Are Decentralized Apps the Future of the Internet?

In 2017 about a third of the Internet went down for about five hours due to an Amazon Web Services glitch. Sites like Disney and Nike and apps like Slack, Twitch, and even Nest were slowed down or rendered unusable. Between Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Alibaba, and other companies, it turns out that a lot of the Internet is controlled by just a few players, which makes it somewhat vulnerable to unexpected failures and exploitation.

One possible solution to counteract this is to create Web 3.0 by crowdsourcing the Internet. Rather than being stored on single servers, these decentralized applications (“Dapps”) will be stored on and run by computers all over the world. Decentralized media (DNN, EtherTweet, Steemit), decentralized file sharing and storage (Filecoin, MaidSafe, Sia, Storj), and even decentralized games (CryptoKitties, Ether Dungeon) are just a few of the “future Internet” projects you can try out now.

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The simplest form of a decentralized app is Person-to-Person (P2P) file sharing – something you probably know as “torrenting.” Instead of downloading a file from a single server, you download small pieces of the file from other people who have it. Modern Dapps work the same way. Lots of users store and share the data that would otherwise live on Amazon’s servers, but they’ve received an upgrade: blockchains.

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Think of blockchains as permanent, shared record books that keep track of transactions between people (or machines). These ledgers are checked for accuracy by many different computers that have to agree on any changes made, and your assets cannot be moved by anyone who doesn’t have your private key. They are kept secure by strong cryptography and can be used by anyone with a device and an Internet connection.

Some blockchains, most notably Ethereum, are built to interact with code, meaning a computer program can use the record book to securely communicate whatever data it needs. It can be as simple as “Alice sends Bob one coin in 24 hours” or as complex as the Golem app that allows Alice to automatically pay Bob for giving her his computer’s unused processing power. Put briefly, a Dapp is a program that connects users and providers of a service using a blockchain.

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There are a few reasons you might be excited:

  1. This could make the Internet more secure, reliable, and private. Spreading small amounts of encrypted data across many computers makes it less hackable, less likely to be unavailable, and less exploitable.
  2. Dapps (ideally) have no single point of failure – they can’t be taken down by a glitch, a hacker, a company, or a government.
  3. They are much more flexible, trustless, and transparent than traditional apps. Decentralized open-source programs are guaranteed to run exactly as written since no single entity controls them.

It’s still very much the Wild West out there. Free-flowing investment money, inexperienced users, and a relative lack of vetting means that there is a scammer or piece of vaporware (software concepts that overpromise and don’t deliver) for every legitimate app.

Blockchains are generally secure; Dapps may not be. They use the blockchain, which means they tend to be much less exploitable than centralized apps, but they are only as tight as their code. Major thefts have already occurred, and more are likely to come

1. Upgrade your browser for Web 3.0. Install the Brave browser or get the Metamask extension (available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera) to enable your computer to interact with Dapps.

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2. Find a Dapp you like! Check out State of the Dapps or look up some other independent projects.

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3. Look up user guides and tips on community forums/subreddits to help you get started. Many of the more popular Dapps have active, helpful communities.

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4. At some point you’ll probably need some cryptocurrency. Since most Dapps run on Ethereum, and Ethereum is easily exchangeable for other cryptocurrencies, you can head over to some of the more user-friendly exchanges to obtain some ETH.

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5. Once you’ve gotten your Dapp working, all you need to do is keep up to date with any changes that might impact its functionality. Welcome to the decentralized Web!

  • State of the Dapps is a sort of “App Store” for Dapps where you can find everything from”CryptoKitties” to “Gnosis,” a decentralized prediction platform
  • DNN – decentralized news
  • Steemit – decentralized content creation and curation (compare to Reddit)
  • OpenBazaar – decentralized market for everything (compare to eBay)
  • Decentraland – decentralized virtual reality
  • Storj and Sia – two different file-storage cryptocurrencies that are both currently working, though they are still in the “you have to be kind of a techie to use it” stage.

Dapps are an exciting part of the larger cryptocurrency picture and may shape the future of the Internet itself. While most Dapps are still at the testing or research stage, they all have big ideas for disrupting the current system. Ultimately, Web 3.0 may end up being hosted on your laptop and smartphone.

Image credit: Classivertsen via Wikimedia Commons, Descryptive.com

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