In our session at Offline Camp 2019, we identified several problems with how the dweb is presented. Documentation often focuses on implementation details. While this is aligned with the DIY culture of the dweb, it can alienate beginners. As has been discussed before, decentralization is not enough. Documents need to show how these technologies solve the problems that developers and end-users actually have.
As a distributed community, there isn’t a definitive definition of “dweb”. In our discussion at Offline Camp, we identified several common features of “dweb” apps, such as the ability to distribute and verify web content no matter how you obtained it. With the web, you need to be “online”, at least initially, to download the content. With the dweb, no matter how you obtain a document, whether from a friend on your local network or copied from a portable hard drive, you’ll still be able to verify that the document is the one you expected and was not tampered with.
It’s difficult to know how to get started with the dweb. A beginner is confronted with many confusing terms, including “dweb” itself. In an introductory article, a beginner may encounter most of the following terms:
- Content addressable
- Public key
- Data sovereignty
- Smart Contract
But most developers don’t care about these details. What they do care about is user experience. By discussing the benefits of dweb technologies first, a developer can then be motivated to learn the necessary details to use it.
Resilience is a benefit that most agreed is important. In this way, dweb technologies can be viewed as a digital “seat belt”. They provide the most value in situations where traditional web apps fail.
Even in western cities, network connectivity is not guaranteed. For example, a web app may fail in the subway or during a disaster that affects network infrastructure. Likewise, it is an economic reality that apps shut down due to acquisition or lack of funding. A dweb app can also protect an end-user’s access to their data in both of these situations.
By removing round-trip access to data, dweb technologies can save on network costs. An efficient use of resources can even save energy, which is becoming an increasingly important factor in light of global climate change.
As Nolan Lawson describes in Decentralization is Not Enough, these benefits should not be limited to the nerds of the world. As dweb technologies are built, they need to be designed and documented in ways that are more accessible to those of us without PhDs in distributed systems.