In the fifth session of “Imagining a Better Online World: Exploring the Decentralized Web” – a joint series of events with Internet Archive, METRO Library Council, and Library Futures – “Decentralized Apps, the Metaverse, and the ‘Next Big Thing,’” Internet Archive Director of Partnerships Wendy Hanamura took a deep dive into the metaverse and NFTs through an exploration of virtual worlds with pioneering metaverse developer Jin.
In this engaging session, Hanamura and Jin explored the technologies that would transform the future and the world as we know it within Web 3.0: the immersive spaces and built communities of the metaverse. As indicated by participants, to some, NFT and metaverse means “cyberspace on steroids,” or “Second Life,” while for others it holds a more negative connotation. From the “read-only” Web 1.0 to the forthcoming “read-write-trust verifiable” future of Web 3.0, the evolution of the web is leading to an enhancement of reality to create new and augmented realities.
An NFT, or an entry on a blockchain, can be anything from a document to even a virtual representation of a physical space like the Internet Archive. Jin, for example, is able to create a complete virtual desktop where their entire life and memory lives in 3D, and where they conducted the virtual reality interview with Hanamura. From hacker spaces to raves to the virtual representation of the Internet Archive they built as a central space to conduct their work, Jin’s life is mediated and defined through their virtual world building.
What makes Jin’s world unique is their commitment to building with other people in the open source community in an “interesting, collaborative, co-creation.”
Within these worlds, one of the key provisions is interoperability: the ability to carry these worlds between each other. For Jin, this is still a work in progress, with new modes of interoperability still being built. In addition, privacy is a major concern – Web 3.0 provides a new form of privacy through avatars and other obscuring technology, but Jin cautions that due diligence is still warranted, just like in the real world.
The conversation ended with a discussion of the democratizing aspects of NFT creation and independent artists. As an artist, Jin’s first NFT earned him more money than he ever had previously in his career. One of the most exciting aspects of this kind of creation is the way it removes the middle person from the art market: rather than creating for museums or other art markets, Jin is able to reach their audience directly.
Jin ended the session on a positive note: “In virtual reality, you have a lot more bandwidth for empathy. There’s a lot of nuance that is lost in text-based communication platforms. It’s more asynchronous. The sense of presence, of being there with other people, you experience a lot of genuine and good connections… there’s a lot of genuine appreciation of art. That gives me hope.”
“How Decentralized Identity Drives Privacy” with Internet Archive, Metro Library Council, and Library Futures
How many passwords do you have saved, and how many of them are controlled by a large, corporate platform instead of by you? Last month’s “Keeping your Personal Data Personal: How Decentralized Identity Drives Privacy” session started with that provocative question in order to illustrate the potential of this emerging technology.
Self-sovereign identity (SSI), defined as “an idea, a movement, and a decentralized approach for establishing trust online,” sits in the middle of the stack of technologies that makes up the decentralized internet. In the words of the Decentralized Identity Resource Guide written specifically for this session, “self-sovereign identity is a system where users themselves–and not centralized platforms or services like Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn–are in control and maintain ownership of their personal information.”
Research shows that the average American has more than 150 different accounts and passwords – a number that has likely skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. In her presentation, Wendy Hanamura, Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive, discussed the implications of “trading privacy and security for convenience.” Hanamura drew on her recent experience at SXSW, which bundled her personal data, including medical and vaccine data, into an insecure QR code used by a corporate sponsor to verify her as a participant. In contrast, Hanamura says that the twenty-year old concept of self-sovereign identity can disaggregate these services from corporations, empowering people to be in better control of their own data and identity through principles like control, access, transparency, and consent. While self-sovereign identity presents incredible promise as a concept, it also raises fascinating technical questions around verification and management.
For Kaliya “Identity Woman” Young, her interest in identity comes from networks of global ecology and information technology, which she has been part of for more than twenty years. In 2000, when the Internet was still nascent, she joined with a community to ask: “How can this technology best serve people, organizations, and the planet?” Underlying her work is the strong belief that people should have the right to control their own online identity with the maximum amount of flexibility and access. Using a real life example, Young compared self-sovereign identity to a physical wallet. Like a wallet, self-sovereign identity puts users in control of what they share, and when, with no centralized ability for an issuer to tell when the pieces of information within the wallet is presented.
