I am thrilled to have had a chance to edit and shape this special magazine on decentralization for the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web. For many of us, increasing decentralization has always been an important focus and goal, but it hasn’t always been clear to others why decentralization matters so much, or even what should be decentralized. The collection of articles in this magazine will help provide some perspective on these questions.
It kicks off with Danny O’Brien’s exploration of “terminal values” and specifically the importance of “cognitive liberty.” While this may not be where people expect a magazine on decentralization to start, I think it’s the perfect (and somewhat inspiring) framing for putting everything that follows in perspective. This is followed up by a very practical and very important example of this in play, as Adam Rose and Basile Simon from the Starling Lab explain how they’ve been able to document war crimes evidence via the blockchain.
Mai Isikawa Sutton’s thoughtful article that compares the two traditional “camps” in the decentralized web world, those of “Web3” and “DWeb,” and discusses how they can each learn from the other and collaborate to build a better world charts a useful path forward. Holmes Wilson follows that by tackling an important subject about decentralized services, and how there may be too much (sometimes hidden) centralization in today’s open source world, limiting our current ability to control our own work and data. This fits well with Farzaneh Badiei’s piece on other areas with “hidden” centralization, and smaller steps we can take towards making the world more decentralized.
Chris Riley’s article builds on those ones to highlight another element often lost in the discussion of decentralization: how the data itself flows rather than just where and how it’s stored, and the importance of data portability and data transfer. His piece also touches on some of the policy and legal issues, which works nicely with pieces from Kurt Opsahl, reminding us how code is expression and needs to be free if the dream of the decentralized web is to be realized, and Kristin Smith, who analyzes of the policy ecosystem regarding cryptocurrency — and whether it will be enabling innovation and freedom, or co-opted by authoritarian governments.
Naomi Brockwell puts in very real terms why everyone should be thinking about how decentralized data, which we can control ourselves, is a necessary element for protecting our own privacy. That fits well with Cory Doctorow’s closing piece that explores how the control large centralized platforms have over the configuration settings have robbed us of autonomy, while making the internet less than it could and should be.
And, finally, I have my own piece in this collection, exploring a framework for thinking about where and how decentralization makes sense, and can be transformative, both on the internet and in many other industries as well.
This is an incredibly important topic, which will have a major impact on society moving forward. The ideas presented in this magazine are important in understanding what kind of better world is well within our grasp, if we can just take the steps to get there.
I want to thank the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web for asking me to be a part of this project, and all of the authors for their thought-provoking articles. And, most of all, I’d like to thank you, reading this now, for exploring these ideas and hopefully building on them to create a better, more decentralized future.