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Locking the Web Open: Dispatches from Morning One of the Decentralized Web Summit

June 8, 2016

“The current Web is not private or censorship-free.” That matter-of-fact bug report provides the reason for the first ever Decentralized Web Summit, taking place this week at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. EFF is participating in the festivities, and whether you’re following along in person, on the live stream, or online, we hope these highlights can bring a bit more of the conversation to you.

The day started with a kickoff by Wendy Hanamura, Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive, welcoming all of the “great builders of the next decentralized web.” She then handed the stage to Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation.

Mitchell emphasized that when we think about building technology that will support a decentralized web, we need to think about what principles we want that technology to embody. She suggested four principles: immediacy (that people should be able to immediately and safely access content), openness (that there’s “One relationship that matters, and that’s between the human being and the publisher of the content,”), universality (that content should run on any platform), and agency (that “The content provider doesn’t have 100% of the power—there is technology and policy that helps you mediate that experience.”).

Vint Cerf then gave a stream-of-consciousness keynote, pointing out that “Much of what we think is permanent on the web isn’t really permanent. It blinks on and off.” After covering some lessons learned from the creation of the Internet, he brainstormed what sort of properties and solutions we’d need to create a web that can archive itself.

Tim Berners-Lee talked about how despite its decentralized origins, “The silo-ization of the web is what people are starting to react against.” He pointed out that the way the web works today, people essentially give away their data in order to get stuff for free. But “what’s wrong with this picture is…the deal is a myth…it’s a myth that it has to be [this way], it’s a myth that’s everybody’s happy with it, it’s a myth that it’s optimal.” He pointed out several interesting directions for fixing this problem, concluding that there are “Lots of really exciting possibilities.”

Of course, the morning wouldn’t have been complete without a talk by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. Brewster talked about how we could "lock the web open," creating something that is permanent, private, and fun. He even gave a live demo, showing that a lot of the underlying technology is already available.

Finally, the morning session closed with two panels. The first, with Zooko Wilcox (Zcash and TAHOE-LAFS), David Dias (IPFS), Gavin Wood (Etherium), and Feross Aboukhadijeh (Webtorrent), focused on the different technologies that are starting to enable the creation of a decentralized web. The second, with Christopher Allen (Blockstream), Muneeb Ali (Blockstack), Joachim Lohkamp (Jolocom & Ouishare), and Jeremy Rand (Namecoin), covered all of the difficult issues surrounding naming and user identities in decentralized networks, as well as discussed how getting rid of third-party trust is going to be big challenge for decentralizing the web.

It’s been an exciting morning. Stay tuned for part two of our coverage later this evening, including a keynote by EFF’s own Cory Doctorow.

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