Why Decentralised Applications Don’t Work


TL;DR: Misaligned profit motives.

This is from the section titled “The Web”

It feels a little strange to count the decentralised web as a failure, given that I’m out here publishing a blog post on my own domain and server. The decentralised web does still work, but I feel it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t how most people use the web. It is in many ways impractical, and even in the best case it has some glaring flaws.

For starters, setting up your own website like this one is not a trivial task unless you’re already inclined to it like I was. Wrangling with domain registration, DNS configuration, hosting, building the actual damn site, and deployment, that is a lot. It’s even worse if yours isn’t a simple static site like this one. Not to mention that for much of the world’s population, the costs of hosting and domain registration are prohibitive. Furthermore, once you’ve got all that working, how do you let anyone else know about it? RSS and aggregators like lobste.rs and Hacker News work for little tech blogs, they don’t work for everyone else.

And so it is that most of us are trapped in an abusive relationship with platforms like Medium, Twitter, and Instagram.

On Git and Github swallowing it:

I have a GitHub profile, because I know no-one will look at my code if I don’t.

Now what:

No, the solution has to be political. That’s uncomfortable for me, as it probably is for you too. Software I can do, politics though? That’s hard. Something needs to change about these profit motives though. I’m not arrogant enough to declare that I know the one true answer here, I doubt there even is one true answer. I can share some ideas though.

If we are to keep these profit motives at all,7 we need new regulation to align them toward creating software that better serves our society.

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I’ve snipped some major sections here already, do read the whole thing.

I totally understand the feeling. I think I’m ready to say that domain names and ownership of it is too hard.

And, we CAN make building apps and hosting better. For me, the “for much of the world’s population” – with a smartphone as their only computing device – is why zero cost, altruistic commons networks like IPFS have to be part of the picture. With content addressing, you don’t even have to rent a domain name to “own” content.

The “movement” that I’m pushing on is a) having users own their data and b) having users pay for/financially support apps, especially and including open source apps.

Alongside of just generally working on building blocks of software applications and programming and hosting so that software creators can focus at a higher level and make excellent software – that also happens to be secure, private, and portable.

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i was replying to boris and went a bit long, so i’ll post it here:

i read it and didn’t have any clear reaction, seems like her pessimistic interpretation makes sense if you want to look at it that way.

‘web’: if chrome’s dominance is reduced, we can probably use 0data and a general growing diversity of personal websites to avoid hosting everything on a few platforms.

‘email’: gmail has too much control, but i think people are slowly decentralizing email again with privacy-focused or self-hosted alternatives.

‘rss’: not sure if it’s conclusive. as she says, spotify and apple are turning a popular usage of feeds into something proprietary. perhaps with things like growing fediverse/Discourse usage, and self-hosted publishing, supply can increase to balance out whatever the large companies are doing.

‘git’: i agree the productivity/deployment features of github create too strong of a network effect, but the fundamental content is portable so i think it could be counterbalanced if there’s more interesting stuff happening in the decentralized alternatives (like applying the fediverse to git). but this one is definitely a hard one…

‘bittorrent’: maybe will be solved with ipfs?

imo ‘making something better’ includes improving the incentives.

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i assume she didn’t mention this because it’s not decentralized but yea paying rent to exist online is something i worry about a lot, not sure how we change it without making it too technical. maybe content addressing as you say could be simplified with passing around qr codes or the equivalent of ICQ numbers.

I think this is how content already gets shared — via links in chat.

And yeah, QR code’s for posters or to show phone to phone.

Readable human addresses ARE a usability / accessibility feature. But then we’d have to have a longer discuss about English addresses vs many other languages…

Hmmm. I wonder if Fission’s subdomain code could be used for this? Probably too many English / western centric fantasy creatures right now. My photos are at “young green monkey”.

using the what3words address system, ‘young green monkey’ is somewhere near London what3words /// The simplest way to talk about location

but jokes aside, generating short pronounceable strings are super useful. urbit did this amazing post detailing how they create visual ‘sigils’ from their syllable-based identifiers Creating Sigils - Urbit

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i got caught up in responding to the specific points of the article that i forgot to add my own thought about a useful (decentralizing?) centralization pattern. https://0data.app (maybe also https://anagora.org) is a working example of an ‘aggregator’, similar to how search engines work, that i would like to apply to other domains.

1. declare and update content exclusively on self-hosted spaces

example (app lists):

2. centralized platforms aggregate it in novel ways

example: 0data.app/glance.

3. the compilation is available for anyone to consume, including other aggregators

example: 0data.app/projects.json

when there are multiple aggregators, it should feel like the centralized systems keep the data in constant movement. self-hosting should make it harder for any one of them to dominate. the more aggregators, the larger the pie for everyone, including the aggregators.