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Web3: The expect protocols over platforms

Screens with program code moving as in a mainframe.

Image Credit: angelhell/Getty

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Initially, there have been protocols

Instead of reveal Web3 again, I would like to reveal Web1: the 90s. In those days, I used something called Communicator. It is possible to think about it as a suite of internet clients and applications. Needless to say, it had Navigator, a browser, but additionally a messenger for emails, a news client and also a push system. It had been among the way the early web worked: multiple protocols for different purposes. You might remember FTP, SMTP, Gopher and Archie, but additionally XMPP and several, a lot more.

The cool thing about these protocols is they made the computer you used irrelevant. They abstracted away the underlying operating-system and hardware. Similarly, these protocols embraced the Unix philosophy and only centered on one thing to accomplish it well: file sharing, email transmission, push messaging etc.

Then, HTTP and HTML won

Probably the most abstract of the protocols was HTTP. Though it was initially created for transfer of hypertext documents, it quickly became apparent that it had been proficient at transferring just about any type of file. Similarly, HTML pretty quickly saw the emergence of JavaScript in an effort to make static documents more dynamic. The net stack was (but still mostly is):

1. Make requests to download HTML, JavaScript and CSS files over HTTP.

2. The browser executes these to render them as fancy websites and applications.

This meant that other, more specialized protocols could just become applications along with HTTP and HTML. If youre using Gmail and sending a contact to some other person using Gmail, youre most likely not using POP, SMTP or IMAP, but only HTTP and HTML. FTP and XMPP are actually referred to as Megaupload and WhatsApp, for better or worse.

What might surprise you is how hacky HTTP and HTML are. In the end, the HTTP spec uses Referer rather than referrer, which may function as proper English term, and despite all efforts, HTML never could comply with the XML requirements. Start to see the irony? HTML and HTTP, that have been both poorly designed in comparison to other more academic protocols and formats, eventually overran the whole stack.

Their simplicity and versatility is what made HTTP, HTML and JavaScript so powerful when you are adopted everywhere and for everything.

402: Reserved for later use

Still, the HTTP spec did have a couple of interesting features, including HTTP status codes, to inform the customers how to behave with the files it downloaded. It offers mechanisms to redirect users when resources have changed, or indicate that an individual is not permitted to get access to it, or that it’s now unavailable. Youve probably heard about the infamous 404!

You can find a large number of statuses, including 402, that servers should use to point when payment is necessary. As it happens that the specification because of this continues to be reserved for future use.

Which means that of web sites and applications (including those that replaced the protocols) which used HTTP and HTML had to determine how exactly to monetize independently and thats how exactly we were left with banner ads and the eye economy.

Soon, a few of these websites and applications realized that to become more profitable, they might have to grow bigger. They realized that the more data they collected, the more attention they attracted, the more lock-in that they had, the more profitable they might get (not only more revenues!). Thats how platforms wedged themselves in to the middle of the web.

The platforms

To be able to maintain lock-in, platforms _privatized_ protocols and applied their very own terms of services along with them: thats how Facebook now _owns_ the social graph or Google tried (tries?) to force its syndication format, called AMP, onto publishers. In Web2, the permissionless internet of protocols was replaced with endless intermediates and gatekeepers by means of platforms.

Will Web3 why don’t we reinvent protocols?

The existing state of the web is disappointing. The governance of our collective brain has been challenged by all sorts of governments, users tend to be more and much more frustrated with the behavior of the platforms and the web is increasingly controlled by way of a shrinking amount of corporations (or individuals like Mark and Elon).

In the long set of internet protocols, a reasonably recent you have been steadily gaining in popularity and awareness: Bitcoin. Dont roll your eyes at this time. Bitcoin is really a protocol for the money. It lets people transfer coins in a completely permissionless and decentralized way, like HTTP lets them transfer documents. To comprehend why Bitcoin represents a fresh expect a protocol-driven internet, we have to consider what blockchains are.

So, what exactly are blockchains best for?

