There’s been a lot of talk recently about making a decentralized web that is more secure and resistant to government control. Here’s why I think this is the perfect timing for this shift in thinking.
Everybody is much more aware of privacy and data control issues these days. We’ve witnessed what governments, even in “free” countries like the US, are capable of. We are generating more data than ever and are at the precipice of creating an avalanche of private data: biometrics, health sensors, location, habits, smart home control, etc. Apple has repeatedly been differentiating themselves from the competition with a focus on privacy that continues to highlight this problem in the public eye.
This means, socially, we are ready for this change and will be more welcoming of it than before.
Obviously you’d expect a tectonic shift like this would require significant technological breakthroughs. Three really important ones have already happened.
While bitcoin as a currency may be a failed experiment (though I won’t count it out yet), the blockchain is going to be crucial moving forward by allowing us to keep a validated ledger of anything on the network. Docker is also going to be central to making apps easy to install on any hardware across the network. Finally, the proliferation of wired gigabit speeds and mobile LTE networks means we can support increased bi-directional network traffic from personal devices, rather than just centralized hosts pushing data down to the client.
One thing we still need is a protocol for allowing any host to install any containerized application. I imagine this would be similar to the “Deploy to Heroku” button but standardized so it could work with any service provider or OS that supports it.
We used to train kids how to install and run apps like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop in school.
But technology is eating the world. Programming knowledge is being baked into core curriculums just like biology or even computer usage was before. Combined with easier deploy mechanisms, this means more and more people will be comfortable installing decentralized apps on their own systems or host of choice.
It also means we could treat and monetize web apps like traditional desktop software again if we want. However, I expect we will see entirely new monetization mechanisms that I can’t even imagine now.
Some people have raised questions about the viability of a decentralized web because nobody is really talking about the economics. I think that is by design. While it’s a perfectly valid question to raise, it’s counterproductive right now.
Much like the internet itself, this new architecture will be ushered in by hackers looking to disrupt the status quo of walled gardens and data warehouses, not corporations. So immediate monetization is not a top concern. Like I said above, we can’t even imagine what the economics will look like, just like Tim Berners-Lee couldn’t have imagined the current web 30 years ago. If we stop to worry about fitting the decentralized web into our current economic models, we will trap ourselves in a box.