Distributed Web (Maelstrom)

As I am in computer science I read a lot about what new technology is appearing. With technology I don’t mean a new smartphone. I mean things done differently. My main source is Technology Review from MIT or its German translation. A theme that occurs over and over again is the distribution of some service. I want to explain here what the basic concept is and then a very promising example of it.

Until now most of the services we know are centralized. There is one place to go for everything. Supermarkets are a great example. As society made progress in production and supply it was much cheaper to produce at a place optimal for production and ship/drive it to wherever it is needed. This is true for national and international productions. Because these productions can only produce a low variety of products they needed to work together with other producers. If this happened conscious or not is not so much important. But at the end the consumer has more of everything at one place, the supermarket. This structure has some power over the people. When the supermarket is huge and more or less the only one supplying the community it has a monopoly. You may think there can always be a monopoly and the one having it can rule the smaller ones and also dictate prices and rules. But this is not true. Bitcoin. This money-system is distributed over all participants and no bank, state or single entity can control it. Sadly the post would become too long when I would talk about bitcoin. You can read this easily yourself on the web.

I want you understand to the concept of distributed systems. Which is pretty simple. There are some different things meant by distributed systems. One thing is just redundancy. So you copy your whole system to different places. And you operate on what ever is closer to you. This is not what I talk about. I want to talk about systems that are shared about the clients. Where there is no central instance organizing all the requests to the service. The service is distributed not only the data.

The example I am aiming for is Bittorrent’s: Maelstrom which makes the whole web distributed. A webpage today works like this. You as a user want to watch some video. You ask with help of your computer over the internet: “Where do I finde youtube.com.?” The internet tells you: “Here it is:” And you got to and ask it for your videos. This is centralized because there is one number for YouTube. And if someone wants to shut down YouTube they have to destroy this address. But what if the whole process would be different? What if you would ask the people you know: “Do you have an up to date version of youtube?” Some may say no but everyone telling you they have you ask them for it. So you load youtube from the other users and from now on you have it too and if anyone will ask you whether you have the youtube page you can say: “Yes, I have.” And so it continues. You click then on a video and with that you ask around: “Does anyone have the video I want to watch?” And some will and so you will get it. I think I don’t have to say that all that asking and answering happens internally on your computer without you noticing it.
What are the benefits of this approach? Anyone can make a webpage that scales. You can create your own video webpage. And the first few people on it can only download the videos from you personally and it will be slow but after a short time many will have seen it and will automatically share it. So the space you would have to provide as the distributor is very limited but you will have a great performance.
It can also not be destroyed. If someone destroys your computer nothing will happen. Every bit of the page that was watched once is on another computer too.

Now what are the pros and cons of this technology. On the one hand It is almost indestructible. Because everything is shared about the participants. On the other hand do you really want that? If there is like your dick-pic on the distributed web it will never be out of it again. You can say, this is also the case now. And indeed it is but in the distributed web even more. Another pro is that everyone can start a big thing without money. There is no need for big servers because your users save all the data. Well the discussion about a distributed web is equally to the discussion about censorship. This is a technology that makes it almost impossible to censor anything. Some may thing this is great some may not. But another thing to say. A working distributed web once established will not disappear. If it is fast enough and has a good maintainability it will just be there. It is like most new technologies you can discuss about how good or bad it is but if it is cheaper and better than the alternative than it will dominate the other.