In contrast, the modern internet operates with a series of centralized identifiers like ICANN or IANA for domain names and IP addresses and corporate private namespaces like Google and Facebook. Young’s research and work decentralizes this way of transmitting information through “signed portable proofs,” which come from a variety of sources rather than one centralized source. These proofs are also called verifiable credentials and have metadata, the claim itself, and a digital signature embedded for validation. All of these pieces come together in a digital wallet, verified by a digital identifier that is unique to a person. Utilizing cryptography, these identifiers would be validated by digital identity documents and registries. In this scenario, organizations like InCommon, an access management service, or even a professional licensing organization like the American Library Association can maintain lists of institutions that would be able to verify the identity or organizational affiliation of an identifier. In the end, Young emphasized a message of empowerment – in her work, self-sovereign identity is about “innovating protocols to represent people in the digital realm in ways that empower them and that they control.”
Next, librarian Lambert Heller of Technische Bibliothek and Irene Adamski of the Berlin-based SSI firm Jolocom discussed and demonstrated their work in creating self-sovereign identity for academic conferences on a new platform called Condidi. This tool allows people running academic events to have a platform that issues digital credentials of attendance in a decentralized system. Utilizing open source and decentralized software, this system minimizes the amount of personal information that attendees need to give over to organizers while still allowing participants to track and log records of their attendance. For libraries, this kind of system is crucial – new systems like Condidi help libraries protect user privacy and open up platform innovation.
Self-sovereign identity also utilizes a new tool called a “smart wallet,” which holds one’s credentials and is controlled by the user. For example, at a conference, a user might want to tell the organizer that she is of age, but not share any other information about herself. A demo of Jolocom’s system demonstrated how this system could work. In the demo, Irene showed how a wallet could allow a person to share just the information she wants through encrypted keys in a conference situation. Jolocom also allows people to verify credentials using an encrypted wallet. According to Adamski, the best part of self sovereign identity is that “you don’t have to share if you don’t want to.” This way, “I am in control of my data.”
To conclude, Heller discussed a recent movement in Europe called “Stop Tracking Science.” To combat publishing oligopolies and data analytics companies, a group of academics have come together to create scholar-led infrastructure. As Heller says, in the current environment, “Your journal is reading you,” which is a terrifying thought about scholarly communications.
These academics are hoping to move toward shared responsibility and open, decentralized infrastructure using the major building blocks that already exist. One example of how academia is already decentralized is through PIDs, or persistent identifiers, which are already widely used through systems like ORCID. According to Heller, these PIDs are “part of the commons” and can be shared in a consistent, open manner across systems, which could be used in a decentralized manner for personal identity rather than a centralized one. To conclude, Heller said, “There is no technical fix for social issues. We need to come up with a model for how trust works in research infrastructure.”
It is clear that self-sovereign identity holds great promise as part of a movement for technology that is privacy-respecting, open, transparent, and empowering. In this future, it will be possible to have a verified identity that is held by you, not by a big corporation – the vision that we are setting out to achieve. Want to help us get there?
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.”
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.”
Even amidst the COVID lock down, builders of the Decentralized Web have hit new milestones with their projects this year. At our last DWeb Meetup of 2020, we heard from a dozen projects about their breakthroughs, challenges, and roadmaps for the coming year.
As with all of our DWeb Meetups, these lightning talks provided an opportunity for us to learn from others and explore potential partnerships and collaboration. We had rounds of 5 minute talks with 2 minutes of Q&A in Zoom.
