For the Decentralized Web

I’m joining the board of the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW). I want to tell you about the project’s mission, what I hope to bring to the Board, and what we’ll be focusing on this first year.

The Mission and Purpose of the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web

The mission of FFDW is “to ensure the permanent preservation of humanity’s most important information by stewarding the development of open source software and open protocols for decentralized data storage and retrieval networks.”

I love that the organization is committed to the long-term preservation of humanity’s most important knowledge. In the digital age, everything can be preserved, but how well are we actually doing it? Where forward-thinking projects like the Internet Archive and Wikimedia are committed to preserving the historical web and encyclopedic knowledge, Filecoin can help spread that burden: creating an economic system that could allow data to be archived for long periods of time in a reliable but distributed manner.

We especially need this because right now, file storage is basically a monopoly. Much of the modern Internet relies on a single file service – Amazon Web Services—to store and serve literally billions of websites and applications. This means a single corporation—with an agenda, narrow economic incentives, and little accountability—has a powerful ability to shut down access to vast swaths of human information. And we’ve seen the perils of that, including when Amazon Web Services suffered blackouts and hunks of the most popular Internet services were unavailable for long stretches. Centralization of this sort is dangerous and short-sighted. Thanks to the ingenuity of Filecoin developers, we now have new models for thinking about large-scale, distributed, incentivized data storage—so future competitors to Amazon Web Services have a chance at thriving and surviving.

Notably, FFDW doesn’t mention “Filecoin” anywhere in its mission. That’s because FFDW is not about promoting a single blockchain project. Instead, FFDW sees decentralized file storage as part of a larger ecosystem of developers, projects, advocates, and policies that work together to build a future that is more decentralized, more accountable to users, and less resistant to censorship. Filecoin is a key and important part of that, but we must also support the future of the decentralized web overall.

As a grantmaking foundation, FFDW will have the ability to support the development of open source tools that will be the backbone of tomorrow’s decentralized file storage. And we know this means we can’t just throw money after exciting new projects and features. Powerful grantmaking in this space means consistent funding for infrastructure, upgrades, and security on existing projects, not just chasing new features and dazzling new projects.

What I Hope to Bring to the Board

As a civil liberties advocate who cares about privacy, part of my role is also steering FFDW toward development that respects and uphold human rights. Filecoin uses encryption so that files cannot be tampered with by the host and can’t be spied on while in transit. Nonetheless, the same way Google can read your Gmail and Amazon can read your browsing history, operators of Filecoin could access your files unless you choose to encrypt them yourself. That’s fine for publicly-available files (like what you might currently use to publish a website), but what about private file storage (like what you might store in a Dropbox account)? I’d be interested in finding ways to educate users about this nuance and ensuring that applications that build on top of Filecoin support encryption to make secure file encryption a more accessible option for everyday users.

So what am I specifically bringing to the Board? I’m a writer, and I think much of being a writer is about being a curious generalist. I think I’m about 3 parts technology enthusiast and 1 part technology skeptic, and I’m on the pragmatic side of idealism. I’ve been a professional civil liberties advocate by trade for the last 10+ years, from my early career experience working directly with individuals facing privacy harms to my more recent work running the program work of a 100-person digital rights nonprofit. In my years of working for organizations like Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I’ve seen how the right information at the right time, made available to the public, can change the whole world. I’ve also seen how easy it is for big platforms to censor content out of laziness as much as fear, and how regulatory responses often do little to promote technical competition. I thus think my role on the board is to always be centered on the ethics of technology and what’s right for the Filecoin community and for humanity more broadly. I also believe part of my role is helping to build a movement around a decentralized web, to tell the story of decentralized storage, and to translate the work of the FFDW into human terms. 

Our Strategy for the Coming Year: Community First

An important part of the FFDW Board is being open to feedback from the community and hearing their priorities as well as criticisms. We can’t evolve without that feedback. In the coming year, I hope to get to know members of the Filecoin community and understand their goals and priorities, and start to have deep conversations with them about the future we are trying to build together. 

We’ve already started a piece of that with the Board and the Advisors, which include ethical lawyers and technologists who have a deep understanding of the perils of Internet censorship, the importance of security, and an appreciation for how the modern web often hurts users. 

I also wanted to share the top priorities of FFDW for our first year:

  • Building a strong decentralized web community. This includes helping to support the development of tools that make both Filecoin and the larger decentralized web secure, usable, scalable, and accessible to the world.
  • Educating people about why decentralized storage matters. We’re going to tell the story of the current flawed, monopolistic storage systems of the past and why we need a revolution in decentralized file storage.
  • Developing transparent, independent governance. In the coming year, we’re going to help set up accountable, independent governance for Filecoin. The FFDW specifically is tasked with ensuring that we adhere to our mission and values.
  •  Worldwide decentralization. We want to make sure that Filecoin is maintained and developed across the world, and that we see developers worldwide able to access and contribute to decentralized web projects. We also need to make sure that lawmakers and the public in different regions around the world understand the value of decentralized storage for preserving humanity’s knowledge.

Why Decentralization Matters

I’m drawn to projects in the decentralized web (the “D-Web,” as we call it) specifically because I see how the centralized web is failing technology users everyday. From social media giants censoring content using flawed machine learning to the abusive terms embedded into the “click-wrap” that users “agree” to whenever they visit a website, big tech companies are monopolizing more of our digital experiences everyday, and doing a lousy job of it. The result is a power imbalance that gets worse every year, where users have less and less leverage for holding tech behemoths accountable for their behaviors. 

I don’t think that new technology is a panacea for the ills of the modern web, but I think new technology must be part of the solution. We must begin to develop decentralized spaces designed to address user needs, where we can bake privacy and free expression into the protocols from the ground-up. Well-designed decentralized alternatives to the existing technical monopolies can help fundamentally change the conversation about modern tech: in the short term, they can offer refuge for users who can’t stomach dealing with abusive tech companies, and in the long term it could offer a market alternative that is competitive with those companies. Through that competition, we can push entire industries to compete for business based on what actually matters to users. This would be a delightful change from what we have now, where user data is treated as a product itself most of the time and each user’s concerns are so insignificant that many tech companies don’t even have ways for consumers to get help when services fail them. 

Filecoin is part of an ecosystem of decentralized tools that are helping to explore and design a better digital future, and the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web will help steer Filecoin toward its mission of serving humanity while also supporting the larger D-Web ecosystem. And yes, it’s ambitious – that’s what I like about it.

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