Recording of Intro to DWeb – May 2020 Theme Call is here.
Farmers, artists, and activists often ask Bloom Network about how to get started with the decentralized web and blockchain technologies. This call was our kick-off to a year-long introductory series to help people learn about it. Our first call looked at what the decentralized web is, and the potential for supporting regenerative culture projects.
On the call we asked “How well do you know the D-Web?” One third had no idea, the majority had clarifying questions and a handful work on decentralized web projects or Bitcoin. This discussion, even as an introduction, ended up being more technical than we expected. So we plan to make introductory videos over time that are accessible to noobs who are curious and want to start diving in.
How does Structure and Governance work on the D-Web? We learned that most people don’t know how the current internet is governed and delivered through hardware, various companies and protocols working together. The current web is vulnerable to censorship, monopolization, and extractive third party companies which use and sell your data (and labor) for profit.
The decentralized web “locks the web open”. You can choose to block content you don’t want to engage with, control your data, and external companies are less likely to determine what you see through surveillance capitalism or state propaganda. Ultimately, the D-Web provides incredible creative possibilities for peer-to-peer economic interactions and regional production networks.
“When we have highly centralized, inappropriately centralized power in our body, we call it cancer. But that’s kind of the paradigm for how companies work.”Christina Bowen
It’s important to know that the Decentralized Web involves a lot more than just the money aspect, aka cryptocurrency. All other parts of online life can be decentralized, like file storage (CoBox is an example), and social networks (Scuttlebutt is an example).
What is Bitcoin? John Light gave a helpful introduction to what Bitcoin is, and how decentralized protocols work. Bitcoin is a purely digital currency. It’s decentralization means that there’s no single company or entity that’s in control of Bitcoin. It’s run by a volunteer network of computers all over the world that talk to each other using the Bitcoin protocol, the same way that computers around the world can send messages to each other using the email protocol, smtp. Bitcoin is a similar protocol but for creating and sending money. It’s considered part of the decentralized web, but it can also be used on traditional websites.
Caveat – if you are starting to explore the D-Web, the usability is a bit like using IRC in the early 90’s. Most projects don’t have fancy user interfaces (yet) and the set up is clunky compared with today’s internet and mobile apps. The decentralized web makes huge strides forward in usability for non-techies every year. But it’s still not easy.
“What about financial transactions for sex trafficking, or murder for hire?”
Safety concerns are of course, an important topic. Read John Light’s response in his blog.
What financial models are used for decentralized projects? Sometimes with open source development, the company derives financial benefit from how the broader software ecosystem uses the code. Some companies use digital coins or ICO’s, some nonprofit companies eeeeek along with chronic underfunding. Peer-to-peer crowdfunding is starting to become more common. People can contribute monthly amounts to a project, which covers the developers’ sustainable living (like Patreon but no company-in-the-middle fee). GitCoin is one project that facilitates this. You can program it to work for decentralized governance communities, too, which we’ll describe in more detail below.
What is Holochain? Within the decentralized web, there are many different development ecosystems, blockchains, and protocols, and not all of them talk with each other. Flavia from Brazil asked for clarification on what Holochain is. Christina described that instead of a blockchain where you have kind of like a giant spreadsheet that everybody can write to, but nobody can edit; with Holochain it’s more like how neurons work, where not every “node” in the chain can transact with each other, depending on if the two nodes are in an aligned state or not. It uses less server time, which means less electricity is needed to power it. Dat protocol is another facet of the decentralized web that was discussed. Decentralized web isn’t a noun, it’s more like a bunch of very varied decentralized web technologies, and works like a verb.
John Light works for Aragon, which currently runs on the Ethereum blockchain (Ethereum is like a decentralized global computer – people build ‘Dapps’ on it (decentralized apps)). Aragon has made the world’s first digital jurisdiction. It’s a programming environment for decentralized organizations. This is where peer-to-peer governance, and a huge array of specific governance agreements can be programmed, and automated or made more secure through ‘smart contracts’. Sometimes these kinds of organizations are called DAO’s – decentralized autonomous organizations. A more accurate term is smart organizations or programmable organizations. On Aragon you can set up an organization in 30 seconds, compared to several months and the thousands of dollars it costs to incorporate in the U.S.A., for example.
What about Democracy? Another governance innovation happening thanks to blockchain technologies is liquid democracy, where one can delegate their vote on an issue to someone they trust to be knowledgeable about it. One can then change who their delegate is, or reclaim their own voting connection on any given issue, at any point in time! At Bloom we believe these technologies will make digital-age business easier, and also that they have important possibilities for more constructively managing migration. This is increasingly going to be important for humanitarian purposes due to climate disasters and political destabilization. We are working to teach folks about the decentralized web now, to be prepared together and have enough capacity to utilize these tools when they are needed at a large scale.
