HomeLearnModule 3Lock It Open

    Table of contents

    • 🔓 Lock the Web Open
    🔓 Lock the Web Open

    Internet Plumbing

    "I believe we can do something quite counter-intuitive: We can lock the Web open."

    We’ve looked in detail at the first two pillars of the week: how we might augment our ability to think for ourselves by discovering and using transformative tools which are public goods of the sort capable of shifting cultural values; and how we might create more time for ourselves by both being present now and understanding the histories from which we come.

    Now, we turn to a blog post called “Locking the Web Open” from 2015 by Internet Archive librarian Brewster Kahle, as well as a presentation called “What Exactly is Web3” given at the Web3 Summit in 2018 by Juan Benet. Both indicate how "web3" relates to a larger movement gaining a foothold across the internet right now, aimed at re-imagining how we share and relate. This informs the third pillar of how we can "take back the web"—by baking cooperation into the very protocols we use for collecting, storing, and consulting the shared record which Vannevar Bush spoke of in 1945.

    How does this fit into Kernel?

    Up until now, we have tried to identify and draw out a particular stream of thought that predates the internet. This is because the internet is just the latest in a long line of attempts to collect and make navigable the sum total of human knowledge. Access to this shared record and the means to move through it meaningfully confer great power. We have a unique opportunity as a generation to ensure both record and means remain open to all.

    In particular, both the blog and the video will help you understand more about


    The technical history of the web, its different phases, and where it might be headed next.


    Why adding trust to the read/write web is such an important development.


    Verifiability, open services, and market protocols as some examples of the new primitives we can use to build different incentive structures into Web 3.


    Smart contracts as the basis for permanent and stable digital jurisdictions.


    The way we code the web will determine the way we live online. So we need to bake our values into our code. Freedom of expression needs to be baked into our code. Privacy should be baked into our code. Universal access to all knowledge.


    Brewster begins his blog by pointing out that the web is fragile and it lacks privacy (though we have at least managed to keep things fun). That means we're currently 1 for 3, and we have a great deal of work to do before we can truly claim the title "web3". He contrasts the world wide web (all the websites you know and love, each of which are hosted in one place and one place only and which is therefore centralized) with the underlying internet itself: the plumbing system that makes it possible to communicate with light across the globe. THe internet is very much distributed.

    Brewster’s blog post is an appeal to make the web distributed in the same sense as the internet, an idea which is sometimes grouped with the call for "protocols, not platforms". As we saw all the way back in Module 0 with Module 0 with Andreas Antonopoulos, this transformation is beginning to happen and it is happening very fast now that we have already de-platformed money, turned it into a protocol and made it peer-to-peer rather than client-server.

    In fact, according to Juan Benet, this is happening at break-neck speed in terms of the evolutionary history of our species, though it feels slow to us as individuals used to communicating at light-speed with anyone, anywhere.

    You can think of the development in terms of periodic waves:

    • mainframes
    • personal computers
    • GUIs
    • the internet
    • the web
    • web 2.0
    • mobile
    • blockchains
    • web 3

    Prompt: The internet is the latest wave in a periodic series, all created by our attempts to collect and make navigable the sum total of what?

    Reveal reminder

    human knowledge.

    Didn't remember

    Why should we prefer distributed systems and protocols over platforms? It turns out that there are both good technical and cultural reasons.

    On the technical front, Brewster shows how distributed architectures naturally lend themselves to more privacy. Moreover, because they present different challenges in terms of navigability and location-based content, they have necessitated further advancements in content-addressability and peer-to-peer discovery protocols. These make possible a fully functional archival of content, rather than static snapshots. Such techniques also enable rich memory and versioning systems so the record of human knowledge will be less fragile to ongoing decay.

    Furthermore, distributed systems lend themselves well to local culture and genuinely civic spaces, both online and offline. Brewster often speaks of a globe of villages, not a global village: we want everyone to be able to connect to whom they please; we do not want to cultivate monocultures because we recognise that diversity is the natural response to adversity. Fostering plurality is the most viable evolutionary strategy.

    As Juan says,

    "The choices that we make in the technologies we build - the properties we give our products - will have drastic implications not just for ourselves, but for many people in the future."

    In the spirit of asking better questions, Juan goes on to detail some of the enquiries you can keep in mind as you consider the systems you might build and how they will relate to the worlds we all share. These seven questions serve as a generally useful framework when encountering new tools and thinking about their possible effects, both technological and cultural:

    • How do they work?
    • How reliable and correct are they?
    • How open and accessible are they?
    • How safe are they?
    • How can they fail?
    • Who controls them and how are they governed?
    • What rights do they secure/guarantee/grant people?

    "We must be very careful about the things we build. We should care about maximizing human potential; promoting rights; and the long-term flourishing of humanity when thinking about the technologies we create."


