What Is the Decentralized Web? 25 Experts Break it Down
Tech leaders from around the world recently convened for the first Decentralized Web Summit. The group ranged from the Web's creator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, to today's leading innovators, and their mission was to discuss a reorganization of the Internet, an abstract concept they call the "Decentralized Web." But what exactly is the Decentralized Web? And how might it affect everyday Internet use? To better understand this abstract idea and its potential implications, we posed these fundamental questions to the following 25 Web experts. Here's what they had to say:
Defining the Decentralized Web
- Samer Hassan, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University
- Mark Watson, Computer Scientist, Cognition.tech
- Jason Griffey, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University
- Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian, Internet Archive
- Dr. Jeremy Gillula, Staff Technologist, Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Jehan Tremback, Founder, Althea
- Simon St. Laurent, Strategic Content Director, O'Reilly Media, Inc.
- Feross Aboukhadijeh, Founder, WebTorrent
- Eric Newton, Innovation Chief/Cronkite News, Arizona State University
- Cory Doctorow, Special Consultant, Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Maira Sutton, Campaign Organizer, Shareable
- Jae Kwon, Co-Founder, Tendermint
- David P. Reed, Ph.D., Reed.com
- Jake Orlowitz, Head of the Wikipedia Library, Wikimedia Foundation
- Jeffrey Ventrella, Founder, Wiggle Planet, LLC
- Ryan Barrett, Engineer, IndieWeb
- Arthur Baxter, Network Operations Analyst, ExpressVPN
Effects of the Decentralized Web
- Ben Trask, Developer, StrongLink
- Peter Van Garderen, Consultant, Vangarderen.net
- Shuli Hallak, VP, Internet Society - New York
- Primavera De Filippi, Researcher, National Center of Scientific Research & Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University
- Denis Nazarov, Co-Founder, Mediachain Labs
- Michael Folkson, Founder, RiskBazaar
- Dan Finlay, Software Developer, Consensys Systems
- Kyle Drake, Founder, Neocities
What is the Decentralized Web?
"Although originally decentralized, nowadays the Web is suffering the surveillance of U.S. centralized control monopolies. The Decentralized Web is the global effort to re-decentralize the infrastructure, protocols, applications and governance of the Web."
Computer Scientist, Cognition.tech
"The Decentralized Web is both about privacy issues and the avoidance of using large Internet 'gatekeepers' like Facebook and Google for those who prefer to control their own computing environment."
"The term 'Decentralized Web' is being used to refer to a series of technologies that replace or augment current communication protocols, networks, and services and distribute them in a way that is robust against single-actor control or censorship."
Digital Librarian, Internet Archive
"Websites served from many locations; locations that are not coordinated."
Dr. Jeremy Gillula
Staff Technologist, Electronic Frontier Foundation
"The Decentralized Web is like the World Wide Web we have today, filled with amazing, interactive content and information — the only difference is that the underlying architecture is decentralized, so that it becomes much harder for any one entity (whether through malicious censorship or accidental failure) to take down any single Web page, website, or service."
"A Web that does not depend upon powerful monopolies."
Simon St. Laurent
Strategic Content Director, O'Reilly Media, Inc.
"A Decentralized Web is a network of resources in which no one player can control the conversation or spin it to [his or her] exclusive advantage."
"The Decentralized Web is a system of interconnected, independent, privately owned computers that work together to provide private, secure, censorship-resistant access to information and services."
Innovation Chief/Cronkite News, Arizone State University
"A Decentralized Web is free of corporate or government overlords. It is to communication what local farming is to food. With it people can grow their own information."
Special Consultant, Electronic Frontier Foundation
"A Web designed to resist attempts to centralize its architecture, services, or protocols [so] that no individual, state, or corporation can substantially control its use. "
Campaign Organizer, Shareable
"An ecosystem of information that democratizes access to knowledge and culture on the Internet, built on distributed network infrastructure that is resilient against censorship, surveillance, and other forms of control sanctioned by concentrations of power."
"The Decentralized Web is a self-organizing federation of humans and machines that speak many evolving protocols and languages, ideally robust in availability, unencumbered by unwanted regulations, and with no central point of failure, benign or malicious, created and maintained for the benefit of everyone. The Decentralized Web is not a right, but a continuing achievement, by humans and machines."
David P. Reed, Ph.D.
"A Decentralized Web would be a universal and evolvable protocol, storage, and communications framework for publishing hypertext documents. . .without centralized control, third-party authorization, [or the need for] specific servers [and with] cooperative action among the users. . .to maintain documents. Useful attributes would be. . .various sorts of privacy - reader. . .writer. . .tracking, content-based search and discovery, [and] long-term stability of formats"
Head of the Wikipedia Library, Wikimedia Foundation
"A Decentralized Web belongs to all of us: Its power lies in our connections to each other. Its architecture encodes our values; its usage affirms our freedom to collaborate, share, and create."
Founder, Wiggle PLanet, LLC
"In the future, the Web will be like air and water. It will be a part of the Commons."
"Honestly, I don't think we have a crisp, clear definition that we all (or most [of us]) agree on yet. That's maybe our first task at hand!"
Network Operations Analyst, ExpressVPN
"In many respects, the Web behaves like a self-healing network which changes over time in response to failures and threats. Global concerns over net neutrality, and government surveillance are pushing the web towards evolving into a decentralized structure which is naturally resistant to these threats."
In what way(s), if any, would the Decentralized Web affect the experience of the average user?
"In my opinion, the user experience would mostly stay the same, but it would not be as tightly bound to big companies, and sites like social media would be more beholden to their users. Internet access requirements would go down, and you could do more browsing offline."
Peter Van Garderen
"I think the hope of most developers is that the experience of the average user. . .will remain, at least at first, fairly similar to what it is today. You would still be accessing similar services via a Web browser, it's just the systems that store and process the content would not be served up by a central host and provider. For the average user. . .this should be transparent back-end functionality that surfaces as new features such as 'retrieve version X of this webpage/file'. . .'view file x as format y?'"
"It would allow for greater privacy and security as well as provide opportunities for users to own their own data."
Primavera De Filippi
Researcher, National Center of Scientific Research
"What people currently see on the Web is what the main intermediaries of the Web (Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) decide to expose users [to]. Because those are the ones 'owning' the content, only they can choose what to display and to whom. A Decentralized Web would allow for a 'decentralized discovery' of content, enabling people to explore the World Wide Web according to their own system of values."
Co-Founder, Mediachain Labs
"The Decentralized Web will enable users and creators to interact and exchange value directly in a peer-to-peer fashion, removing the role of centralized platforms as middlemen that extract value from our interactions."
"The Decentralized Web is true to ownership of online identity and personal data rather than [storing it] on centralized servers owned by corporations. [Users have] a choice [of] viewing ads, paying subscriptions or one-off micropayments."
Software Developer, Consensys Sytems
"The Decentralized Web has massive implications for the whole Internet and can only be understood one example at a time. Monopolies will be replaced by peer-to-peer commerce, walled gardens will be replaced with self-sovereign data ownership, [and] brands that abuse trust will have to compete with open communication. "
"The changes will be almost completely transparent to the end user. This is not a bad thing - you don't want to make users re-learn how to use The Web. The main changes [users] will see is that content will load much, much faster, and access to it will be more reliable (both in terms of speed/latency and in terms of availability). For example, they may never see a 404 page ever again because as long as at least one computer in the world somewhere has the page, it will be possible to view it."