Jack is backing an alternative to the Web3 vision called Web5 (Web2 + Web3) through an organization named TBD with open source projects for decentralized identity and decentralized web nodes for personal data storage that work with distributed web apps. On the surface, as I have not had an opportunity to look deeper into this Web5 initiative, the overview seems closely aligned with what I independently have imagined. I feel the potential kinship to what this project is doing.
The Web5 project appears to be directionally attractive with regard to how the problem space is framed. However, we need to examine the solution approach to see if the protocols and architecture being proposed are also attractive. The Web3 approach is decidedly not attractive for the reasons that Jack has highlighted. I credit him for being a vocal dissenter, when honest dissent is warranted.
I will dig deeper into Web5 and offer some insights from my own perspective. If this turns out to be closely aligned to my own passions, I may volunteer to contribute.
Is it possible to build tech to track reputation for a digital identity across services without having it gamed or turned into a social credit system of institutionalized cancel culture?
The topic of reputation came to mind was promoted by this tweet. Saifedean Ammous (The Bitcoin Standard) had this idea for how Twitter could be improved. It is about reputation. To determine whether someone should be distrusted, a person can look to their own social network to see how often the counterparty is distrusted. Apply the Web of Trust pattern toward distrust. The same system for tracking certification (a form of trust) can be leveraged to track distrust also, and this would be a very valuable service for reputation tracking and analysis.
Reputation may not be an absolute measure. Saifedean’s observation suggests to me that it should work more like Web of Trust, except in the case of blocking it would be a measure of distrust. Each block is an attestation of distrust of the blocked user. The users who Saifedean follows form his web of trust. To some lesser degree the connections to others through his follow list deserve some trust as a transitive relationship. Those blocked by these trusted users can each be assigned a distrust score based on the attestations from Saifedean’s web of trust.
From your perspective, the reputation of someone else would be based on your own web of trust. It is subjective, relative to your social network and the attestations of each member. Attestations of trust contribute to a score for how much a person deserves to be trusted. Attestations of distrust contribute to a score for how much a person deserves to be distrusted.
Calculating reputation scores based on attestations on social networks raises questions and concerns. Scoring can be gamed and abused. Bot nets can be deployed to skew scores by contributing many bogus attestations. This can be used to smear a hated enemy or to fraudulently raise someone’s public stature. We see such gaming in search engine optimization, in likes and dislikes of content on social networks, and in product rating and review sites. Personal and professional reputation is a high stakes affair.
Everyone is aware of China’s social credit system, which enables the government to track every citizen’s activities, score them according to the government’s preferred behaviors, and punish citizens to various degrees by denying low scoring individuals from participating in society (i.e., economic transactions, travel, etc.). A reputation system exists to facilitate individuals to freely associate with others or to deny such associations. This system must forbid the government or other powerful entities from being able to coerce others into and out of associating with individuals these powerful entities target for punishment, which would be tyrannical.
Is it possible for such a reputation system to be deployed prolifically without enabling tyrannical regimes or angry mobs from exploiting it in violation of individual rights. Lives are destroyed this way, as they are cast out of society. Ideally, the system’s protocols would make it impossible for such power to be abused in this way. Reputation is tied to a person’s digital identity. If a person is shackled to a single identity, they are vulnerable to that identity being smeared and targeted for cancellation by adversaries.
There must be some recourse. If a person can change identities and recertify their verified credentials for their replacement identity, this could effectively renounce any references to the old identity. Attestations of distrust of the old identity would have no effect on the new identity. However, attestations of trust for the new identity would need to be earned and reestablished. This makes changing identity a costly migration, only worthwhile if shedding a highly disreputable identity to start fresh. It is also important for the identity protocols to be decentralized such that the system is open to many providers with no coordination or shared storage or policy enforcement. There must not be an single source of truth for human identity tied to digital identities, otherwise a person can be cancelled by tyranny or abuse of power.
We want to enable Alice to assess Bob based on Bob’s positive and negative attestations among the people connected between them. That allows Alive and Bob to associate or not based on informed consent. We do NOT want such voluntary associations to be interfered with by tyrannical powers, who wish to exert control over collectives to target individuals regardless of consent.
The trucker’s freedom convoy in Canada has revealed how individuals are vulnerable to tyrannical (rights violating) actions by governments and corporations cooperating with authoritarian diktats across jurisdictional boundaries. Maajid Nawaz warns of totalitarian power over the populace using a social credit system imposed via central bank digital currency (CBDC) regimes being developed to eliminate cash. “Programmable” tokens will give the state power to control who may participate in financial transactions, with whom, when, for what, and how much. Such a regime would enable government tyranny to reign supreme over everyone and across everything within its reach.