Here were the speakers (and the times when they appear in the video):
Maria Bustillos, Co-Founder, Brick House Co-operative (1:00:40)
Mauve Signweaver, Agregore (1:10:12)
Tom Trowbridge, Co-founder, Fluence Labs (1:17:42)
Travis Vachon, ItMe.company (1:27:01)
Brandon Wallace, Plan Systems.org (1:35:03)
Michael Toomim, Braid (1:44:35)
Descriptions of Speakers and Their Lightning Talks
1. Dietrich Ayala, Ecosystem Lead, IPFS
Big is Small is Big: IPFS Usage, Users and Use-cases in 2020
As adoption and availability of IPFS grew in 2020, we saw it used across a broad spectrum of applications, varying widely in industry category, use-case, architecture and more. IPFS ecosystem lead Dietrich Ayala will speedrun through a sampling of these, sharing what was learned and how our users are guiding the IPFS project into 2021
It’s hard to get started building a decentralized application. Even if you’ve been building them for years, it’s hard to get them adopted. Decentralized applications operate differently than centralized ones — and we need new tools that developers and designers can use to understand how to build applications. Simply Secure is now producing a library of resources, assets, and patterns to support the design and development of better user-facing applications that are backed by decentralized architecture.
Founded in 2014, GUN is an open source cybersecurity protocol for synchronizing graph data in decentralized mesh networks. It is as easy as Firebase yet supports end-to-end encryption and uses “CRDT” algorithms instead of a Blockchain.
In 2020, GUN hit 200M+ downloads with 30M monthly active users. The project is powered by 2 full time staff, 10 part-time volunteers, and 100+ contributors.
“At the DWeb Camp in 2019 I led a brainstorming session on how we can build a cloud providing the same openness and freedoms to users and developers as open source. One year and a pandemic later, I’m excited to finally release the first step in pursuit of that vision: “ensembles”, git repositories that package open cloud services.
They are designed to be the building blocks of an open and decentralized cloud infrastructure: reproducible, relocatable and shareable. Decentralization is obtained via a notion of a persistent identity that is defined not by a network location but rather a reproducible state.”
6. Paul Frazee, Founder, Breaker Browser
Beaker Browser 1.0: Share P2P Websites
“Unless there was a disaster between my talk-submission and Thursday, then Beaker Browser 1.0 is now available! Join us for a quick overview of building and sharing peer-to-peer Websites with this newest release.”
7. Maria Bustillos, Co-Founder, Brick House Co-operative
Decorporatizing the Public Sphere
Megaplatforms from Amazon to Facebook to Penguin Random House have flattened and centralized the human imagination. Netizens know that something is draining out of our world, that there’s less variety, less brilliance, and fewer surprises, in our movies, music, and writing. But it’s not clear to most that this cultural deterioration is the result of a breakneck form of capitalism enabled by technology.
The Brick House Cooperative, launching December 8th, is addressing this problem as writers and artists, ‘from the other side’. They’re looking to join forces with technologists and others interested in decorporatizing media. Maria will also share how her previous experience with Civil, a blockchain-based media platform that aimed to fund journalism, will inform her work with The Brick House.
Agregore is a local-first web browser which aims to simplify application development across different peer-to-peer protocols while staying as minimal and customizable as possible. Through Agregore, Mauve is trying to address the issue of web browsers not having access to full peer-to-peer protocols. They want to make creating local-first apps easier by simplifying the programming interface and app distribution method.
Fluence Labs was established in 2017 by 3 founders, Dmitry Kurinskiy, Tom Trowbridge and Evgeny Ponomarev. They started in 2017 and spent a lot of time researching and experimenting with decentralized computing. Just recently, in November 2020 they launched Phase 1 of Fluence: the decentralized computing protocol that allows applications to build on each other, share data and users. They call it an open application platform.
The goal of Fluence is to enable the next wave of internet innovation by turning the competition into collaboration. Fluence creates an open alternative to proprietary platforms, enabling developers to build with confidence and be fairly compensated for usage.
Self Determination for our Digital Bodies with Solid
Centralized tech monopolies and other large corporations capture the vast majority of the value of the world’s data in 2020. In order to create the conditions necessary to return this value to the world’s users, we need new politico-technical-social institutions that give users the ability to provide and retract informed consent over the ways their data is used. itme is building the world’s first cooperatively owned and operated data union built on Tim Berners-Lee’s new Solid web standard to let users reassemble their digital bodies and capture the value of the data they create.
