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Welcome to the Decentralized Web


Web3 will need a brand new form of fully-owned website

Author’s Note: This is Part 5 of my NFT series. Click here to read Part 1, where I document the rise of NFTs. And here for Part 2, where I talk about it as a foundation of the new world. And here for Part 3, where I talk about owning our social media content + social media as our digital identity. And here for Part 4, where I talk about decentralized identity and name ownership.

A few days ago, I asserted that the Web3 revolution and the arrival of the Metaverse could not happen without decentralized identities — the ability to own your own name and thus your identity in the Metaverse.

If you don’t have time to read through the whole post, this blurb summarizes 80% of what I was trying to get at:

In the Metaverse, you need to own your name — proving on the blockchain that you are who you say you are.

Going back to my earlier analogy, this name is the key in the key-value pair, so that when it’s queried against, a slew of information returns — information that actually tells others about who you are.

I think that second statement is really powerful and what I want to expand on today.

An identity is an amalgamation of a lot of different information: your upbringing, your values, your hobbies, your job (if you live in the States), etc.

A name is the identifier that wraps all of that information up to a single key that can be indexed and queried against.

Today, the simplest thing that we can do with this decentralized identity is link our disparate personalities into one key: our Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. A single source of truth regarding who we are digitally.

Another really fascinating thing that we can do with decentralized identities today is to actually use them as URLs that resolve to websites — we’ll call them decentralized domains.

How is a domain decentralized?

Right now, domains like .com are owned by third party companies like Verisign and resold to end-consumers through companies like Namecheap and Godaddy.

We’re either paying an annual subscription for the right to use that domain, or we can buy it outright for an egregious sum of money.

Either way, we don’t truly own that domain name. Verisign can censor it at any time. Hackers can target Verisign as an attack vector to shutting down your domain name — thus restricting your website’s access to the internet.

We’ve seen in this crypto before; hackers targeting URL names and resolving them to a malicious website to extract funds from crypto users.

With decentralized domains, the individual owns the domain name, and no one else can use it or take it away without the individual’s expressed consent.

That’s possibly because — like with decentralized identity — the decentralized domain is minted on the blockchain, with immutable ownership rights and permission settings.

That’s what’s so interesting about companies like Unstoppable Domains and Ethereum Name Service; they’re creating the building blocks for the literally Web — like websites — to enter into the Web3 era.

All this talk about Web3, and I completely omitted the discussion around literal websites joining the movement!

Michael Williams, PM of Unstoppable Domains, captures it perfectly:

Unstoppable creates and sells website URLs. Unlike our current options (GoDaddy, Google Domains, etc.) these domains are 100% user controlled. They can never be revoked, taken down, expired, or covered up.

If we combine decentralized domains + decentralized data storage protocols like IPFSArweave or Filecoin + decentralized compute layer like Ethereum, we create a Web3-native world web web — where the identifier/resolution, storage, and processing are all done in an open, permissionless, and decentralized way across thousands of computers instead of large datacenters owned by Microsoft, Google or Amazon.


A Look into the Decentralized Web

It’s hard to conceptualize what a decentralized web looks like — after all, isn’t the world wide web already decentralized, built on open source protocols like IP, DNS, SMTP, and TCP?

Yes, but in the past few decades, large corporations like Google and Facebook have centralized that data and information flow. Now they are essentially the internet, and the Web3 movement is trying to reclaim that initial freedom that Web 1.0 charted.

Here’s an illustrative example that may be able to shine some light on what a decentralized web could look like:

A web where individuals own their own data.

Let’s say I have a blog on Medium (which I do). If I wanted to start writing new posts for Substack instead, I’d essentially have to start all over again with a blank state instead of a robust library of content that I have right now on Medium— or I could literally copy and paste my articles onto Substack, but I run the risk of either Medium finding out (idk what they’d do, but they technically own my content), or at the very least Google seeing and deprioritizing my copied content on Substack in SEO.

Net-net is that none of my data would carry over. My views stats, my followers, my comments, etc.

Now imagine that I could carry over my content, because I actually own them. They’re stored in the blockchain and tied to my identifier.

I could port them to whichever platform I’d like — which ever platform that suits me the best, treats me the best, and has the features that support my objectives the best.

I can even host my own website where my identifier — say jimmy.crypto — would resolve to a website that showcases my beloved content.

Data interoperability across any platform would be possible, after years of walled gardens between the different social media platforms.

Closing Thoughts

I’ll close with another quote from Michael Williams:

Decentralized domains are certainly toy-like, strange, and unserious. But much of that is because they’re fundamentally different from anything we’ve had before. And those differences open up a whole new world of possibilities.

The decentralized web is still a very nascent and abstract thought — and honestly even as I was writing out my illustrative example, I struggled to come up with something concrete that can really hammer home the value of the decentralized web.

I ended up with a lame example about data interoperability between blogging platforms, but honestly the implications of this technology are so much bigger than that, and so much bigger than I can even imagine — let alone articulate.

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