Centralized dictatorial power is countered by decentralization, especially that which is designed into technology to become unchangeable by humans after the technology proliferates. The design principle is known as Code is law. The Proof of Work (PoW) consensus algorithm in Bitcoin is one such technology. CBDC is an attempt to prevent Bitcoin from becoming dominant. Criticism of PoW using too much electricity is another tactic. National and supranational powers (above nation states) are working against decentralization in order to preserve their dominance. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is installing its people into national legislatures and administrations to enact policies similar to those of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to concentrate globalized power for greater centralization of control.
We look toward Web3 and beyond to enable decentralization of digital services. As we explore decentralized applications, we must consider the intent behind distributed architectures for decentralization. What do we want from Web3?
Traditionally, we think about availability with regard to failure modes in the infrastructure, platform services, and application components. Ordinarily, we do not design for resiliency to the total loss of infrastructure and platform, because we don’t consider our suppliers to be potentially hostile actors. However, global integration and the unholy nexus of multinational corporations with foreign governments to impose extrajudicial punishments on individuals, who reside outside the jurisdiction of governments hostile to their cause, put them within the reach of unjust laws and tyrannical diktats of authoritarians. It is clear now that this is one of the greatest threats that must be mitigated.
Web3 technologies, such as blockchain, grew out of recognition that fiat is the enemy of the people, and we must decentralize by becoming trustless and disintermediated. Eliminate single points of failure everywhere. Run portably on compute, storage, and networking that are distributed across competitive providers in adversarial jurisdictions across the globe without cooperation. When totalitarianism comes, Bitcoin is the countermove. Decouple from centralized financial systems, including central banking and fiat currencies. Become unstoppable and ungovernable, resistant to totalitarianism.
To become unstoppable, users need to gain immunity from de-platforming and supply chain disruption through decentralization. Users need to be able to keep custody of their own data. Users need to self-host the application logic that operates on their data. Users need to compose other users’ data for collaboration without going through intermediaries (service providers who can block or limit access). Then, to achieve resiliency, users need to be able to migrate their software components to alternative infrastructure and platform providers, while maintaining custody of their data across providers. At a minimum, this migration must be doable by performing a human procedure with some acceptable interruption of service. Ideally, the possible deployment topologies would have been pre-configured to fail-over or switch-over automatically as needed with minimal service disruption. Orchestrating the name resolution, deployment, and configuration of services across multiple heterogeneous (competitive) clouds is a key ingredient.
Custody of data means that the owner must maintain administrative control over its storage and access, as well as having the option of keeping a copy of it on physical hardware that the owner controls. Self-hosting means that the owner must maintain administrative control over the resources and access for serving the application functions to its owner, and for that hosting to be unencumbered and technically practical to migrate to alternative resources (computing, financial, and human).
If Venezuela can be blocked from “some Ethereum services”, that is a huge red flag. Service providers should be free to block undesirable users. But if the protocol and platform enables authorities to block users from hosting and accessing their own services, then the technology is worthless for decentralization. Decentralization must enable users to take their business elsewhere.
Privacy is a conundrum. Users need a way to identify themselves and authenticate themselves to exert ownership over their data and resources. Simultaneously, a user may have good reason to keep their identity hidden, presenting only a pseudonym or remaining cloaked in anonymity in public, where appropriate. Meanwhile, governments are becoming increasingly overbearing in their imposition of “Know Your Customer” (KYC) regulations on businesses ostensibly to combat money laundering. This is at odds with the people’s right to privacy and being free from unreasonable searches and surveillance. Moreover, recruiting private citizens to spy on and enforce policy over others is commandeering, which is also problematic.
State actors have opposed strong encryption, and they have sought to undermine cryptography by demanding government access to backdoors. Such misguided, technologically ignorant, and morally bankrupt motivations disqualify them from being taken seriously, when it comes to designing our future platforms and the policies that should be applied. Rights are natural (a.k.a. “God-given” or inalienable), and therefore they (including privacy) are not subject to anyone’s opinion regardless of their authority or stature. Cryptographic technology should disregard any influence such authorities want to exert, and design for maximum protection of confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Do not comply. Become ungovernable.
While the capabilities and qualities of the platform are important, we should also reconsider the paradigm for how we interact with applications. Web2 brought us social applications for human networking (messaging, connecting), media (news, video, music, podcasts), and knowledge (wikis). With anything social, group dynamics invariably also expose us to disharmony. Web2 concentrated power into a few Big Tech platforms; the acronym FAANG was coined to represent Facebook (now Meta), Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (now Alphabet). With centralized control comes disagreement over how such power should be wielded as well as corruption and abuse of power. It also creates a system that is vulnerable to indirect aggression, where state actors can interfere or collude with private actors to side-step Constitutional protections that prohibit governments from certain behaviors.
