora of other applications such as Gnosis and Augur which are prediction markets. Read Matteo Zago’s blog post to realize the vastness of the DApp lanscape.

Startups such as Consensys are building a variety of software for the Ethereum Blockchain. Cryptocurrency exchanges such as Coinbase, RobinHood are allowing convertibility of crypto coins to fiat currency.

Industry alliances such as the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance are fostering collaboration amongst old and new players in the Blockchain space. Finally, Malta has become the first country to roll out regulations governing the Blockchain. The bills include the Malta Digital Innovation Authority Act, the Innovative Technological Arrangement and Services Act, and the Virtual Financial Asset Act.

The Beginning of The End? Or Not?

The idea of a decentralized internet or Web 3.0 has moved beyond a blueprint to actual building mode. Unlike most projects, there isn’t a fixed timeline because the project managers are spread across the globe and are trying to form their own decentralized communication networks. We are very far away from a user friendly version of the new internet. The central promise of the new web remains the return of control to the user. Only time will tell whether we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the Web 2.0. One thing is for certain: the future will be anything but business as usual.

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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