The Decentralization of the Web

ATAIX News, May, 2018

As it stands now, we are in the middle of an internet revolution. Who’s we? Everyone on the internet: website owners, users, posters, bloggers, and anyone in between. This is because the internet as we know it is changing and users are slowly taking back ownership of the web. How? Through gradual decentralization.

Web 1.0

Back in the early days of the internet, websites weren’t very interactive, and often were just static pages for users to browse. But strangely enough, the internet in those days was decentralized.

What does this mean? It means that anyone who wanted to start a website had to buy their own server and host the site on it. All the files were stored on this individual server. Of course, there were many technological changes from then until now as well, but that is a natural consequence of time. From a retrospective point of view, Web 1.0’s most important aspect was that it was an even playing field between all users.

Web 1.0 was basically a massive network of dispersed and decentralized servers wherein nobody had any more value than anyone else and everyone owned their own data. During the dot-com bubble, however, everything changed.

Web 2.0 

Entrepreneurs eventually realized how revolutionary the world wide web was, and began opening websites dedicated to all sorts of different things. Investors provided capital and technological advances were made that changed the nature of the internet. Websites were no longer static pages for merely observing and interaction on the user’s end now became intrinsic to the system.

The shift to Web 2.0 was gradual. There is no clear date on when Web 1.0 ended and 2.0 began. For users, the shift was part of the organic evolution of the internet. Websites didn’t become what we know them as today overnight, and improvements were made to the system step-by-step. These improvements, however, led to a mass centralization of data.

This network of individual, decentralized servers was replaced with massive cloud computing companies like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure that provided a cheaper and more convenient alternative to anyone who wanted to host a website. And thus, we found ourselves sacrificing privacy and security for convenience.

As user interaction became critical to how sites began to operate, their data became a coveted and valuable part of the platforms they were using. Sites such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook created massive networks of servers to store this data on in order to better tune their own platforms and personalize them for users based on their information. This made the user experience much better and far more convenient, but it also meant users were giving up their data (and hence, their security) to these websites for free in exchange for this benefit.

Web 2.0 is a double-edged sword. We’ve received all the wonders of a fully interactive and personalized network of websites that seem to operate with their users in mind, but we’ve also sacrificed our privacy for it. The thought of massive servers storing all our data is a bit unsettling in and of itself, but it’s proven to be downright disastrous when this data has been compromised. And as we continue to move forward, these data breaches have only gotten bigger and more catastrophic, affecting more and more people.

Looking back on the shift from 1.0 to 2.0, such a centralization was necessary. There was really no other way to create and operate the platforms we’ve all grown to love so much without these companies collecting and utilizing our data. And, as with everything, it’s been a give-and-take relationship with a clear set of risks we’ve put up with to receive certain rewards. Now, however, it doesn’t have to be this way. These risks and rewards are no longer interdependent, and we are now able to reap all the benefits of this system while leaving behind all of its drawbacks.

Web 3.0

With Bitcoin’s astronomical rise in popularity, blockchain has hit the mainstream. And blockchain is an integral part of Web 3.0 and the decentralization of the web. With blockchain, there is no need for a central data processing or storing service. Using any blockchain-based applications means your data is encrypted and stored on a network of thousands of independent servers around the globe.

Blockchain has come about due to a demand for any two parties to be able to transact with each other in a climate of trust, but without any intermediaries like banks, payment processors, or notaries. Such big, consolidated intermediaries exist because they are universally trusted to guarantee and sign off on transactions then put them into a database. However, this leads to all this data becoming centralized and thus extremely volatile. So we need a new way to achieve trust in a decentralized fashion, which is where blockchain comes in.

It’s vital to note that blockchain is not only decentralized and without intermediaries, but also infinitely safer. Any blockchain is a DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology), which means that the ledgers (databases of records and transactions) within its system are distributed and stored amongst thousands, if not millions, of computers, which are continuously updated and maintained through a consensus mechanism. Without a central owner collecting all the data, it becomes nearly impossible to hack into, because if a ledger is maliciously altered on one computer, the system automatically rejects it. A hacker would need the capabilities to hack into all of the hundreds of thousands of computers on the network, which at the moment is technically impossible.

Many platforms around the world are already beginning to implement this technology for uses that range from financial transactions to social media to journalism. People are putting their faith into blockchain, not only because there’s virtually no risk in doing so, but also because they’re sick and tired of large online conglomerates tracking and storing their information then using it for their benefit or selling it to others. With blockchain, your information is secured and only shared with your permission.

Of course, outside of decentralization, Web 3.0 will have many other benefits. There will be security, not only from data breaches, but also in reducing errors and service failures. Applications and devices will be more interoperable, working seamlessly with each other. Everything will be connected, but in a much safer manner.

The best part about all of this is that the transition from 2.0 to 3.0 will be painless. Just as we saw with 1.0 and 2.0, it will happen gradually and users will slowly find themselves using blockchain based platforms, sometimes without even realizing it. There are already platforms around the world that are recreating all the existing platforms we’ve grown accustomed to, but building it on blockchain technology. Slowly but surely, we’re taking back our information and decentralizing the web to make it work for our benefit.