This is my report about my exploration of the decentralized web, in reverse chronological order.
I've been participating in the course E-learning 3.0, facilitated by Stephen Downes. Among the topics of immediate interest here is the Interplanetary File System (IPFS). IPFS is much less user-friendly than The Beaker Browser, but it makes it rather easy to keep the site up. More on my blog Learning with Moocs.
The course E-Learning 3.0 about distributed learning technologies has started. I posted about the very first content and experiences on my personal blog MixedRealities. The facilitator Stephen Downes gave an opening presentation at a conference in Toronto. Here are the slides, the video will be available later on.
The Inrupt/Solid project (see previous post) published the beginnings of documentation. I'm not a very technical person, so I'm surprised that it's actually not too hard to digest.
So what is Solid about? From the documentation:
The main enhancement is that the web becomes a collaborative read-write space, passing control from owners of a server, to the users of that system. The Solid specification provides this functionality. In order to write data as well as to read it, and to protect privacy, it is important to control who has access to what. This is managed using the web access control list specification. For permissions it is essential to have a concept of identity, for which the WebID Identity spec is used. This is a minimalistic identity spec, which allows a URI to denote a user, and return back machine readable data. Authentication of that identity is provided using WebID-TLS and WebID-OIDC right now, but other strategies, such as key fobs, or two factor authentication, could be added to depending on system needs. Discovery is the final piece, and allows the ability to tie all of these things together, and enables both humans and machines to participate in a rich ecosystem, leading to emergent and self organizing growth. The key tool for facilitating this is the URI specification. This forms the basis of the Linked Data philosophy which glues all of our data together, to create a complete Web Operating System.
I’m exploring the resources for week one of Stephen Downes’ E-learning 3.0 course (that week starts officially on October 22). One can find the outline here. First piece is Why we need Web 3.0by Gav Would, the co-founder of the Ethereum platform. How will web 3.0 look like? Would’s answer: “We’ll use web browsers, but they might be called “wallets” or “key stores.” Browsers (and components like hardware wallets) will represent a person’s assets and identity online, allowing us to pay for something, or prove who we are, without needing to appeal to a bank or identity service. There will still be room for trusted parties, insurance outfits, backup-services and so forth. But their tasks will be commoditized and their activity verifiable.”
The next document is an article by Zoë Corbyn in The Guardian: “Decentralisation: the next big step for the world wide web.” Corbyn: “The decentralised web, or DWeb, could be a chance to take control of our data back from the big tech firms.”
Other resources include The Beaker Browser and The Open Data Barometer.
We’ll discuss distributed ledgers. Interesting element in the Wikipedia entry: “a blockchain is only one type of data structure considered to be a distributed ledger.”
Hashes are mentioned as well as is Solid, referring to Tim Berners-Lee who launches this project “to start a New Internet”. In a recent post he explains: “Solid is a platform, built using the existing web. It gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access select elements, and which apps you use. It allows you, your family and colleagues, to link and share data with anyone. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time.”
Berners-Lee takes a sabbatical and founded a company, inrupt, which will be the infrastructure allowing Solid to flourish. It has to provide commercial energy and an ecosystem to protect the integrity and quality of the new web. His partner at inrupt will be John Bruce.
Tim Berners-Lee will still be acting as Founder and Director of W3C, the Web Foundation and the Open Data Institute. Developers will be able to use Inrupt tools to build their own decentralized apps.
For a useful distinction between ‘decentralized’ and ‘distributed’, read Web3 - The Decentralized Web on BlockchainHub (but then again, not all distributed projects are based on blockchain-technology). Finally we’ll also discuss https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive Web Apps, Accelerated Mobile Pages and content delivery networks.
Reading some documentation about the support for markdown on Beaker. (Yes, it's supported, but I started this thing in html so it's a bit late to change)
I'm pretty excited to learn that the education expert Stephen Downes is launching a MOOC about distributed e-learning. I know he'll talk about IPFS and probably other technologies as well. Here is an older post of his about these topics (and many other things)
Yay. I registered for Blockstack. One of the most interesting applications seems to be GraphiteDocs. Unfortunately, you need to create yet another username for the service, which simply failed repeatedly. I just give up on Graphite for now. Decentralized is not necessarily user friendly.
I installed IPFS on my laptop, using an introduction by Jonas Bostoen and a series of lessons (unfortunately not finished yet).
in both cases, the Beaker/dat approach and the IPFS technology, it seems that "decentralized" means you need to have - self-evidently - peers. Those peers must be willing to share your files, else they won't be accessible when you shut off your machine. Hashbase is a solution for that when you use Beaker (putting your content on Google cloud, I guess), and Eternum is one possible solution for IPFS. Even though you can easily switch to other providers, these entities are intermediaries. They impose rules or could be asked by authorities to apply laws and regulations. Also the decentralized web does not escape from authorities and regulations, so it seems (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
So after reading about stuff such as The Beaker Browser, .dat-files, IPFS, playing with Blockstack, I try to do something practical and make this little site with The Beaker Browser.
But what is The Beaker Browser? Beaker is a new kind of browser that gives you the power to create websites, share files, and control your data. So one can browse the web but also create a site, right from the browser. But where is your site hosted? In order to keep it online, Beaker recommends to share the project's URL with friends, or with a public peer service like Hashbase. That gives you a nice classical url such as https://decenterscratchpad.hashbase.io/
Some more information about the Dat software which is supported by The Beaker Browser: "dat" was created by Max Ogden in 2013 to standardize the way data analysts collaborate on the changes they make to data sets.((Wikipedia).
Another technology used for the decentralized web is IFPS, which is currently not supported by the Beaker project. InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) is a protocol and network designed to create a content-addressable, peer-to-peer method of storing and sharing hypermedia in a distributed file system. IPFS was initially designed by Juan Benet, and is now an open-source project developed with help from the community (Wikipedia).
There are already billions of files stored on IPFS and Cloudflare built a gateway enabling us to access the files right from a browser, without any need to install IFPS (and becoming a node in the network). Examples of such files are these Stack Exchange documents. Neocities recently announced they suport IPFS.
The above mentioned Wikipedia entry for IPFS mentions some political applications of the technology: The Catalan independence referendum, taking place in September–October 2017, was deemed illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain and many related websites were blocked. Subsequently, the Catalan Pirate Party mirrored the website on IPFS to bypass the High Court of Justice of Catalonia order of blocking. IPFS is being used to create a mirror of Wikipedia, which allows people living in jurisdictions where Wikipedia is blocked to access the content of Wikipedia.------------------------------------------