The web sucks

In the beginning, there was the Web, and it was good, but then again, we didn’t know any better. There were static pages, and instead of a comment section, there was a guestbook.

Then there was Web 2.0, and it really is better. Now, databases are used to store content, and there is social media. There are also APIs. This may have been an evolution, but it’s led in many cases to centralization, which, in at least the minds of some, is a very unfortunate turn of events. As Tim Berners-Lee wrote just over two years ago, ‘the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division, swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas’. He wrote this to introduce his ‘Solid’ project, which he envisages will ‘restore the power and agency of individuals on the web’.

A better web

This, he writes on a Medium post, will change the current model in which users hand over their personal information ‘in exchange for perceived value’. He never mentions Facebook, or Google, but these must rank among the biggest culprits. They’ve grown far too big, in my opinion, and in the case of the former, have proved to be poor stewards of our information. It’s also becoming harder to protect data, and just because a company representative says, ‘we take security incredibly seriously’ is no reason to believe them. Solid, says Berners-Lee, gives every user the choice where their data is stored and who can access it. Data can be shared with anyone, and people can look at the same data with different apps at the same time. Berners-Lee is right on the money, but he’s not the only one who’s been thinking about this.

“The web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division, swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.”

Tim Berners-Lee

Danny Zuckerman and Michael Sena, cofounders of 3Box, are two others. As they write on their Medium post, 3Box is an open source data storage solution that allows users to manage their private and public information on the decentralised web. They say there’s a need for decentralised data storage, and a user-managed access control system to foster interoperability, a better web experience, and selfsovereignty.

As Zuckerman told a recent episode of the Cryptoconomy podcast, the model we have today is that each app has to create its own network and database of information in order to serve and engage with customers.

Part of the web3 vision is that instead of siloes around each platform and app, there is a more open and shared base layer of data. He says it’s the data shared between people, as well as the data about who you are, that informs much of today’s online experience.

As they told the podcast, any user behaviour such as browsing, transacting, entering data in a form, or tweeting, or sending messages, is being stored on a cloud, such as AWS, for example. It’s really easy for a startup to sign up with AWS, but all the data is stored there and siloed behind an app or service, instead of being stored in a way that the user can bring their data with them from app to app.

Zuckerman says 3Box aims to invert this model, and make the data that’s being generated online – between users and the apps and products and services they use – more available to a shared network of data that can serve all apps in a more interoperable way. To this end, 3Box has released Ethereum Profiles, a shareable user profile for Ethereum addresses that contains public and private information. While public info is viewable by anyone, private information must be securely requested.

Think of how many times you’ve had to enter personal information for an app profile, or perhaps it just got copied over from Facebook.

As Zuckerman says: “It’s crazy that we’re recreating it on each app we go to, although it’s roughly the same information, or we’re relying on these huge platforms to provide it, and then they suck all the data back in.”

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