@adlrocha - What the next generation of the Internet means to the people building it

And what about the common of mortals?

puzzle of town

Last Tuesday I was invited to be part of a discussion panel at the European Blockchain Convention (EBC) where I had the chance to share my thoughts aboutWeb3: Next Generation Internet”. As part of my preparation for the panel I decided to ask other smarter and more visionary people than me questions about their thoughts on the next generation of the Internet. I collected such an amount of invaluable feedback that I thought it was really worth writing a publication to elaborate on this and share with the world what different people working in this field thought about the future.

Is the current Internet broken?

This is the only unanimous answer I received. People are aware that many things of our current Internet could be (saying it politely) “kind of better”.

The technical reasons

Let’s start with some of the technical reasons why our current Internet is not great:

“The Internet world is turning upside-down. In today’s Internet, data is primarily flowing from data center servers and server farms, placed largely at the core of the network, towards the users at the edge of the network.

In tomorrow’s Internet, data will (primarily) be produced at the edge of the network from IoT devices, smart/autonomous vehicles, wearables, sensors and the like. This data will be of enormous volume. It has been said that each autonomous vehicle could generate tens of TBs of data per hour.

The current Internet infrastructure is not prepared to accommodate this volume of data coming in from the edge. The current model of sending everything back to the cloud for processing will simply not cope with this wave of data coming from the edge.” -- Yiannis Psaras

Many of you may have listened or read similar claims from me several times. For me the fact that when I send a text message to someone that is in my same room or in the house next door, this message has to travel from my device, to the backbone of the Internet, potentially be processed in a data center, and back to its destination really messes with my mind. The Internet as-is has survived COVID-19, but it may not survive the future. The architecture of the Internet needs to be less centralized.

But not only the architecture of the Internet is broken in this sense, many of the protocols we run over it are also a bit messed up. A good example of this is the protocol responsible for guiding my aforementioned text message from my device, through the madness of routes of the Internet, to another point of the globe.

“Because BGP is built on the assumption that interconnected networks are telling the truth about which IP addresses they own, BGP hijacking is nearly impossible to stop – imagine if no one was watching the freeway signs, and the only way to tell if they had been maliciously changed was by observing that a lot of automobiles were ending up in the wrong neighborhoods.”

Source: https://www.cloudflare.com/learning/security/glossary/bgp-hijacking/

In short, we could definitely make the Internet technicaly more scalable, secure and better.

The social reasons

But many of the more worrisome problems of the Internet right now are not technical but social.

“In the current Internet economics of content creation and publishing can be much healthier. Web 2.0 evolved to a pay-per-click model that has resulted in many pathologies of today's Internet. To mention a few: tracking by third-parties and privacy violations to make ads personalized and more intrusive, low quality (clickbait) content to sell more clicks, bad UX to accommodate all the ads/popup notifications etc, censorship to ensure advertisers are happy, information bubbles, etc.”  -- Vasilis Giotsas

This quote from one of my colleagues really explains the root of many of our current problems and twisted dynamics in the Internet. But the two that personally worry me the most are the aforementioned “privacy violations” and “low quality content”. We don’t own our data, and we should be aware of this by now. 

I am not suggesting in any way that I believe that Apple preserves our privacy and that they really do what they promise, because I don’t know, but their latest ad perfectly illustrates how twisted our relationship with the Internet is right now, and why we should all be more worried than we are about this. 

“Today’s internet looks less like its inventors’ visions of a decentralized, democratic information network and more like an oligopoly controlled largely by the companies that own the data. Big Tech platforms know for whom and what we search, who are our friends and family, what we like and dislike. These companies capitalize on our digital identities for their lucrative advertising-based business models, capturing enormous value at the expense of the privacy of their users.” -- https://finance.yahoo.com/news/3-0-creates-value-users-164938022.html

What do you understand by the web 3.0?

Throughout my research, I came across two differing views on the definition of the web3:

  • The narrow one, i.e. “web3 == Blockchain”: For many people web3 is exclusively blockchain technology. Is undeniable that thanks to blockchain technology and Bitcoin we started revising our assumptions about global centralized networks —such as the financial system or the Internet—. As a result, we started considering how to make them more resilient and open through the use of open protocols. Bitcoin introduced the perfect combination of ideas that would set the foundation for the future, i.e. for the web 3.0 (distributed protocols, immutability through cryptography, consensus algorithms, etc.). So yes, web3 is blockchain… but in my opinion not only.