PLAN Systems is a technology 501(c)(3) founded in 2018 by two U.S. veterans in Austin TX., including Drew O’Meara, inventor of G-Force realtime audio reactive music visualizations. Their development effort centers on building a framework of open protocols and universally accessible interfaces designed for privacy, real time collaboration, data visualization, and secure data storage & portability. November was a critical milestone, demonstrating PLAN (pre-alpha) running on 4 major platforms across desktop and mobile devices.
Email them at info [at] plan-systems.org to learn more and get involved.
“At 2019’s Dwebcamp, a group of us found a back room and spontaneously designed a shared protocol for distributed synchronization. Tim Berners-Lee walked by, and thought it would be a great addition to the web.
We will report on what’s happened since!
We presented the protocol to the IETF’s HTTP Working Group in Montreal, and received a surprisingly enthusiastic reception. We are now building software on the protocol, to show how HTTP can be extended into a distributed shared fabric for local-first applications, users, and systems, with great debugging and tooling.”
The folks at Protocol Labs love their rockets. And outerspace. And exploration.
So when Filecoin, their cryptocurrency-fueled decentralized storage network launched recently, it was no surprise they called it Filecoin Liftoff. In the payload of that Filecoin rocket are treasures from the Internet Archive:
For 15 years, LibriVox has harnessed a global army of volunteers, creating 14,200 free public domain audiobook projects in 100 different languages. Where else can you listen to Jules Verne’s 20,000Leagues Under the Sea in French, Spanish, English, German or Dutch…for free? Now, phrases of Shakespeare, Poe, Joyce and Dante will be stored across the Filecoin mainnet, broken into packets to be reconstituted when needed—perhaps in a new century.
The same destiny awaits the home movies, stock footage, educational and amateur films in the public domain, lovingly curated by the Prelinger Archives founder, Rick Prelinger. He encourages creatives to download and reuse these videos, creating countless new works like this one by musician Jordan Paul:
Now filmmakers and connoisseurs can sleep easier, knowing that a new, distributed copy of those films lives in the Filecoin network, (along with the main copy and multiple backups in the Internet Archive’s repositories.)
So what’s next Filecoin explorers?
Today, Protocol Labs and the Internet Archive are happy to announce the Filecoin Archives, a new community project to curate, disseminate and preserve important open access information often at risk of being lost. You can get involved in so many ways: by nominating information to be stored, uploading it to the Internet Archive, preserving the data as a Filecoin node while earning Filecoin for sharing your storage capacity.
What information should we be preserving?Please tell us!
How about 166,000 public domain books (60 terabytes) from the Library of Congress? Including 2100 texts about Abraham Lincoln and slavery?
It takes a host of global voices with diverse viewpoints to ensure that humanity’s most precious knowledge is represented online and preserved. So we need to hear from you. What open access information or datasets are you interested in preserving?
Between now and November 5, please send us your ideas and vote on the others. We will gather your suggestions, add our own, and publish the list from which we will select information to preserve across a global network of Filecoin nodes.
How to send us your suggestions
Look for the tweet from @JuanBenet– reply to it with:
The Name of the Dataset.
The size in GB or TB.
An HTTP or @IPFS link to the data.
Why it matters.
Bonus points if the data is already stored in the Internet Archive or if you upload it there. Vote for ideas by retweeting them and please help us spread the word!
In 2015, a young developer named Juan Benet wandered into the Internet Archive headquarters. He painted a picture of a decentralized stack, something he now calls Web3, where the storage, transport and other layers would be distributed across many machines. Together with the DWeb community, we have imagined a web with our values written into the code: values such as privacy, security, reliability, and control over one’s own identity. With the launch of Filecoin’s mainnet, a piece of that new web is perhaps within reach.
Now it’s up to us to make sure the payload includes humanity’s most important knowledge.