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Redecentralize Digest — December 2021

In this issue:

Web3, DWeb, Web0…?

As indicated in last month’s digest, it feels like haranguing on the ‘Web3’ hype has become a hype itself (here’s one more thoughtful example). While most criticism may be deserved, it also seems fair to clarify that these critiques focus on a particular interpretation of ‘Web3’, centered around blockchains, DeFi, NFTs, etc. — the topics that get most media attention. ‘Web3’ can also mean more than that.

For those who try to promote internet decentralisation in a broader sense, there appears a choice between strategies here: either to try ride the wave but keep insisting that ‘Web3’ encompasses much more than the overhyped blockchain bubbles; or instead to give up, perhaps declare that “web3 is bs”, and try direct attention to more worthy decentralisation endeavours while using another term.

Nathan Schneider, for example, does the latter and advocates for the DWeb term and community. But he also warns against superficial fights about labels, making the analogy with the Free Software versus Open Source debates: while often used interchangeably, the latter term was popularised by tech guru Tim O’Reilly to focus on economic rather than ideological aspects, as detailed in this pathography by Evgeny Morozov. (fittingly, a 2020 survey found developers’ associations with ‘Web3’ versus ‘DWeb’ to be a “commercial” versus “ideological” drive)

As another example of terminology strategy, this two-line manifesto coins web0: “web0 is web3 without all the corporate right-libertarian Silicon Valley bullshit”. Clear language.

Without repudiating either strategy, our digests spell ‘Web3’/‘Web 3.0’ including the quotation marks, primarily because it is an aspirational, prophetical concept — a few years ago the term was used to refer to the Semantic Web that was then to become the next big thing. It seems worth noting that Web 2.0 was a nebulous buzzword too, again because of Tim O’Reilly.

Should one even conceptualise ‘the’ next generation web as a separate thing? Will some day a switch flip to turn from Web 2.x to 3.0, or to replace the CWeb with the DWeb? Is it not just the same web, continually being reshaped? Giving a name to a dream may help convey it; but let’s not end up living in a dream world.

Self-Certifying Web Protocols

In a good example of the there-is-more-than-blockchain strategy, Jay Graber wrote a thoughtful piece on the essence of ‘Web3’, including an elegant definition of the stages of the web:

The latter is enabled by “self-certifying protocols”: based on cryptographic user identifiers and content-addressed data, which helps decentralise:

“Putting these two pieces together, a content hash signed by a user key can prove a user authorized its creation, without requiring an intermediary. Self-certifying data enables trust to reside in the data itself, not in where you found it, allowing apps to move away from client-server architectures.”

This definition of ‘Web3’ also includes older protocols such as Git, PGP, and BitTorrent (which was notably already included in Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0!), and newer ones like IPFS, Hypercore and SSB. Jay argues however that to be a web protocol, a protocol should support linking and discovery; whereas many ‘Web3’ projects now create disconnected pieces.

To anyone disliking the ‘Web3’ term, she suggests to use “Self-Certifying Web Protocols” (or SCWP) instead — which sounds a lot less snappy, but perhaps that is actually a feature.

Avoiding Internet Centralization

Mark Nottingham is a name often encountered in internet standards from IETF and W3C. Besides work on many technical specifications, last year he authored RFC 8890: The Internet is for End Users (mentioned in a digest); and on his blog explained the importance of technical standards bodies to acknowledge their societal consequences:

“If the IETF’s decisions affect the design of the Internet, and the Internet is political, the IETF’s decisions are sometimes political too. However, its decision-making processes presume that there is a technically correct answer to each problem. When that decision affects people and power in the actual world, rough consensus and running code are insufficient.”

Also worth reading are his recent concerns about the ideas for national competition regulators to impose specific API requirements on companies without broader community participation, thereby risking fragmentation and ossification of the internet:

“Creating government-set standards for Internet functions will inevitably lead other governments to decide that their priorities are different, or that they just don’t find someone else’s standards palatable.”

“The other risk is creating friction against future, beneficial changes to the Internet. For example, creating an API for Facebook might only serve to cement them (or their business model) into place as the ‘glue’ of social networking, preventing other, more decentralised models from emerging.”

Mark’s hope is for the IETF and W3C to be effective multi-stakeholder bodies that maintain legitimacy and trust, rather than looking like a bunch of big tech buddies; thereby reducing governments’ need to intervene.

Which brings us to this month, as he submitted a first draft to IETF on Avoiding Internet Centralization: a guide describing the types and risks of centralisation, and recommending best practices to internet protocol designers to avoid it. For a first draft it looks promising, so we hope this will end up becoming an RFC too.

Exploring the Decentralized Web

This video series presents views on decentralisation of the internet, both past and future, from various people that may already be familiar to our readers. The series is produced by the FileCoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, which gives grants to organisations working on education, research and development around decentralised technologies.



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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 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 hello@redecentralize.org. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!