“Web2 is the Internet of Information, Web3 is the Internet of Money”

  • The visionary one, i.e. “web3 == set of modular protocols to upgrade the Internet”: Blockchain and its protocols are just a small part of all the modules that would become part of the future of the Internet. We will have blockchains for immutability and consensus like Polkadot, or Ethereum; distributed transport protocols like libp2p; distributed storage like Filecoin; content-addressable networks like IPFS; distributed randomness beacons (because randomness will definitely be increasingly important for the future of the Internet) like drand; advanced cryptography like QEDIT’s protocols; a standard data model for content-addressable networks like IPLD; a standard decentralized identity stack as the one being pushed by the DIF; and many many other protocols and projects that are being built to set the foundation of an upgraded Internet. And over these protocols there are already decentralized applications being deployed such as messaging apps like Status.IM, social networks as Matrix, PaaS like Fleek, code management systems as radicle.xyz, or Dropbox alternatives like Slate. See? I think we can already realize that the next-generation of the Internet comprises more than just blockchain technology.

“Web3 is building all the pieces for the next-generation of the Internet. It realized that it needs to be done through an upgrade and not through the creation of an alternative Internet. Many technologies tried to create a better version of the Web, but they never promoted mass adoption as they were incompatible with current systems. Web3 protocols should be focused on upgrading the Internet designing projects to promote innovation through modularization.”

What can the web 3.0 do for us?

“Web 3.0 Creates Value for Users, Not Platforms”

What everyone agrees on is in the potential of Web3 and the next-generation of the Internet. I will try to summarize in the following lines some of the benefits my interviewees (and myself) identified when we were asked the aforementioned question, what can web3 do for us?

  • “It will remove our dependency on centralized entities”. A great example of this are DeFi projects, which are already building decentralized financial instruments (with its sushi issues, but you know, shit happens).

  • “It will build a more resilient architecture for the Internet.”

  • “Web3 will be content-addressable and it will give us a global CDN-by-design. This will eventually fix the issue I mentioned above about having to go to the backbone of the Internet for every single communication, “web2 discovers resources through locations, web3 will directly discover resources regardless of their location”.

  • “Web3 is the Read-Write-Trust Web. We will be able to accurately inform ourselves thanks to more powerful primitives, and preserve public records”. Potentially fixing the current issue with low-quality content.

  • “It will enable new local economies that fit the needs of local communities”

  • “It will promote diversity of ideas rather than strong monoculture through normalization (e.g. big platforms taking it all)”

  • “It will provide us with ‘crypto-by-design’. No need for over-engineered protocols such as TLS to protect our communications.”

  • “It will preserve the privacy of individuals and return the control of their data to users, creating healthier content-creation economics (avoid click-bait, digital scarcity, privacy, etc.).”

  • “It allows us to tokenize and offer liquidity to traditionally iliquid or unquantifiable resources”. Should we start considering tokenizing time and replace fiat money by a time token?

  • “It will lower the barriers of the Internet (and many of other critical centralized networks such as the financial system and the energy system) to allow everyone to become part of the network offering distribution and resiliency.”

Is there something I am missing and that you want to add? Add it to the comments and I will edit the post (I want this publication to aggregate every single view of the web3 possible).

I am sharing quite an optimistic view of what web3 can do for us. Of course, while building it we will find several stones on the way that will make us have to settle for a less ambitious next-generation of the Internet. Or the other way around, we may end up realizing that all of this is just a small part of all the things we are able to build in the new Internet. Time will say, in the meantime let’s keep building and imgining how we want the future to be.

“We are starting to see that technologies behind Bitcoin can be used to create a fully reimagined internet – one that leverages our collective computing capacity, data and devices to become far more powerful and resilient than it is today.”

How do you envision the future of the Internet?

Many of the claims above already glimpse what the future of the Internet may look like. I didn’t get that many answers to this last question, so for this one I am going to share my personal view of the matter, which may be summarized by: 

  • And this quote from my participation in the round table:

With web3 “we'll be able to aggregate the resources of the internet – storage, bandwidth, networking, computation” and share those resources. “If there's spare computation, I can share it. If I have spare resources, I can rent them out.”

And do common mortals think about Web3?

I don’t think the vast majority have heard about web3 (or even web2) or are interested in it. But if after this publication you are one of those really willing to become part of this amazing discussion and trend, “welcome to the club!”. I will love to hear your thoughts! See you next week.