“How can we actually decentralize power, intentionally disperse power throughout the system? A honeycomb, instead of these hub and spoke networks of power that we have?”Christina Bowen
Who owns the data? As John Light described, with the decentralized web, your data is no longer controlled by a centralized company, like Facebook, or Dropbox or Google. Instead, the data is fully in your control and the specific people that you choose to share your data with, and there is a resilience built into it. Decentralized file storage protocol works by chopping up your file into little pieces and these are shared across many different computers. Even if one of those computers disappears, you can still reassemble your file.
What would you do if you lost your ability to access Facebook overnight? It is possible for Facebook to arbitrarily decide one day to boot you off their platform, (this happened to Bloom’s director in 2009, as she was determined “not a real person”). Not only do you lose your data (photos, posts), but perhaps more importantly you’ve actually lost all your connections to other people and groups through that platform.
Decentralized web tools give you the ability to control your data, who sees it, and control your relationships with other people directly – peer to peer. Organizations no longer have to rely on centralized platforms like Facebook, in order to collaborate with other people.
The decentralized tools are building infrastructure that could lock the web open, and they’re asking us to confront power at an essential time as the human race together. A platform where the users have a voice and have decision-making power is a platform of and for the people. We can use this technology to imagine the power structures we want to see, and we can explore these different kinds of power. For example, you can have nested or interwoven hierarchies like in nature. It’s about power and it’s about having agency.
The conversation went further down several rabbit holes. Indeed some people get into exploring these technologies because it is the land of infinite rabbit holes. To summarize a cliff we dove off head first together about ethics and technology, here’s a final quote from Christina:
“Can we wrap ourselves around the questions that our technology poses to us quickly enough to keep up with exponential growth as humans to wrangle the questions that we actually need to be wrangling about these futuristic scenarios that are coming way faster than we expect? That requires interdisciplinary conversations of policy and law and all sorts of experts coming together around these questions.”
Test cases in regenerative cultures that will benefit from using decentralized technologies:
1) Bloom is building a federated cooperative for its members (individuals and organizations) to more directly share value with each other, and to connect business better with the bioregions whose life flows sustain us.
2) Some communities are successfully using tokenization to support the flow of goods and services where money is scarce. Tokenization, in blockchain terms, is the process by which “values” are transformed into a digital asset. Grassroots Economics is working in Kenya, South Africa, and Congo – communities are designing their own community currencies, represented as tokens on their POA blockchain (Proof of Impact). It’s helping everyone see the exchanges happening and understand better how to support each other. At Bloom we’ve gotten requests from Indigenous coalitions in the Amazon and Turtle Island asking for how they can use blockchain tools for better local economic sovereignty and regional resource governance.
3) Christina shared the idea that wealth can be measured as flow rate rather than a centralized amassing of currency. There are many finance communities working on better measurements for regenerative impact and on changing how funds structure their investments. Global Regeneration CoLab and Crowd Doing’s Systemic Change group are two of them we’re connected with.
Resources shared on the call:
- Great overview of IPFS (interplanetary file system): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUVmypx9HGI&t=141sDecent
- Christina’s social network platform team: https://www.socialroots.io/ Offer: they are currently looking for beta testers, if anyone has a small network that could use help – they’re also expecting to build into the governance part of the dweb as they get rolling.
- Open Collective – helping with funding models
- Decentralized Web Summit Videos from the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/decentralizedwebsummitmedia-press
- DWeb Camp 2019 Videos from the Internet Archive (at The Mushroom Farm): https://archive.org/search.php?query=DWeb%20Camp
- 3-minute video on simplifying complexity, with mapping and 4 degree of separation insights. https://www.ted.com/talks/eric_berlow_simplifying_complexity
- More resources can be found on Bloom’s ongoing wiki article on the decentralized web.
Outcomes from producing this call:
Our presenters John Light and Christina Bowen got to know each other better from different corners of the dweb development ecosystem.
Danielle Gennety started a working group for designing how to best bring visibility and recognition to contributors to Bloom’s wiki. (Dani is a co-founder of Bloom who works with Giveth, a decentralized philanthropy software company.) This is an international team of about five people, who want to share human and business protocols they’ve found healthy for nomadic communities and ecovillages. This group is also looking into tokenization, where contributors would receive some form of exchangeable credit for use of their work.
Christina Bowen is anchoring a working group in Socialroots.io with a handful of diverse regenerative makers, to test out a way to have cross-network visibility of what each network’s strength is, and what they are currently finding constructive to exchange among each other.
Both of these working groups will likely influence future sessions of Bloom’s ongoing series on this topic, Open Mesh Platforms. Click here to see the tentative schedule and register. And become a member of Bloom to join our central collaboration space in Hylo (and many more benefits).
Many thanks to all our guests on this call, and we look forward to continuing to connect together!
For love of the mycelium,