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Does The Future of the Web Lie in Decentralization?

Posted February 9, 2017

Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in 1989 to help scientists find information quickly and easily. In twenty-eight years, the web has grown to be the world’s most powerful medium for knowledge, communications and business. However, its original pioneers are not necessarily happy with all of the effects and changes it has had globally.

As the web and the Internet, in the broader sense, developed, the key potential was in their decentralization, offering a profound advance for liberty. However, it seems that governments and corporations are rapidly taking control, setting their own rules over freedom of expression and access. Countries like China block certain websites from their citizens, and Internet giants like Google and Facebook wield a lot of power. In many cases, users feel like they have no choice but to cooperate with these centralization efforts.

No wonder that Tim Berners-Lee and other people at the heart of the internet have started calling for a revolution in the way the web works. Last June, more than 300 web architects, activists, archivists and policy makers gathered for the first Decentralized Web Summit to talk over ways to “lock the web open” and recreate a web “that is more reliable, private, and fun.”

Some of the so-called Web 3.0 projects are already attracting investors with their promises of more privacy, security and data portability.

Bringing Back Control

Backed by Union Square Ventures and other investors, Blockstack is a startup aiming to contribute to a decentralized, more open and more secure web ecosystem. Blockstack’s team is working on open-source software to create a kind of parallel web – one powered by the bitcoin blockchain. It will give users more control of their data, providing services for naming, identity, authentication, and storage without any third-parties.

Muneeb Ali, one of the founders, spoke on the TEDxNewYork 2016 stage, describing the new Internet that shifts power from large corporations to the people.

Later this year, Blockstack is planning to release a software that will allow surfing this alternative Internet with a regular browser. Its users will generate data by using various services, but the data will not be held in the databases of these services. Instead, users will store all their posts, messages, photos and engagements on their own cloud sites. If a user wants to stop using a service, they will be able to revoke its access to their data.

Encrypting the Web

Let’s Encrypt is a free, automated and open web certificate authority, which allows any website to turn on encryption without a hassle. It’s run by the non-profit Internet Security Research Group and describes its mission as “to help create a 100 percent encrypted Web.” It’s also actively supported by some major online names, including Facebook, Chrome, Mozilla, Automattic, and Sucuri.

In addition to being free, Let’s Encrypt certificates are quick and easy to implement. Site owners can simply install a client on their server, which then enables the certification process to be easily automated.

All of this led to the fact that Let’s Encrypt can now be legitimately called the largest certificate authority on the web.

The Future of Digital Innovation

Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict where Web 3.0 will eventually take us. However, it’s clear that wrestling the web back from the hands of the few major players will enable innovation. Services that prioritise users’ interests will inevitably follow.

As the decentralised web wins over the mainstream developer community, it’s hard to tell what new markets, technologies and services will emerge. One thing we know that they will inherently provide for their communities and user bases just as much as their creators.


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