David Sacks speaks with Bari Weiss about Big Tech’s assault on free speech and the hazard of financial technologies being used to deny service to individuals, as was done to the political opponents of Justin Trudeau in Canada in response to the freedom convoy protests.
Our lesson, after enduring years of rising tension in the social arena and culminating in outright tyranny, is that centralized control must disappear. Social interactions and all forms of transactions must be disintermediated (Big Tech must be removed as the middlemen). The article Mozilla unveils vision for web evolution shows Mozilla’s commitment to an improved experience from a browser perspective. However, we also need a broader vision from an application (hosted services) perspective.
The intent behind my thoughts on Future Distributed Applications and Browser based capabilities is composability. The article Ceramic’s Web3 Composability Resurrects Web 2.0 Mashups talks about how Web2 composability of components enabled mashups, and it talks about Web3 enabling composability of data. The focus is shifting from the ease of developing applications from reusable components to satisfying the growing needs of end users. Composability is how users with custody of their own data can collaborate among each other in a peer-to-peer manner to become social, replacing centralized services with disintermediated transactions among self-hosted services. The next best alternative to self-hosting is enabling users to choose between an unlimited supply of community-led hosted services that can be shared by like-minded mutually supportive users. The key is to disintermediate users from controlling entities run by people who hate them.
Here is a great analysis of the critiques against today’s Web3 technologies. It is very clarifying. One important point is the ‘mountain man fantasy’ of self-hosting; no one wants to run their own servers. The cost and burden of hosting and operating services today is certainly prohibitive.
Even if the mountain man fantasy is an unrealistic expectation for the vast majority, so long as the threat of deplatforming and unpersoning is real, people will have a critical need for options to be available. When Big Tech censors and bans, when the mob mobilizes to ruin businesses and careers, when tyrannical governments freeze bank accounts and confiscate funds, it is essential for those targeted to have a safe haven that is unassailable. Someone living in the comfort of normal life doesn’t need a cabin in the woods, off-grid power, and a buried arsenal. But when you need to do it, living as a mountain man won’t be fantastic. Prepping for that fall back is what decentralization makes possible.
In the long term, self-hosting should be as easy, effortless, and affordable as installing desktop apps and mobile apps. We definitely need to innovate to make running our apps as cloud services cheap, one-click, and autonomous, before decentralization with self-hosting can become ubiquitous. Until then, our short-term goal should be to at least make decentralization practical, even if it is only accessible initially to highly motivated, technologically savvy early adopters. We need pioneers to blaze the trail in any new endeavor.
We need a general purpose Web architecture for dApps that are not confined to a niche. I imagine container images served by IPFS as a registry, and having a next-gen Kubernetes-like platform to orchestrate container execution across multicloud infrastructures and consuming other decentralized platform services (storage, load balancing, access control, auto-scaling, etc.). If the technology doesn’t provide a natural evolution for existing applications and libraries of software capabilities, there isn’t a path for broad adoption.
We are early in the start of a new journey in redesigning the Web. There is so much more to understand and invent, before we have something usable for developing real-world distributed apps on a decentralized platform. The technology may not exist yet to do so, despite the many claims to the contrary. This will certainly be more of a marathon, rather than a sprint.
In the journey to developing Web3, we must understand what is motivating decentralization. We are attempting to reinvent the Web to address deficiencies that have placed individuals in jeopardy of censorship, cancellation, and political persecution at the hands of Big Tech platforms, state actors, and adversarial groups intent on harm. Historical ideals to preserve the “free and open Internet” have been abandoned. If a “free and open Internet” is to be preserved, it cannot rely on the honor and voluntary cooperation of humans. Technologies must become permissionless, trustless, and unassailable, so that dishonorable and uncooperative humans can coexist.
Protecting a user’s right to free speech by having the user take custody of their own data, and ensuring that data cannot be made inaccessible.
Protecting a user’s right to free association by ensuring that data in the user’s custody can be published to whatever audience the owner wishes to reach.
Protecting an audience’s right to free association by ensuring access to data published by others, and ensuring that applications can compose that data for the intended use, including for social collaboration.
Protecting a user’s access to platform capabilities for providing the application services that process that data.
Protecting a user’s ability to transact business with others without being subject to third party intermediaries cancelling them.
Protecting a user’s privacy by ensuring the user can share their data only with others who are granted authorization. In some circumstances, a user may want to remain anonymous, so that their real-world identity cannot be exposed for doxxing. Hostile detractors often try to cancel people by targeting their business, sources of income, reputation, relationships, sensitive information, even their personal safety.
Let’s keep these requirements in mind as we explore technologies that can help realize Web3 in restoring the ideal of a free and open Internet in the face of large factions of society who are hostile to (or wobbly on) freedom and openness.