Web3 has become an exciting term for the vision of a better, new internet. It has also become a subject of debate on diverse fonts. One of the trends now is whether the Web3 decentralization debate has been focused on the wrong question.
There’s a belief that concentrating on the degree instead of the kind of decentralization can lead Web3 users and investors astray.
Web3 proponents promise decentralization on a unique scale. For them, excessive centralization can prevent coordination and eliminate democracy, freedom, and economic flexibility. Web3 advocates see decentralization as the remedy.
Achieving this takes the appropriate decentralization and ensuring people don’t debate on the wrong track.
The focus of the decentralization
Most people worry about the focus on degree instead of the decentralization itself. Concentrating on the degree or extent of the decentralization could make Web3 advocates mischaracterize the reality of old centralization and the chance of pure decentralization.
On one angle, old or existing “centralized” systems aren’t closely as centralized as Web3 proponents commonly explain.
From another perspective, several Web3 critics have described the inefficiencies that follow proposed decentralized architectures, including the re-emergence of “centers” in Web3.
Instead of having a false debate over if the next-generation technology should be decentralized or centralized, people should rather ask how to arrange the method of desirable decentralization. Such debate needs clarity on what people need from decentralization.
It’s evident that decentralization’s value is in empowering users to act decisively in their social contexts while offering important coordination across contexts.
However, this contrasts with the present technical landscape, where decision-making is increasingly under the hands of authorities far from the necessary groups.
For instance, platform content moderation processes aim to be cross-community and cultural and mostly fail at both.
In this situation, decisions are eliminated from the application context and created by people with a low direct interest in the matters, unable to take advantage of rich shared information.
The decentralization’s view is about coordination while emphasizing solving issues via the federation of “local” units around the social contexts, mainly important to the decision at hand.
In particular, subsidiarity is the type and architecture of decentralization that makes composable local control possible. However, the Web3 dominant trajectory is unlikely to deliver and might run contrary to subsidiarity.
Permissionless blockchains are designed as a distributed redundant ledger that allows authority and storage to be allocated by anonymous economic approaches and accessed through fungible and transactive resources like tokens and computation.
Redundant distributed ledgers tension with subsidiary networks and the gains of the kind of decentralization people advocate.
We’re still optimistic about the possibility of Web3 and adjacent spaces redirecting towards subsidiarity. But for this to occur, we should follow steps to make Web3 into a network of networks, not a ledger.
The decentralization presently achieved by many Crypto projects, like Bitcoin, is called “distributed redundancy,” which is open and global. And has consensus-based storage in several locations of homogeneous, common data sets.
Distributed redundancy is based on three factors:
- The first is to eliminate data from the social context.
- Pursue universalized solutions.
- Depends on world consensus and redundant verification accessed with fungible resources.
Why do many aims for universality and redundancy? Redundancy, theoretically, attempts to have security against attacks.
Yet, market efficiency seems to focus on activities in hyper scale centers, often brittle to disruptions and shocks like covid-19 restrictions or situated in jurisdictions like Russia and China that might be vulnerable to geopolitical risks.
Secure and effective redundancy needs deliberately compensating for the tendency, selecting different “hedges” against risk instead of simply the least-cost providers.
However, attaining such hedging needs tracking local and network relationships that the financial systems ignore.
In contrast to the principles, the kind of decentralization people believe is subsidiarity and desirable concentrates on:
- Keeping data very close to the social context of creation.
- A set of solutions connected and integrated via coordinated methods of interoperability and federation.
- Extending and leveraging relationships of offline and online institutions and trust.
Maybe the most popular system designed to be subsidiary from the beginning is the original “network of networks,” the TCP/IP internet, architected for efficiency and security aims and has had unique success.
The more recent and nascent instances are:
- A set of socially local identity systems like BrightID, Spritely, and BackChannel.
- The ActivityPub measure social networks and related applications like Mastodon.
- A set of research tasks from Switch and Ink, including local-first architecture computing and designs for interoperability in different programs.
- Federated learning plus privacy-preserving machine learning.
- Data cooperatives, collaboratives, and trusts.
- Mesh networks.
- Wikipedia plus wiki-based content structure.
- Community-first cloud computing, time-sharing, and file storage.
- Some community content moderation systems like Reddit.
Subsidiarity, unlike distributed redundancy, often enhances efficiency by leveraging trust instead of lessening efficiency to remove the desire for trust.
Why decentralization is not the Web3 ultimate goal
As the demand and rise for decentralization become more popular, many vital questions are raised about the present state of blockchain and its promise of decentralization.
Decentralization should be the means, not the end!
Meanwhile, many incidents have occurred that made people question the decentralization quest. The many legacies of layer one chains are an example.
While several chains market themselves as decentralized, latest events like the Ethereum Infura debacle of 2020, have shown how existing layer-1 protocols aren’t really decentralized.
Toning down on the Web3 decentralization rhetoric
Though some platforms like Alchemy and BitClout have shown that their services still often depend on traditional centralized web servers more than they rely on blockchains, there is nothing wrong with it from a technical angle.
In fact, it’s a nice idea to use centralized services because they’re more efficient. However, it undercuts the high-minded talks on Web3 decentralization.
The truth is that decentralization rhetoric doesn’t match today’s real-world technology. Many present Dapps” are still reliant on the centralized web infrastructure.
In other words, despite all the talk on Web3 being decentralized, much of its infrastructure is the same as Web 2.0, where servers are owned or controlled by corporations.
The debate over whether the Web3 architecture is valid will continue on social media, especially in its decentralization promise.
The main deal is not to focus on the wrong debate. The talk should be on the type of decentralization, not the degree.