Redecentralize Digest — June 2020
Decentralization Off The Shelf
Decentralization Off The Shelf (DOTS) is a new initiative by Simply Secure and friends to help developers and (UX) designers of decentralised software make better user-facing applications:
Decentralization Off The Shelf is a collective initiative to identify needs, synthesize priorities, provide resources, and coordinate efforts to further the development and deployment of decentralized technologies. By addressing these issues, we aim to increase the overall quantity and quality of decentralized applications.
Through a series of interviews and focus groups with technology designers and builders, we have identified 7 areas where projects can improve their own practice; where targeted research is necessary; and where funders need to step in to enable collaborative innovations.
This research led to their 7 Maxims report, these maxims being:
- Collaboration. Projects need to collaborate on a stronger, galvanizing narrative by leveraging strategies from campaigning and movement building.
- Design. Designers need new patterns and approaches for driving the development of decentralized protocols and applications.
- Infrastructure. Funders need to prioritize the independent verifiability and resilience of shared digital infrastructure, such as app stores, browsers, hardware, and networking.
- Developer onboarding. Developers need more accessible education materials and training modules for decentralized architecture patterns.
- Trust models. Projects need to design with vulnerable populations in mind, and adopt privacy and safety frameworks specific to decentralization.
- Sustainability. Funders need to innovate on strategies for sustaining projects and attracting talent.
- Governance. Technologies need to define governance models to align value and build a sustainable culture for long-term project value and stability.
Decentralized Web Developer Report 2020
Where the DOTS report was based on primarily qualitative research, Fluence published their Decentralized Web Developer Report 2020 which follows a more quantitative approach, compiling responses from over 600 people about their views on and involvement in the field.
The survey covers a broad variety of questions, such as what are the biggest obstacles to adoption (number 1: users don’t understand it), developers’ own frustrations (number 1: lack of documentation), and more fundamental questions about what decentralisation means to them.
The authors’ takeaways:
- Most of the projects surveyed were created less than 2 years ago, confirming that the DWeb space is still immature and emerging
- DWeb is mostly ideologically driven, but not yet understood by a general user, said three-quarters of the respondents
- Data privacy, data sovereignty, and tech resilience are the most expected features from the DWeb
- Biggest technical challenges preventing from developing for DWeb are peer-to-peer connectivity and tech immaturity
- Among the existing internet protocols, DNS worries people the most, followed by communication layer and HTTP
- Business models in the DWeb ecosystem are lacking, with more than half of projects having no monetization method
- IPFS and Ethereum are by far leaders among underlying technologies respondents use to create DWeb applications
- DWeb interest among developers is high, but the road to adoption is an uphill struggle as the infrastructure needs to improve and users need to be educated on the advantages of using the DWeb over centralized counterparts.
Content moderation in social networks is a tricky subject, and it gets even trickier when it comes to decentralised networks. Alexander “cblgh” Cobleigh has been researching computational trust in the context of moderation for his Master thesis and has proposed a new system, called TrustNet, which has been experimented with in the cabal peer-to-peer chat platform.
The system works by looking at levels of trust that individuals place in others, and helps propogate moderation decisions, such as blocking misbehaving participants, among people that (transitively) trust each other. So instead of participants being either blocked or not blocked from everybody’s view, based on decisions of a designated moderator, such moderation decisions now become subjective, local-first and based on the opinions of a person’s immediate circle of trust.
TrustNet’s code is designed to be “a complete trust system that can be incorporated as a ready-made software component for e.g. distributed ledger technologies”, so it may find its way into other distributed social networks.
Information design case study
This case study on I2P by Simply Secure & Ura Design contains some lessons that could just as well apply to other projects. In particular this list looks helpful when making a project website:
When users encounter new technology, they are asking four kinds of questions:
- What is it? - Is it a community, an application, a database, a protocol, a platform, a service? Who’s behind it? Do I pay for it?
- How does it work? - What kind of technology is at work here? Does it use machine learning? Does it work offline? Does it collect data from me?
- How do I use it? - How do I connect? Do I need a smart phone? Do I need an account?
- Why should I use it? - What features does it provide? Does it meet my needs? Does it align with my values?
I am probably not the only one often spending an hour to find answers to basic questions (yet failing to answer them when documenting my own projects). One more item I would add to the list: 5. What is the status? - Is it ready for use yet? Is it developed still? How long has this been around? Do others use it?
Linking to a text fragment
The Google Chrome team recently added a feature to their browser (and hence also to Edge, Opera and other Chromium-based browsers) called Text Fragments, which if it sticks can be considered a feature of the web at large: It allows for a URL to point at arbitrary quotes within a page. Adding
#:~:text=bla to the end of the URL would instruct the browser scroll to and highlight the first occurrence of the text “bla” inside the addressed page.
On the one hand, it is worrysome that Google’s dominance in the browser market enables it to push through changes affecting the whole web, while being incentivised to benefit a specific service provider. On the other hand, I am glad to see such features being added to browsers and by defining vendor-neutral standards, rather than leaving functionality to be built as part of web-apps — the latter tends to make features work only among content served by that app itself and thereby leads to centralised silos.
Moreover, the “fragment directive” concept that was invented for this purpose (with its contrived
:~: separator to avoid problems with existing URLs) is designed to be reusable for many other uses than pointing at text quotes. It provides an extension mechanism for URLs that could be valuable for many other projects that add functionality to the web.
By the way, Kevin Marks, who proposed nearly the same idea years ago (calling it fragmentions), found a creative use of the fact that you can point at multiple strings of text at once: highlight poetry is the uncovering of messages ‘hidden’ in the text of a web page. An example of his:
- The Matrix team explains the why and how of moving from their federated network design to a peer-to-peer one.
- As the EU’s telecom regulator BEREC’s new guidelines went into effect, the FSFE explains the EU’s and national regulations that should give you Router Freedom — the right to choose your internet router, instead of one provided by your ISP — and highlights how few countries effectively protect this right.
- Microsoft is moving into the decentralised identitity space, as it launches ION (Identity Overlay Network), a system that runs on top of the Bitcoin blockchain. Their previous posts and this IPFS post give further details and context.
- The future of the Open Technology Fund (OTF), which has been funding many privacy and freedom of speech-related projects with money from the US government, has become uncertain after forced changes in leadership from higher up. Various organisations have started a campaign for its unimpeded continuation, or (across the pond) proposed that the EU starts taking funding such important free software seriously.
All are online unless otherwise noted.
- July 6: Solid World; monthly presentations related to the Solid project.
- July 8: Open Tech Will Save Us; monthly presentations hosted by the Matrix project
- July 30-31: Dat Conference; “Virtual peer to peer event about local-first tech”
Aug 7–9(postponed to Sep 8–13): Our Networks; “a conference about the past, present, and future of building our own network infrastructures”
- Sep 18–20: ReclaimFutures; “a technology and culture conference around the broad subjects of post-capitalist desire, utopian exploration, ecology and alternative computing.”
- Sep 25–27: FediConf, Barcelona (IRL‽ maybe?); about the Fediverse and related topics.
- Oct 2–5: ActivityPub Conference
About this digest
The Redecentralize Digest is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation — figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.
This edition was written by Gerben, with thanks to Mauve and others who contributed.
The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback, corrections and suggestions for next editions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!