Getting back to “View Source” on the Web: the Movable Web / Decentralized Web

The Web 1.0 moved so fast partly because you could “View Source” on a webpage you liked and then modify and re-use it to make your own webpages. This even worked with pages with JavaScript programs—you could see how it worked, modify and re-use it. The Web jumped forward.

Then came Web 2.0, where the big thing was interaction with “APIs” or application programmable interfaces.  This meant that the guts of a website were on the server and you only got to ask approved questions to get approved answers, or it would specially format a webpage for you with your answer on it.   The plus side was that websites had more dynamic webpages, but learning from how others did things became harder.

Power to the People went to Power to the Server.

Can we get both?  I believe we can, and with a new Web built on top of the existing Web.  A “decentralized web” or a “movable web” has many privacy and archivability features, but another feature could be knowledge reuse.  In this way, the set of files that make up a website—text/HTML, programs, and data—are available to the user if they want to see them.

The decentralized Web works by having a p2p distribution of the files that make up the website, and then the website runs in your browser.  By being completely portable, the website has all the pieces it needs: text, programs, and data.  It can all be versioned, archived, and examined.

[Upcoming Summit on the Decentralized Web at the Internet Archive June 8th, 2016]

For instance, this demo has the pages of a blog in a peer-to-peer file system called IPFS, but also the search engine for the site, in JavaScript, that runs locally in the browser.    The browser downloads the pages and JavaScript and the search-engine index from many places on the net and then displays in the browser.  The complete website, including its search engine and index, are therefore downloadable and inspectable.

This new Web could be a way to distribute datasets because the data would move with programs that could make use of it, thus helping document the dataset.  This use of the decentralized Web became clear to me by talking with the Karissa McKelvey and Max Ogden of the DAT Data project working on distributing scientific datasets.

What if scientific papers evolved to become movable websites (or call them “distributed websites” or “decentralized websites”)?  That way, the text of the paper, the code, and the data would all move around together documenting itself.  It could be archived, shared, and examined.

Now that would be “View Source” we could all live with and learn from.