The Decentralized Web: An Introduction

Amidst the hype and hoopla for decentralized tech, what should everyone really understand? Providing that baseline of knowledge is the goal of a series of six workshops called “Imagining a Better Online World: Exploring the Decentralized Web.” The series kicked off on January 27 with an introductory session establishing some common vocabulary for this new approach to digital infrastructure.The event was hosted by the Internet ArchiveDWeb and Library Futures, and was presented by the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO).

On our current web, most platforms are controlled by a central authority—a company, government, or individual—that maintains the code, data and servers. Ultimately, consumers must trust that those central authorities will do what is in their best interest. 

“In order to have ease of use, we have ceded control to these big platforms, and they manage our access to information, our privacy, our security, and our data,” explained Wendy Hanamura, Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive, who led the workshop.

In contrast, the decentralized web is built on peer-to-peer technologies. Users could conceivably own their data. Rather than relying on a few dominant platforms, you could potentially store and share information across many nodes, addressing concerns about censorship, persistence and privacy.

“It is still very early days for the decentralized web,” Hanamura said. “All of us still have time to contribute and to influence where this technology goes.”

View the session resource guide.

At the event, Mai Ishikawa Sutton, founder & editor at COMPOST Mag, explained how her publication can be viewed over the decentralized web using IPFS and Hypercore, while using Creative Commons licensing to openly share its contents. In addition, Paul Frazee demonstrated Beaker Browser, an experimental browser that allows users to build peer-to-peer websites on the decentralized web.

Using the current system, Web 2.0, relies on content living on web servers in a certain location. 

“This is a problem because [publishers] want to change it. They want to update it. They … go out of business. They want to merge with somebody. And it goes away,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, noting that the average life of a web page is 100 days. The Wayback Machine was built to back up those web pages after-the-fact, but there is a need to build better decentralized technology that preserves a copy as the content is created, he said. “The Web should have a time axis.”

According to Kahle, in the future a decentralized web would look much the same to the user, but could build features such as privacy, resilience and persistence right into the code. It could also create new revenue models for creative works. For example, a decentralized web could enable buyers to make direct micropayments to creators rather than licensing them through iTunes or Amazon.

“This is a good time for us to try to make sure we guide this technology toward something we actually want to use,” Kahle said. “It’s an exciting time. We in the library world should keep focused on trying to make robust information resources available and make it so people see things in context. We want a game with many winners so we don’t end up with just one or two large corporations or publishers controlling what it is we see.”

Download the Session 1 Resource Guide.

Register for the next session:
Using Decentralized Storage to Keep Your Materials Safe
February 24 @ 1pm PT / 4pm ET
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1 thought on “The Decentralized Web: An Introduction

  1. Linda Kadis

    Yes, our freedoms of music, records, books,audio and video no matter what are in jeapordy of disappearing. This protecting our human communications is very much needed now. I cannot believe I’m saying this about our precious records/History. We humans need to see that there truly is a “Illuminati”. Everyone, needs to do their homework, for “Knowledge Is Power”. Linda

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