    While "the internet" is simply the barebone wires and networking protocols which evolved mostly from military and academic work from the 1960's and 70's onward; "the web" refers to the hyperlinked documents, static pages, browsers and everything you’re most likely familiar with.

    Web 1 (1991 to 2000)

    The first evolution of the web was mostly static, read-only content. Nevertheless, the beginning of "online" commercial activity dates all the way back to this first web.

    Web 2 (the early 2000's)

    The key characteristic of Web 2.0 was its dynamic, interactive nature that set it apart from the largely static content of the 90's. This is often described as the read-write web. It is more participatory, social, and market-based, and it includes not only Facebook and Twitter, but also services like Uber and AirBnB.

    However, the advertising model in Web 2.0 is broken! It optimises for time spent on pages and tries to keep people and their data locked in. Inciting anger and disgust is a powerful way to generate clicks, so we're increasingly optimising for painful emotions in order to pay the bills.

    Web3 (now)

    This next evolution of the web gives us the promise of read, write and trust.

    Web 1 was about linking content together. Web 2 was about linking programs to that content and building rich, dynamic applications which work across our devices. Web3 is about linking content and programs directly to each other, removing intermediaries and gaining public verifiability. Web3 is replacing centralised applications with decentralised protocols or, as Brewster often says, "build protocols, not platforms".

    Prompt: What model in Web 2.0 is broken?

    Reveal reminder


    Didn't remember

    The evolution of the web

    The path forward

    The aim for us should be to take what Bitcoin did to money and do the same to all kinds of services and applications. Bitcoin "thawed the peer-to-peer winter and reminded everyone that we can build these kinds of systems and succeed." Now, it's time to hook into the larger movement happening across the internet to change how the web itself works: how we store, retrieve and consult the shared record of human knowledge.

    The key to all of this is verifiability. The "ability to check" in web3 is as powerful as the ability to hyperlink text in your documents was in Web 1. It's a new kind of linguistic primitive.

    Free thought

    Web3 is not just about blockchains. It's "the decentralised web" in general. Blockchains systematise economics and law, and they did not actually start on the web—Bitcoin was originally conceived as a protocol built to run separately without needing a browser. An important part of web3 work is to make browsers and blockchains fit meaningfully together: with the express goal of making protocols more accessible to people.

    Prompt: What simple property of the DWeb is as powerful as the hyperlink?

    Reveal reminder


    Didn't remember

    This goes to the heart of safer, more resilient, and more ethical protocols which can literally encode social contracts in ways which are visible and meaningful to the people using them.

    Mechanisms for the public good and market protocols are what we're really able to build with and on the decentralized web. What this means is that we can craft incentive structures (like quadratic funding, or retroactive public goods funding) that make working on open source software a legitimate financial option for more people. Furthermore, market protocols turn fixed assets (like that 1TB hard drive you have and never use) into networked goods, which can further supplement your ability to work on what you really care about, rather than just on what pays the bills. Peer-to-peer protocols running economic code are beginning to offer increasingly attractive alternatives to corporate jobs.

    Smart contract systems are also the basis of jurisdictions. They are computable law and it is unlikely that we will tap the full potential of this for many years to come. So, if you want to bake rights into your systems and "lock the web open" as many of us do, then consider what it means to encode rules into the jurisdictions of the internet, because that's what is really happening here.

    Many have talked about how this could be equivalent to the internet becoming a nation of sorts, perhaps even something like a network state. Beware those who replicate past paradigms obscured by the trappings of new tools. This is one of the reasons we took such care to look at the DWeb Principles in "Freedom" at the start of this module. Encoding rules into the jurisdictions of the internet is about collaboration and agency. It is about opt-in law. It is about mutual aid, reciprocity, and care. It is about trust spaces built upon trustless protocols. It is about diversity and plurality. It’s about a globe of villages.

    Prompt: More ethical and resilient products, and new kinds of jurisdiction, both rely on us using the unique features of the dweb to build what?

    Reveal reminder

    Open services and market protocols.

    Didn't remember

    The other web 3

    The term “web3” was actually first coined by the people who built something called the linked data, semantic web back in 2004. This idea was started by Tim Berners-Lee, and is aimed at making everything interoperable, removing intermediaries and decentralizing the control of information. His approach has been to model ontologies and data so as to connect computers on the machine-readable web.

    The most successful Linked Data work ended up powering the Knowledge Graph and the Facebook Open Graph, which is a far cry from the decentralized vision that started it all. Much like the work on transformative tools for thought, this is due to issues around funding public goods which - if nothing else - blockchains can genuinely help solve.

    The decentralized web movement, the blockchain movement, and the linked data movement are all part of the decentralized web. We're in it to build a permanent, ownerless, and borderless foundation for this globe of villages through which we are all related.

    Semantic Data

    The Present Time
    With Humility