World Wide Web Creator Tim Berners-Lee Wants to Decentralise the Internet with P2P and Blockchain Technologies

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ca. 1999 --- Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, stands at a chalkboard where he has written notes on Web development. --- Image by © Andrew Brusso/Corbis

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Tim Berners-Lee recently gathered in San Francisco with other top computer scientists — including Brewster Kahle, head of the nonprofit Internet Archive and an internet activist — to discuss a new phase for the web at the Decentralized Web Summit event. 

The founders and builders of IPFS, the Dat Project, WebTorrent, Tahoe-LAFS, zcash, Zeronet.io, BitTorrent, Ethereum, BigChainDB, Blockstack, Interledger, Mediachain, MaidSafe, Storj and others presented their technologies and answer questions.

Hosted by the Internet Archive, the first Decentralized Web Summit was a call for dreamers and builders  to spark collaboration and take concrete steps to create a better Web.  The event includes tech legends such as Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, and renowned author Cory Doctorow.

At the session on Tuesday, computer scientists talked about how new payment technologies could increase individual control over money. For example, if people adapted the so-called ledger system by which digital currencies are used, a musician might potentially be able to sell records without intermediaries like Apple’s iTunes. News sites might be able to have a system of micropayments for reading a single article, instead of counting on web ads for money.

“The web is already decentralized,” said Berners-Lee. “The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging. We don’t have a technology problem; we have a social problem.”

Doctorow gave the opening talk, “How Stupid Laws and Benevolent Dictators can Ruin the Decentralized Web, too,” which was about the “Ulysses pacts“: bargains you make with yourself when your willpower is strong to prevent giving into temptation later when you are tired or demoralized, and how these have benefited the web to date, and how new, better ones can protect the decentralized web of the future.

Doctorow wrote at Boing Boing that EFF’s Jeremy Gillula and Noah Swartz — who were there to present Certbot, a tool that produces free cryptographic certificates — wrote up the afternoon, including my talk, and did a good job summarizing it:

He called on the audience to act now to make a Ulysses pact for the decentralized web, because everything eventually fails or falls on hard times. If we want to make sure that the principles and values we hold dear survive, we need to design the systems that embody those principles so that they can’t be compromised of weakened. In other words, we need to build things now so that five or ten or twenty years from now, when what we’ve built is successful and someone asks us to add a backdoor or insert malware or track our users, it simply won’t be possible (for either technological or legal or monetary reasons)—no matter how much outside pressure we’re under.

After all, “The reason the web is closed today is because…people just like you made compromises that seemed like the right compromise to make at the time. And then they made another compromise, a little one. And another one.” He continued, pointing out that “We are, all of us, a mix of short-sighted and long-term…We must give each other moral support. Literal support to uphold the morals of the decentralized web, by agreeing now on what an open decentralized web is.” Only by doing this will we be able to resist the siren song of re-centralization.

And what sort of principles should we agree to? Cory suggests two. First, when a computer receives conflicting instructions from its owner and from a remote party, the owner’s wishes should always take precedence. In other words, no DRM (that means you, W3C). Second, disclosing true facts about the security of systems that we rely upon should never ever be illegal. In other words, we need to work to abolish things like the DMCA, which create legal uncertainty for security researchers disclosing vulnerabilities in systems locked behind DRM.

The crowd’s response to this passionate call to action? A standing ovation.

 from Bitcoin Magazine noted that The Summit’s website has an information page with current projects, reading material and links to the Decentralized Web discussion groups and that all summit talks, panels and Q&A sessions have been video streamed in real time, and the recorded stream is online at the Internet Archive YouTube channel: Day 1, Day 2.

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Founder of Blockchain News and The Hackitarians Foundation, Richard Kastelein is an award winning publisher and editor, hackathon organiser and entrepreneur. He has written over 700 articles at Blockchain News, has a massive network in the Blockchain arena and is available as a speaker and consultant. (richard@the-blockchain.com) Kastelein has spoken (keynotes & panels) on technology at events in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast, Berlin, Brussels, Brighton, Copenhagen, Cannes, Cologne, Curacao, Frankfurt, Gdansk, Hollywood, Hilversum, Geneva, Groningen, London, Las Vegas, Leipzig, Madrid, Melbourne, NYC, Oxford, Rio de Janeiro, Sheffield, San Francisco, San Jose, Sydney, Tallinn, Vienna, and Zurich. A Creative Technologist & Canadian (Dutch/Irish/English/Métis) his career began in the Native Press (Canadian Arctic) and he later spent a decade in the Caribbean media. Currently, he writes occasionally for Wired Insights, Guardian & Virgin and his articles have been translated into Dutch, Greek, Polish, German & French.