Why the Decentralized Web's Development Is Unstoppable

The time to hone in on the “New Internet” is now.

AccessTimeIconAug 18, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 9:45 a.m. UTC
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Steven McKie is a founding partner and managing director at Amentum Capital, developer on HandyMiner and HandyBrowser for Handshake and host of the BlockChannel podcast. A version of this article first appeared on Medium.

The time to home in on the “New Internet” is now.

The internet today is representative of society at large. We see growing angst as digital privacy is eroded by tech-giants that are held publicly accountable, but continue to profit lavishly off our innate lack of power online. 

With concerns for the modern web at an all-time-high, it’s no surprise that much-anticipated, decentralized projects are starting to take off, seemingly just in the nick of time.

In the last few years, we’ve seen an increasing amount of:

  • Censorship and access being restricted by tech giants and governments
  • Continued personal data leaks
  • Web de-anonymization with pseudo-anonymity requiring increasingly better technical expertise
  • User data stored in the centralized cloud
  • Users continuously socially experimented on in real time thanks to programmatic ad-buying and AI-assisted ad tailoring

We will get to a place where decentralized tooling can assist with all the above, but patience is the name of the game here. It does not come immediately; as a matter of fact, it can’t. The progression must come iteratively so as to ensure its sustainable, scalable and secure.

Our efforts at Amentum working on HandyBrowser and HandyMiner are an example of what added incentives can do for the rapid expansion of the decentralized web (DWeb). By working hands-on as developer advocates, product managers and traders within the community, we’ve seen Handshake reach product market fit, quickly. 

These are the types of initiatives we will need to see more of collectively in the coming year to ensure the web we all know and love today will persist and is properly incentivized to sustain itself for generations to come. The tools being built today will be the stepping stones of tomorrow’s internet.

As we progress out of “Gen 1” of the DWeb, we’re entering new territory ripe with existing Layer 1 and 2 tech, while simultaneously entering a period of rapid advancement in web interoperability. Once “Gen 2” (happening now) is firmly established over the next year, we will see an explosion of decentralized experimentation that will surpass much of our progress the last decade, while pushing us squarely into the hands of the mainstream.

The timeline for the upcoming growth phase of the DWeb
The timeline for the upcoming growth phase of the DWeb

What’s blocking us

There’s a slew of hard technical and networking problems to solve before the DWeb developer community can collectively build what's needed. Some developers struggle with receiving public funding to maintain the commons, while other projects will be unable to find sustainable monetization models.

Many developers feel the DWeb space is still maturing, and rightfully so. We can attest to running into many potential roadblocks while building HandyBrowser as a proof-of-concept (PoC). We built the browser, and quickly realized just how sparse it feels to traverse the decentralized web – a classic chicken before the egg problem.

This tech is complex, and most don’t understand how the traditional internet works (you’d be surprised how little people care when existing things just “work”). With big expectations around improved user privacy, data sovereignty and censorship resistance, the biggest hurdle developers face is the immaturity of these peer-to-peer protocols interoperating together. However, we do see a huge interest in developers learning about DNS, data storage, data privacy, their intricacies and how they can help.

The solutions to censorship resistance, lack of privacy and trust are right around the corner

As business models improve, and Ethereum, Filecoin, Handshake and others on-board new talent, tackling many of the problems consumers worry about on the web is just a matter of time and awaiting better composability – as demonstrated by Ethereum 1.0's maturity and expansion of new use cases.

A web of change

There is an interesting phenomenon with new low-level technologies focused on revitalizing existing industries: the ones built to be more generalized from the start will often fail to gain traction. It’s only those protocols that are app-specific that will find a niche to scale and then generalize overtime. The DWeb will be no different, despite its early monetization issues. Its innate generalizability allows rich experimentation (with public chain incentives), and when we get to that phase of its maturity, that’s when we will see the app cycle of decentralized apps be taken seriously.

Many DWeb speculators and developers are preparing by analyzing the protocols that will be most useful in their stacks. Once you find a setup that works, you will become more granular with your product offering and design, finally monetizing through differentiation and expanding network effects.

The feedback loop of phases that must occur before the DWeb is “complete."
The feedback loop of phases that must occur before the DWeb is “complete."

When Web1 and Web2 were emerging, we had to bear the brunt of the costs. Setting up infrastructure and scaling it for a fledgling internet ripe with growing creative and financial interests was the main priority. With the DWeb (previously referred to as “Web3”), we have to pay the cost of initially bootstrapping and normalizing these protocols, but those that make the effort will also capture the profits that follow without having to be value-extracting by pillaging user data and privacy.

If our thesis is correct, this is the cycle where many will reap returns larger than ever due to their platforms’ potential scale and reach, with overhead reduction as the core tenet of the decentralized web’s main mission.

It’s clear to us the DWeb narrative is reaching a major inflection point, and will follow the tailwinds of DeFi into the next cycle as we work to decentralize our protocols, back ends and front ends. The trust in the existing web is eroding faster by the day. 

Although the solutions to censorship resistance, lack of privacy and trust are right around the corner, further experimentation and development of the DWeb meme is necessary before the final barriers to the New Internet are sprung open, inviting a new world of change and enlightenment online.


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