Apr 2

decentralized web mit - intro

the rise of centralized web

the Web reduced the barrier for online freedom of speech
but then it got too crowded, and it was difficult to find new content, and maaaaany users still could not access it
centralization "fixed" it with: content finders + easy to use platforms
then open web advocates begun to call for the "re-decentralization" of the web
why: risks, since they have too much power {link to absolutism?} (see more later)

something that gave hope again to this was Bitcoin
since it is decentralized and has impacted the world

still, the web monopolies are built over open technologies

it appears that structurally decentralized architecture doesn't inherently lead to decentralized, competitive markets
this points to the need for developing a more nuanced understanding of the role that structural/technical decentralization plays in addressing the new class of risks to personal and political speech that we observe online today.

risks posed by the centralized web

  • top down, direct censorship -- pressure from national governements
  • curatorial bias, indirect censorship -- bias, optimize for feel-good content
  • abuse of curatorial power -- since it is proprietaty, no one can really see how curation works; impossible to audit {maybe ok if open curation algorithms)
  • exclusion -- real name policy vs. trans people, coalition-based innapropriate content reports

structural interventions as possible solutions

social media platforms have become a critical communications and information infrastructure

it all works fine, until it doesn't -- we only notice bad things when things go wrong
free speech can be limited by: bad faith actions from platform host, or community abuse

structural interventions:

give users free speech without platform lock-in?
fosters a more plural market? by reducing switching costs or enhancing transparency

three criteria to evaluate strength of case studies:

  • user adoption
  • developer opt-in
  • business viability


  • centralization has its advantages: performance, simplicity
  • main risks are: censorship, proprietary bias
  • the infrastructure of today's silos is open and decentralized
  • new proposal is not just about the tech -- but also about the incentives to use it
  • must satisfy: users, developers, and business