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Towards A New Internet
Crossing the DWeb Chasm
By: Zach Brown
In 2020, Jesse Walden penned an essay ‘How Does DeFi Cross the Chasm?’ laying out three paths forward from mainstream adoption of decentralized finance. Walden’s suggestion on which path — a real crypto economy lead by non-financial consumers apps — was on the money, as art markets (NFTs) and social clubs (DAOs) have become primary narratives in our collective consciousness. In retrospect, it was obvious that a self-selected group of technical nerds interested in highly financialized products would not be representative of the next wave of crypto users. The ‘Crossing the Chasm’ book by Geoffrey Moore, referenced in the essay, articulates the same idea regarding the early startup era.
Now, decentralized finance is more than simply self-referential tools for speculation. Yet, we’ve reached a new impasse as the rails on which DeFi runs are showing cracks. Centralized web services across the stack from frontend to backend are points of fragility for cryptonetworks. The Open Sea API and frontend has arbitrarily delisted specific tokens. AWS cloud infrastructure has caused major protocol outages, while remaining a primary provider of L1 validators. Centrally maintained DeFi frontends are targets of regulators and subject to downtime. Crypto exchange domain names have been vulnerable to social engineering attacks. This is the fiat web.
The decentralized web or the DWeb is the stack of loosely coupled, interoperable protocols building towards a New Internet. An internet run on redundant, application-specific chains including storage, compute, naming, and bandwidth that can be swapped out without contagion if any individual layer of the stack fails. An internet that is more open, secure, resilient, and sustainable.
The DWeb, in many ways, is where DeFi sat just a few years ago, nascent technology primarily used by insiders and enthusiasts. There are early versions of decentralized alternatives to many of the components of our fiat web stack. Open APIs for indexing and querying data on The Graph. Token metadata on IPFS. Permastorage on Arweave. Open marketplaces on Zora. Explorers, validators, and protocols running on Akash. DeFi frontends on Skynet. Name registrars on Ethereum. And a decentralized root zone on Handshake.
Still, there remains complacency and justification for the fiat web stack. Centralization is explained away as a necessity. As we now know, we are the layer zero of coordination technologies. It is the language we use and narratives we share that defines the trajectory of crypto. This is the real metaverse, the living world of words as Ben Hunt calls it. And if we succumb to stories of old, that we somehow have no alternatives but to roll over and accept the fiat web stack, then that’s exactly what we will get. But if we want a New Internet that is built around community gardens rather than walled gardens, sustainable rather than extractive, peer to peer rather than hierarchical, maximizing social good while minimizes surveillance and manipulation, we need to start telling those stories.
Below are three types of stories as to how this might happen.
(1) Un-censor the censored. This is the DWeb equivalent to DeFi’s bank the unbanked. Censorship appears inside of crypto with the delisting of assets. Outside of crypto with the banning from social media and other platforms. And most existentially by cutting off the internet entirely with the Great Firewall and other authoritarian regimes.
There is reason to be optimistic about connecting underserved internet communities. The thorny-ness of the free speech narrative is that it often resonate the hardest with more unsavory crowds. Bitcoin experienced that era early on. In some ways, it’s required a rebranding of crypto to Web3, to shake the reputation of cryptocurrency for illegal activity in favor of technological innovation. So while censorship is a very pressing issue around the globe, it’s not clear to me that this where mass adoption of decentralized web protocols comes from.
(2) Regulatory pressure. Funny enough, it’s the regulators calling bullshit on the decentralization of DeFi frontends. Maybe they read my article from from a couple years ago on DeFi frontends. In all seriousness, core developers maintaining frontends for financial markets has become a compliance issue as Polymarket came under U.S. regulatory scrutiny.
Frontends are just the first layer of a web stack that is coming increasingly under the eye of regulators. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the same logic follows down the stack for developers maintaining other web services that act as centralized bottlenecks to supporting cryptonetworks.
Example of how the centralized DNS system works. And why projects such as HNS are important:
It’s a sort of backwards Cypherpunk’s Manifesto, in which the catalyst for privacy from regulatory overreach comes from the regulators themselves. Top down threats are not the most compelling argument for the next wave of adoption of decentralization web movement. These are complex distributed systems that emerge over time from the bottom up experimentation amongst protocols and communities.
(3) From Degeneracy to Regeneracy. A bear market flushes leveraged degenerative games from the system making room for new narratives to form around sustainability and non-financial applications. Allen Farrington made the case in Elusive Symmetries that the other side of censorship resistance is integrity assurance, and I’d like to frame the other side of immutability as sustainability. It’s not just about the inability to edit the ledger; It’s that with these security guarantees, we can seed and water and cultivate new foundations knowing we won’t get rugged. We can build more sustainable homes for our online selves and communities.
There’s always been a bit of solarpunk DNA in the crypto ecosystem. That ethos is growing larger by the day. Crypto communities like Other Internet and Gitcoin are working inwardly on pushing commons-oriented approaches through research and novel funding mechanisms. While projects such as Regen, Klima, and DexGrid are making strides outwardly exploring carbon credit markets and energy microgrids.
When market cycles turn down the volume on speculation, sustainably-minded communities have a chance to rise. As do non-financial applications. We’ve just experienced the biggest crypto bull market in history. That means, the largest set of new entrants ever are set to weather their first crypto bear market. What do we do all do if not gamble on dog coins and yield farms? New decentralized web applications that embrace the techno-optimism alive in certain crypto subcultures today is what excites me most. And doing so atop a DWeb stack may not just patch today’s problem areas but unlock new sorts of apps that are a step function improvement in utility from what we have now.
Mirror uses Arweave and Ethereum to unlock new forms of permanence and funding for writing. PartyDAO uses DAOs to tackle collective ownership and, by proxy, questions around governance by steering communities to start as DAOs from day one. XNHNS uses Handshake and Chainlink to port top-level domains to any smart contract platform enabling experiments in programmable registrars and cross-chain identity. Homescreen uses Skynet to run DeFi and other Web3 frontends locally. HandyHost uses Sentinel, Sia, and Akash to supply bandwidth, storage, and compute services seamlessly in-browser. Fleek and Spheron use a slew of hosting and naming options for deploying sites.
I think these tools are likely just scratching the surface of what’s possible with a fully decentralized web stack. And I’m optimistic that equipped with new narratives of regeneration, we can get there.