Redecentralize Digest — November 2021
In this issue:
A Declaration of Interdependence
Some people wrote a revision of John Perry Barlow’s 1996 Declaration for the Independence of Cyberspace. While keeping the style and structure of this famous essay, it now addresses not governments but rather the corporations (mainly Facebook) that ended up dominating the proclaimed Cyberspace:
“Closed Fiefdoms of the platform world, you weary giants of stocks and small talk, I come from the Pluriverse, the new home of the Heart. On behalf of the future, I invite you to join us.”
Perhaps most interesting is the authors’ reflection on why the original declaration deserved an update:
“Barlow pits existing institutions against the internet; we see the key conflict not as old versus new, but as monopoly versus pluralism. That is, while Barlow’s “you” refers to the government, our “you” refers to corporate and political hegemonies of all kinds. Barlow emphasizes freedom of speech; we believe that this freedom must be accompanied with the freedom to design, govern, and own the environments that speech lives within. Barlow takes a highly individualistic framing; we believe in individual agency alongside mutualism, reciprocity, and collective creation. Barlow rejects embodiment; we recognize our digital identities and commitments to be interwoven with communities, societies, and relationships in the material world.”
Just like the above declaration attacks the platform “fiefdoms” that ended up dominating the ‘Web 2.0’, others already worry about current ‘Web 3.0’ initiatives leading to no less of a mess, despite their possibly good intentions. Will we, in a few years, see yet another revision of the same declaration, but then addressed at the elite blockchain bros and crypto whales that rule the internet?
Ross Stalker, for example, puts it starkly: Web3 is not Decentralisation — it’s a Ploy to put Crypto Bros in Charge. Given its brevity this article does oversimplify and overgeneralise, but this core point holds:
“A blockchain is a distributed append-only database, spread across multiple nodes, but it is still one single database. In the name of decentralisation, Web3 advocates in fact seek to create a new form of centralisation around the blockchain.
Once you are tied into a particular blockchain, it’s not meant to be easy to leave — that’s the whole value proposition for the holders of the cryptocurrency tokens that users of the chain need to buy. The promise of decentralisation is just a veneer — blockchain is in fact the worst kind of vendor lock-in.”
To be fair, non-blockchain protocols also have a strong lock-in: once everybody uses e.g. HTTP, SMTP, XMPP or Matrix, you practically have to follow suit. But such protocols, lacking the token/monetisation aspect, are fundamentally different, and not as susceptible to unmerited hype by speculation schemes that reward early adopters.
Stephen Diehl has likewise been writing eloquent critiques on “decentralized woo”, “technobabble”, and how “Web3 is Bullshit”. Also Maciej Cegłowski (of Pinboard fame) wrote recently:
“The web3 concept that is slowly congealing is an interesting inversion of web 2.0. Back then the idea was “build social websites and figure out the money part later.” Today it’s “build money stuff and figure out some non-speculative use for it later.”
There are three non-fraud foundational problems with “web3”:
- No way to reference anything in the real world (oracle problem)
- Immutable code makes any smart contract its own bug bounty.
- Everything breaks (more) unless expensive distributed systems are run in perpetuity.
You can’t write this off as idiotic because there may be serendipitous discoveries waiting, just like happened with the web 2.0 hype. But the money element is new and quite toxic. It’s a set of legos where every lego is also an unregulated casino, ponzi scheme, and ransomware kit”
In his strong criticism, Maciej may be right to not write everything off completely. ‘Distributed ledger technology’ may have some merit, but at the moment any worthwhile ideas are overshadowed by unhelpful hypes. Perhaps over time people will learn to assess projects’ claims more critically and reject those that seem shady or shaky.
This makes me think of how the French still use paper money instead of gold coins, even after its original introduction led to a bizarre frenzy and ruinous speculation bubble(s). It should not surprise us that a century or three later, people are still prone to such madness of crowds.
- If you missed November’s DWeb meetup, check the recap & recordings for its many interesting talks. (and come to the DWeb Holiday Fair on 8 December, see the events section below)
- The IndieWeb community held an IndieWebCamp in Düsseldorf; also, it runs a gift calendar in December, encouraging anyone to make (software) contributions to improve the self-hosted social web.
- The Matrix instant messaging protocol finally released its specification version 1.1, along with a promise of more regular updates henceforth; a helpful idea given its goal of becoming “a ubiquitous messaging layer for synchronising arbitrary data between sets of people, devices and services … in an interoperable and federated manner”.
- Mobilizon, a federated platform for organising and finding events, released its second version, enabling people to announce and organise events on their own terms & turf.
- We also noticed the 1.4 release of Briar (a peer-to-peer chat app), updates about PeerTube v4 (you guessed, a P2P YouTube alternative), and Nextcloud Hub II (a self-hostable all-in-one cloud); as well as a reminder from Diaspora that it has not gone away.
- This offline, peer-to-peer social network in Namibia is based on exchanging audio files via the Secure Scuttlebutt protocol.
- Dec 6–10: Internet Governance Forum, online & Katowice (Poland); United Nations’ conference on internet governance
- Dec 7: DICG 2021; academic workshop on “Distributed Infrastructure for Common Good”
- Dec 8: DWeb Holiday Fair; meet decentralised web projects & protocols at their virtual booths
- Dec 10: Building Human Rights Into the Metaverse; event by EFF & Access Now
- Dec 25: IndieWeb Create Day; work on your personal website with the IndieWeb community
- Dec 27–30: rC3 - Remote Chaos Experience; the virtual version of CCC’s yearly Congress
For more events like these, check out and subscribe to the dweb.events calendar!
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 digest was written by Gerben, with thanks to Tantek and others for all tips & suggestions.
The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback, corrections and suggestions for next editions are welcome at email@example.com. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!