“Edward Snowden showed we’ve inadvertently built the world’s largest surveillance network with the web,” Brewster Kahle said at the very first Decentralized Web Summit last month in San Francisco.
“China can make it impossible for people there to read things, and just a few big service providers are the de facto organizers of your experience. We have the ability to change all that.”
Brewster Kahle, if you don’t know, is a legend in the digital world. In 1982, he helped start Thinking Machines, and while there, he helped to invent the world’s first publishing and distributed search system, WAIS, which was a predecessor to the web search engine.
He’s also founder and director of the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based nonprofit with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge.” The archive offers 150 billion pieces of free web knowledge, collected by Kahle’s Wayback Machine, and gives us a revealing look into how the Internet has formed over the years.
Kahle believes, like we do, that the current Internet model is broken by overcentralization. The web is far more fragile and much less accessible than it could — and should — be. And not only should we reverse this network centralization, but we should also make sure the Internet never becomes centralized like this again.
We can do this, Kahle says, by ‘locking the web open’ through combining all of the incredible tools that have been created over the years — the blockchain being the “missing piece.”
“Our new Web,” Kahle says, “would be reliable because it would be hosted in many places, and multiple versions. Also, people could even make money, so there could be extra incentive to publish in the Distributed Web.
“It would be more private because it would be more difficult to monitor who is reading a particular website. Using cryptography for the identity system makes it less related to personal identity, so there is an ability to walk away without being personally targeted.
“And it could be as fun as it is malleable and extendable. With no central entities to regulate the evolution of the Distributed Web, the possibilities are much broader.”
The web, he says, was originally meant for decentralization. That was the whole point. But along the way, the decentralized web died by a thousand compromises. We gave up our self-determination for convenience. We allowed these virtual pillars to be created around us.
“The internet was designed with a distributed architecture in mind,” Kahle goes on, “but today’s web is centralized, with billions of users dependent on a few central services run by large telecom providers and web giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. Today’s web is also fragile, because it relies on centralized distribution models, with servers that come and go. If a server goes down for any technical or commercial reason, or is taken down by the authorities, all the web pages stored on that server disappear. But the internet was designed to be much more robust and resilient than that, and the Decentralized Web initiative can be seen as a return to the visionary — and technically more advanced — origins of the internet. Back to the future, indeed.
“What we need to do now is bring together technologists, visionaries, and philanthropists to build such a system that has no central points of control. Building this as a truly open project could in itself be done in a distributed way, allowing many people and many projects to participate toward a shared goal of a Distributed Web.”
“Together we can lock the Web open.”
It’s already happening. Bit by bit. Yesterday, for example, I created a website on the blockchain through a service called Onename.
This website, although simple, shows us that it’s possible to have a website that’s stored on a distributed, heavily encrypted network, virtually eliminating the threat of censorship or malevolent attacks.
In order for any government to shut the site you see below down, they’d have to shut down the bitcoin blockchain, which is distributed on hundreds of thousands of servers all over the world. Meaning, essentially, they’d have to shut down the world’s Internet.
And good luck with that.
Here’s the website, if you want to check it out. And, if you’re keen, create your own to become immortalized on the blockchain…
What you see above, though, is just a small taste of the future of the locked-open web.
To go into further detail about how we will lock open the Interwebs, we invite Brewster Kahle to the show to make the call for a distributed web…
And show you why now is the time for the web to be set free.
Locking the Web Open, a Call for a Distributed Web
Hi, I’m Brewster Kahle, Founder of the Internet Archive.
For 25 years we’ve been building this fabulous thing — the Web. I want to talk to you today about how can we Lock the Web Open.
One of my heroes, Larry Lessig, famously said that “Code is Law.” The way we code the Web will determine the way we live online.
So we need to bake our values into our code.
Freedom of expression needs to be baked into our code. Privacy should be baked into our code. Universal access to all knowledge. But right now, those values are not embedded in the Web.
It turns out that the World Wide Web is very fragile. But it is huge. At the Internet Archive we collect 1 billion pages a week. We now know that Web pages only last about 100 days on average before they change or disappear. They blink on and off in their servers.
And the Web is massively accessible, unless you live in China. The Chinese government has blocked the Internet Archive, the New York Times, and other sites from its citizens. And so do other countries every once in awhile.
So the Web is not reliable — And the Web isn’t private. People, corporations, countries can spy on what you are reading. And they do. We now know that Wikileaks readers were targeted by the NSA and the UK’s equivalent. We, in the library world, know the value of reader privacy.
But the Web is fun. We got one of the three things right. So we need a Web that is Reliable, Private but is still Fun.
I believe it is time to take that next step. And It’s within our reach.
Imagine “Distributed Web” sites that are as functional as WordPress blogs, Wikimedia sites, or even Facebook.
Contrast the current Web to the internet — the network of pipes that the World Wide Web sits on top of.
The internet was designed so that if any one piece goes out, it will still function. The internet is a truly distributed system.What we need is a Next Generation Web; a truly distributed Web.
Here’s a way of thinking about it: Take the Amazon Cloud.
The Amazon Cloud works by distributing your data. Moving it from computer to computer — shifting machines in case things go down, getting it closer to users, and replicating it as it is used more. That’s a great idea.
What if we could make the Next Generation Web work that, but across the entire internet, like an enormous Amazon Cloud?
In part, it would be based on peer-to-peer technology — systems that aren’t dependent on a central host or the policies of one particular country. In peer-to-peer models, those who are using the distributed Web are also providing some of the bandwidth and storage to run it.
Instead of one web server per website we would have many. The more people or organizations that are involved in the distributed Web, the safer and faster it will become.
The next generation Web also needs a distributed authentication system without centralized log-in and passwords. That’s where encryption comes in.
And it also needs to be Private — so no one knows what you are reading. The bits will be distributed — across the Net — so no one can track you from a central portal.
And this time the Web should have a memory.
We’d build in a form of versioning, so the Web is archived through time. The Web would no longer exist in a land of the perpetual present.
Plus it still needs to be fun — malleable enough spur the imaginations of a millions of inventors. How do we know that it can work? There have been many advances since the birth of the Web in 1992.
And we have Blockchain technology that enables the Bitcoin community to have a global database with no central point of control.
I’ve seen each of these pieces work independently, but never pulled together into a new Web. That is what I am challenging us to do.
Funders, and leaders, and visionaries — This can be a Big Deal. And it’s not being done yet! By understanding where we are headed, we can pave the path.
Larry Lessig’s equation was Code = Law. We could bake the First Amendment into the code of a next generation Web.
We can lock the web open. Making openness irrevocable.
We can build this.
We can do it together.
Digital Librarian and Founder of the Internet Archive