Organization is a necessity nowadays. We make long lists of items to buy, send detailed emails about our work, and spend hours on our phones. We like to stay one step ahead by being efficient.
The way we communicate while working depends on the type on the message. We make to-do lists using Asana and share them with coworkers, use tools like Slack to discuss issues, and Google Hangouts to check in. These products have sprung up so quickly that we take them for granted and expect constant improvements.
Building technology companies is like building a skyscraper. During the earliest days, you can only see dirt and concrete blocks while the foundation is laid. It looks like nothing is being done. If the base is built correctly, these companies then rapidly rise up as they grow exponentially.
We have a tendency to assume that foundations are sturdy. After all, the hottest tech startups tend to use the latest technology. They’re also built by the smartest people. The problem, however, is that the technology within foundations can go out of date.
When you open a web browser on your computer and navigate to a website, you’re probably used to seeing “https” and perhaps a lock in the upper toolbar. HTTPS (originally HTTP: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol), was developed by Netscape Communications in 1994. Since then, its popularity on the web has grown enormously. According to StatOperator.com, as of April 2018 33.2% of the Alexa top 1,000,000 websites use HTTPS as default. HTTPS is one pillar of the web and enables client-server interaction.
However, there are some drawbacks with HTTPS. For example, a user has to trust a certificate authority to vouch only for legitimate websites. Client-server systems also store information in centralized ways, where information can be modified without any notice by the server owner. We see this often online. Maybe you’re a Youtuber, and are tired of Youtube demonetizing your videos and changing the rules constantly. Or think of the last time you got frustrated because your favorite website went down, like the last Youtube outage. Centralization means information can become inaccessible or change without any notice or accountability.
We call the current version of the internet “Web 2.0”. It’s about social interaction, user generated content, compatibility, and ease of use. What it’s not about, however, is privacy and free speech.
Toward A New Foundation
In the case of the internet, there are multiple technology projects aimed at disrupting the status quo. The next version of the web, “Web 3.0”, will contain more features oriented toward privacy, decentralization and democratization. Here are a few key technologies that will play a big part in the next stages of the web.
The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) is a distributed way to store files. IPFS is developed by Protocol Labs, a San Francisco based company that releases open source software aimed at improving the way the internet works. According to Protocol Labs, IPFS is “a peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol to make the web faster, safer, and more open.”
IPFS is a great solution for file storage when combined with blockchain. The IPFS webpage contains a note on the natural synchrony between the two technologies:
IPFS and the Blockchain are a perfect match! You can address large amounts of data with IPFS, and place the immutable, permanent IPFS links into a blockchain transaction. This timestamps and secures your content, without having to put the data on the chain itself.
In fact, blockchain startups are already using IPFS to store files. For example, the decentralized file sharing service Filecoin uses IPFS to store files in a decentralized manner. These would currently be too expensive to store on Ethereum, so IPFS is a great solution. IPFS also functions as an excellent way to manage files. Even if Ethereum scales to handle large files inexpensively, the file management tools of IPFS will keep it relevant.
Here’s a demo from Protocol Labs showing how easy IPFS is to use:
Ethereum is a decentralized platform for running applications. Smart contracts determine the rules of those applications. These contracts are programmed in Solidity, a contract-oriented programming language. The native currency fueling the Ethereum platform, “Ether”, currently has a market cap of over 17.9 Billion dollars. Ethereum has had a remarkable increase in valuation since its inception in 2014.
Think of Ethereum smart contacts as determining rules and actions on the new decentralized internet. Paired with file sharing tools like IPFS, developers can now run decentralized smart contracts that connect to P2P file sharing services. When you use the Ethereum network, you pay to execute parts of these smart contracts, called functions, using Ether. The developer community of Ethereum is working on ways to support more transactions per second, so that more people can use the network inexpensively.
There are lots of easy ways to get started learning more about Ethereum. Learn How To Create Your Own Cryptocurrency Token in just a few simple steps, or How To Build A Huge Community With An Airdrop.
In a typical “internet stack”, much of the value is captured at the top level. We see this with companies like Google and Facebook, who make enormous amounts of money by building applications using protocols like HTTPS.
Interestingly, with blockchain, much of the value is captured at the protocol layer. We see this by looking at the market caps of various tokens, none of which surpass the massive multi-billion dollar market cap of Ethereum. Since users also pay Ether to run smart contracts and decentralized applications, the protocol will grow even stronger as tokens thrive.
In Web 3.0, value is shared across contributors and participants in the network, rather than a few large applications. That’s a fundamental shift for the web, and puts users first. This means the tech giants of today will need to take better care of their users if they’re going to stay relevant tomorrow.