Zoë Corbyn at The Observer: “The decentralised web, or DWeb, could be a chance to take control of our data back from the big tech firms. So how does it work and when will it be here?...What is the decentralised web?
It is supposed to be like the web you know but without relying on centralised operators. In the early days of the world wide web, which came into existence in 1989, you connected directly with your friends through desktop computers that talked to each other. But from the early 2000s, with the advent of Web 2.0, we began to communicate with each other and share information through centralised services provided by big companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon. It is now on Facebook’s platform, in its so called “walled garden”, that you talk to your friends. “Our laptops have become just screens. They cannot do anything useful without the cloud,” says Muneeb Ali, co-founder of Blockstack, a platform for building decentralised apps. The DWeb is about re-decentralising things – so we aren’t reliant on these intermediaries to connect us. Instead users keep control of their data and connect and interact and exchange messages directly with others in their network.
Why do we need an alternative?
With the current web, all that user data concentrated in the hands of a few creates risk that our data will be hacked. It also makes it easier for governments to conduct surveillance and impose censorship. And if any of these centralised entities shuts down, your data and connections are lost. Then there are privacy concerns stemming from the business models of many of the companies, which use the private information we provide freely to target us with ads. “The services are kind of creepy in how much they know about you,” says Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive. The DWeb, say proponents, is about giving people a choice: the same services, but decentralised and not creepy. It promises control and privacy, and things can’t all of a sudden disappear because someone decides they should. On the DWeb, it would be harder for the Chinese government to block a site it didn’t like, because the information can come from other places.
How does the DWeb work that is different?
There are two big differences in how the DWeb works compared to the world wide web, explains Matt Zumwalt, the programme manager at Protocol Labs, which builds systems and tools for the DWeb. First, there is this peer-to-peer connectivity, where your computer not only requests services but provides them. Second, how information is stored and retrieved is different. Currently we use http and https links to identify information on the web. Those links point to content by its location, telling our computers to find and retrieve things from those locations using the http protocol. By contrast, DWeb protocols use links that identify information based on its content – what it is rather than where it is. This content-addressed approach makes it possible for websites and files to be stored and passed around in many ways from computer to computer rather than always relying on a single server as the one conduit for exchanging information. “[In the traditional web] we are pointing to this location and pretending [the information] exists in only one place,” says Zumwalt. “And from this comes this whole monopolisation that has followed… because whoever controls the location controls access to the information.”…(More)”.