The first Decentralized Web Summit in June 2016, led by Berners-Lee and Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, wanted to kickstart “a new phase for the web” based on next-generation decentralized systems inspired by the P2P technology that powers file-sharing networks, and the blockchain technology that powers crypto-currencies.
The Decentralized Web Summit website has the videos of all 2016 talks. Unfortunately, no second summit has been announced yet. Many projects seem dead, but some, like ZeroNet, are under active development and seem promising.
I have been following ZeroNet for some time and interviewed ZeroNet developer Tamas Kocsis last year. Researching the prospects for a fully decentralized internet two weeks ago, I was very pleased to find out that the ZeroNet project is progressing, so I interviewed Tamas again.
ZeroNet Interview: Tamas Kocsis
The Internet is curious about you! Could you share some info on your background and outlook?
I’m 33 years old, living in Budapest, Hungary. In the past 15 years, I have been working as a web developer. Some years ago I started to worry about the emerging centralization of the Internet and I started thinking about a decentralized and P2P system for web pages, but I had no courage to start it. Then in December of 2014, the BitTorrent company came out a similar idea (The Maelstrom browser), and this inspired me to create an open-source alternative: ZeroNet.
Can you give an outline of the most promising projects aimed at building a decentralized web, and compare them to ZeroNet?
There is lots of similar projects: IPFS, Maidsafe, BitTorrent, StorJ. It’s hard to compare them, every project has its pros/cons. ZeroNet is specifically focusing on P2P, interactive, multi-user and real-time updated web pages, but right now it’s less suitable for serving large media files.
What’s happening with the Decentralized Web initiative of Tim Berners-Lee and Brewster Kahle? I haven’t seen much after the Decentralized Web Summit in June 2016, perhaps you know more and can share some info?
I think the biggest achievement was raising some awareness. It was really uplifting to hear that the original inventors of the Internet are at least as concerned about the centralization of the network as I do and meet other people, who think the same.
How is it that a sole developer has succeeded where other projects developed by larger teams, including BitTorrent’s own project, (seem to) have failed and be stuck?
I think the key is persistence. I spent thousands of hours on the project without getting any significant attention, but the feeling of spending my time on something meaningful kept me going. The project’s other benefit comes from my web developer/designer background. According to the feedback, the interface and site are easy to use. (Editorial note: it most certainly is. ZeroNet has a crisp and clean interface and everything is where it should be, accessible with one click. Just try ZeroNet: installing and starting to use it takes less than one minute.)
Can you provide a very short explanation of how ZeroNet works?
On ZeroNet the web pages are hosted by the visitors themselves. If someone visits a site it gets downloaded into his/her computer, which starts serving it to other visitors. This way we don’t have to trust the web hosting companies, and we are able to offer protection from censorship and many kinds of internet attacks, because if someone has a site with 100 visitors, then it’s hosted on 100 computers around the world.
What’s ZeroNet technology stack?
ZeroNet is a totally open source application written in the Python programming language. To improve the performance, the database and the cryptography parts are written in C (OpenSSL and SQLite). The web interface is standard html/css/js that works in any modern browser and it provides the API functions to the sites via Websocket.
How can ZeroNet scale to billions of users all over the planet?
There is still lots of problems ahead, but with clever planning, it could work for most use-cases. The latest improvement of ZeroNet on this topic was adding a “Merger sites” feature, which separates the display logic and the data storage into multiple sites.
To showcase this feature I developed a Twitter-like social site (ZeroMe) where the profiles are stored in separate sites, but still able to browse/comment/like posts in one, merged news feed. This way, you only serve data and profiles that you interested in and decentralization is improved because every data site has a different owner.
Are you funded, and/or are you looking for funding?
Last year a German company committed to open-source started supporting me financially, so last September I was able to quit my job and start focusing on the development of the ZeroNet network. Right now this donation covers my daily expenses, so I’m not looking for funding yet.
Of course they will say that ZeroNet will help criminals and terrorists. What’s your answer?
I think fear of criminals should have no negative impact on uncensored communications, because our democracy depends on freedom of speech.
Let’s support ZeroNet!
I am especially happy to see that Tamas is funded and has all the time to dedicate to ZeroNet. What’s the best thing that enthusiastic followers (I am one) can do to support ZeroNet? Tamas advice is:
“I think the best you can do right now is take a look at ZeroNet to see and get a better understanding of how decentralized p2p webpages work.”
In fact, I recommend crypto enthusiasts to download and install ZeroNet for Windows, Mac or Linux (it really takes less than one minute), start using it, browse the growing list of ZeroNet sites, and interact with the community. ZeroNet supports Tor for enhanced privacy, and allows creators to monetize decentralized web sites with bitcoin micropayments.
Of all the decentralized web prototypes that I have seen so far, ZeroNet seems especially promising. Of course, ZeroNet still has a long way to go before taking realizing its full potential: the current release is 0.5.5, still far from 1.0. It works… but sometimes it doesn’t. But if a critical mass of early adopters use ZeroNet and create compelling decentralized sites and services, we’ll get to the decentralized web faster.
Picture from MaxPixel.