Let me start by saying that blockchain is a weird space to start with!
(Don’t worry crypto enthusiasts, this blog gets better after this!)
I am firm believer of the power of decentralized web, like everyone else in the space I am also a programmer, an ISTP. We don’t like authority, we do good where we have to and then we move on. We believe in the ‘Utopian’ dream of a fair world where no one could abuse their power to manipulate poor souls. We are vigilantes to be exact. Most of the time, in podcasts and other places, you will hear that engineers work on open source projects as it increases their employability. That is true, however, that’s only part of the story. We also work to give unfair advantage to unfortunate souls.
I find this hard for capitalists minds to absorb, but sorry — not sorry, that’s what it’s like!
Imagine a world where the only operating system was Windows? Imagine a closed source programming environment like .Net? Imagine there was no Firefox and open-source browsing engines powering Chrome? Imagine Apache Foundation didn’t exist?
After the incidents of housing market crash in 2008, the currency got attention, after Cambridge Analytica, Social Networks got attention. For sure, things will get better one piece at a time.
As Naval of AngelList will put it:
People once thought that AOL would beat the open web. Permissionless programmability and uncensorability seemed unimportant.
Don’t bet against a distributed army of self-interested programmers.
— Naval (@naval) February 4, 2018
Self Interested Programmers is the description that we all were looking for!
Sometimes, the hype is good!
Unlike most in this space I have been busy elsewhere and only started exploring blockchain after the Bitcoin’s recent hype. That hype not only got main-stream developers into the decentralized zone, it also gave breathing space to several blockchain companies that were struggling before the hype. Due to the hype they got to do their successful ICOs, now no matter what happens to the Bitcoin, some programmer bros got their money to build whatever they wanted to build!
Blockchain is more than Cryptocurrencies
I am using the word blockchain for the lack of a better word!
In fact, it’s a whole system with several components complimenting each other.
It’s a decentralized network of nodes (computers) that keeps the same copy of a database (ledger), so even if something happens to one node, the rest can tally their data to continue. This existed in some form as torrent and P2P networks. In my opinion, the genius of Satoshi Nakamoto was the establishment of the economy around a P2P network that incentivised common people to host a node of the ledger. Without that economy, this crypto craze wouldn’t be around!
The Birth of a Decentralized Internet
The first time I heard about decentralized Internet, I wasn’t sure what it meant, possibly because of the blackboxes we all live in!
Why would we need a new Internet? Doesn’t the existing one works best? As it turns out, there are fundamental flaws in the current system (remember the whole matter of net neutrality and Yahoo getting hacked). These are the flaws that exist within the technology stack of the Internet and how it has been used/manipulated by the forces who try to control and earn from it.
Decentralized simply mean you and I can host the nodes (servers) and still we can’t peek what’s getting stored or processed inside our nodes as its all encrypted and blockchain is ensuring the security and integrity of the data being passed around.
An example about the current state of privacy on the web: Have you ever used Snapchat to send or receive compromised pictures of yourself or your loved ones? Well I am sure they get stored in a datacenter in California and possibly they don’t delete them from their servers as well. So, remember that white-haired data-center guy from HBO’s Silicon Valley? Possibly you are proving yourself an entertainment for him during those dark lonely nights 😉
Do freak out and that’s exactly why we need a new decentralized-encrypted Internet!
So, what if we could build a new Internet?
From Ethereum to Telegram to Blockstack, everyone is trying to solve the problems that existing Blockchains have and they are building either on top or on the sides to become the back-bone of the next generation decentralized Internet.
One such company is Blockstack, it’s an open source project ($50M recent ICO) that provides you a browser (called portal) to access the stuff stored on the decentralized web.
A New DNS
Blockstack works on existing TCP/IP networks, however, it doesn’t use centralized DNS providers. Instead, it stores its DNS indexes on multiple existing blockchains (such as Ethereum) eliminating the need of centralized servers that are prone to attacks and failures.
A New Approach to Personal Data Storage
So, its the new Internet, where would your data live? The place where you own it! Namely, your own devices and cloud storage infrastructures such as Dropbox and Google Drive etc. Blockstack has developed an API layer called gaia that remembers and ensures the integrity of the user permission/data to access.
Complex Logic in the Virtual Chains
One of the problem with existing blockchains like Ethereum is the transaction cost that you get while passing something through it. Although, efforts are underway to maximize the throughput and lower the cost of decentralized blockchains, Blockstack has found an interesting solution to the problem. There are virtual blockchains on top other blockchains that handle the complex logic computation of the applications, storing only the minimum and required data to the Ethereum etc.
A New Identity
Finally, how Blockstack ensures that you are the owner of the file you are claiming to be? A new identity structure. They ask you to register a new identity on the blockstack using .ID extension (first I thought they are borrowing .ID from the TLD of Indonesia but as it turns out they have a new DNS so for sure they should have their own namespace as well. So, no its not that Indonesian domain name).
Once you register that <yourname>.id on the blockstack, you can use the same identity on all the apps built on top of blockstack. Even if you don’t register, you can use a hash to identify yourself.
Caution: These are the early days of Blockstack, although the community is now 75,000 strong, the system is in rapid development and deployment. So, on-boarding process once you sign-up is not that cool as one would like it to be!
For example without showing you much around the website asks 0.012 BTC to register a new identity, that translates to only around $7.50 but one can also skip that step to see what’s inside this new Internet before buying into it. I am sure these tiny problems will be resolved in coming days!
So, these are the nuts and bolts through which at least one of the companies out there is building the new Internet.
Would I need new devices to access this Internet?
Of course not!
The iOS and Android apps and the chromes you are so used to will remain the same. Only they will function on a decentralized internet in the background. Just couple of days ago Blockstack announced iOS and Android Developer SDKs.
No! Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp (oh strange, 3 of these belong to a single company and 4th one fought hard to stay independent) hasn’t embraced Blockstack yet and probably will never switch to it. However, this has opened a new playground for the developers like me to build applications that ensures privacy and integrity of a user. That also means we can build economies using “stack” tokens that would not only keep the true ownership of the user data with the user herself but will also reward users to share their content and earn by themselves rather than just uploading it for free on Facebook and let them earn from it.
All these apps are yet to be build from scratch and possibly with a whole different UX but finally, mobile (d)app developers have the basic toolset that they can use to build on top of this new Internet!