Bitcoin is really a distributed ledger. With regards to ledgers, its a negative one, and worse than almost every other ledgers in almost every aspect but one: its capability to make people acknowledge what everyones balance is, with out a central authority. Bitcoin shows us that blockchains are consensus machines: they’re systems that why don’t we all _agree_ on things, even though we dont acknowledge anything else, and also if we make an effort to lie to others.

Agreeing is nice, but what exactly are we really agreeing on? In software, you can find really two forms of things: data, categorised as circumstances, and algorithms. Bitcoin asks us to acknowledge balances in the ledger: Julien owns 15.4, Hannah owns 1337 and Giselle owns 42. Thats good, however, not terribly useful beyond that ledger use case.

Actually, a blockchain may also ask to acknowledge processes. These agreements on process tend to be called smart contracts. They’re bits of code that work with techniques that can’t be altered, beyond what the code actually codifies. If the thing a contract does is return the sum of the 2 numbers, it’ll return the sum of the 2 numbers, and no-one will ever have the ability to change that program, without terminating the complete blockchain.

Maybe, you see where I’m going: these smart contracts, or collectively agreed-upon processes are, actually, protocols. They’re methods to codify the behavior of actors in a manner that no actor could arbitrarily change how things just work at the expense of everybody else (until it’s been codified such as this).

Dead code vs. smart contracts

But there’s yet another thing. Usually, protocols are dead code. They’re specifications, written in English, with plenty of MUST and really should, but, despite everyones best effort the translation from English (the lingua franca!) to actual computer code is at the mercy of interpretation and a lot of things could be lost in translation. With smart contracts, the protocols are, actually, running code. You don’t have to interpret English, and perhaps even no dependence on an in depth specification as the protocol is the smart contract.

It goes even more. Usually, the governance round the dead code protocols is pretty limited. A small amount of large companies spend several huge amount of money per year to obtain a seat at the table of the IETF, W3C along with other governing bodies. Despite plenty of good intentions, its pretty opaque and filled with politics: Ill enable you to have your DRM in the event that you consent to my HTTP2. As a result, things are slow to go, and they’ll sometimes move around in directions that not serve small indie developers or internet surfers most importantly.

There again, blockchains do provide us a fascinating opportunity, as the governance of a protocol is, actually, a protocol too! Furthermore, a particular kind of smart contract, called a DAO, can offer a reasonably good option to the normal chamber governance that happened as yet.

And today what?

First, its early.

Then, beware.

And only then, lets experiment with techniques that why don’t we slowly deconstruct platforms, by replacing a few of the core primitives they own with open protocols which are collectively owned and governed by their very own communities.

For instance, the identity primitive is an extremely important one. Nearly every website and platform must identify its users. Emails and passwords were typical, but passwords are bad, and asking users to (re)create identities on every single website is simply too painful. So we moved in to the worlds of OpenId and OAuth. They are useful methods to decrease the security risks that passwords introduced, however they also moved us from the self-sovereign world (I own my email and password) to 1 where we’ve delegated our identities to Google and Facebook that is not ideal.

The cryptocurrency primitives of public/private key cryptography are bringing us back again to a global where we are able to have a globally shared identity, without password AND and never have to hope that the platforms could keep providing one for all of us. REGISTER With Ethereum can be an effort for the reason that direction.

Needless to say, I really believe that another core primitive thats emerged on the net is the idea of membership. Whether it’s your paid NY Times access, the truth that you follow me on Twitter, or that Discord role: they are all memberships. Since theyre everywhere, I really believe memberships ought to be normalized so that they behave exactly the same.

The platforms will always have a job. They’ll provide distribution, curation, differentiated user interfaces along with other capabilities. But protocols won’t become gatekeepers, because they cannot cut someone from the network without cutting themselves from said network. Despite its best effort, Apple won’t have the ability to remove Safari from iOS to totally control the application form experience on the phones. However, they are able to (and really should!) compete to find the best experience, speed, connectivity or battery life!

Julien Genestoux may be the founder of Unlock.

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