Dec 11, 2019
Internet Freedom

How IPFS Can Change The World


ften times we talk about a certain technology and its potential, and in doing so we focus too much on the positives, which can have a damning effect in overstating the possibilities surrounding the technology change.

This can happen for a while, as we question the usefulness of a possible new thinking, and we judge it by the compendium of tools that we have at our disposal now.

It happened with the invention of the car. How useful was it to invent a "horseless carriage" in 1672 if it carried no passengers?

Yet, the potential of steam in mobility was not to be overlooked because of this limitation. It is not known for certain whether Ferdinand Verbiest's invention, depicted below, was ever built or used, but we cannot overlook its importance now.

A sketch for Verbiest's steam-powered cart. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It was hard back then to see the potential of this new thinking, without also having better materials, and advanced mechanisms such as hydraulics. Having heavily promoted this first approach, for instance, would have probably given cars a really bad name for a long time.

But today we look back to the invention of the Internet, and the creation of startups, and we can see that imperfect versions of something should not stop us from trying.

Perhaps there lies our problem, are we too optimistic with some technologies? Certainly the amount of failed inventions can offer some light on the risks involved.

Early in the 20th century, it was very popular to put Radium, a radioactive chemical element that produces cancer, in just about everything.

Radium Night Cream Advertisement from the Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1919.

It was so popular that brands that did not use Radium in their products claimed to do so, only to benefit from the marketing buzz around it. It sounds a lot like what startups do today when they falsely tout cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

The case of Radium was devastating because of the lives lost. But after the hard lessons were learned, it did serve to advance the science behind cancer treatments and the research that led to our current, modern understanding of the disease.

But if we focus on the height of the public's obsession with Radium, we can see a lot of similarities with cryptocurrency. For example, claiming a benefit simply because of its presence and its condition. Like shouting "Shines in the dark!" or "It uses Ethereum!".

What if instead of doing this, we looked at the situation in an opposite manner? We can start by the problem we want to solve, perhaps one that affects our potential globally.

Take for instance the Web. It has promoted growth and enabled communications everywhere, but with the advent of social media, it has unfortunately powered some destructive forces around the world.

Now because of this, democracies are in danger, citizens are outraged, and civil unrest seems to be here to stay.

The government of Russia is exploiting this, offering support to political groups that agree with its view of a centrally planned economy, with a tight grip on civil rights and a very loose control over corruption.

Paris Protests, fueled by fake news. Photo by Damien Checoury on Unsplash.

The Russian model, if anything, is based on widespread corruption and the oppression of its citizens. So it is only natural for the Russian government to restrict access to the Web and control it for its own good, or to have their own, fragmented version of it.

It is also natural for them to spread fake news and divide people, obliterating facts online. It turns out is a lot harder to protest and have a say in your society when you cannot access information and communicate with other people.

The Russian government understands this, and in some occasions they shut off the Internet altogether.

Unfortunately, their disinformation practices are expanding outside of their national borders, and succeeding in large sections of the world. This is in part because people have not realized it yet, as they are happy in their own bubble of confirmation bias, which is what social media has become.

But in a very large part the disinformation is successful because of how the Internet functions. The problem lies with it being organized by location, instead of content. So when you visit this website, you accessed a URL, which is tied to an IP address, which identifies a location and a server.

There is a single source of serving that content, in one try. This is very different than having a distributed version of the same content, not hosted by one server, but by many nodes.

HTTP vs. IPFS. Source: MaxCDN

Imagine it as if a lot of people were hosting this website. Writing negative things about Russia would be possible, as they could not shut down every person from keeping this alive.

Depending on your inclinations, that either sounds powerful or silly to you. But the truth is, there is undeniable potential in separating content from the HTTP protocol, and being able to access it without an Internet connection.

One is the ability to serve large datasets of content over a distributed network of nodes, which saves approximately 60% of costs when compared to existing efforts over HTTP.

In this way, IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) can change the world. It can reduce costs, encrypt content and enable it offline.

It is not a fringe concept exploited by speculators to make money while offering no substance, like it happens sometimes with cryptocurrencies. It is the difference between our dystopian near-future and the upholding of values that got us here.

Equality matters. Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash.

It could be the answer to the increasing desire of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to violate Net Neutrality rules, and engage in dark practices like DPI (Deep Packet Inspection), which is a complete violation of privacy that regulators either fail to understand or cannot justify the opportunity cost enough to do something about it.

By switching the economic incentive away from violating users' rights, and into a different structure that saves bandwidth costs, we can change our fortunes and live in a world that is more inclusive. One where perhaps democracy and rule of law can have a chance at survival.

IPFS has the potential to give us a decentralized web, with entire services functioning permanently over a multitude of methods. We just need to work on the other parts and materials that will make this a groundbreaking invention.

At Interlink, we are committed to the advancement of ISPs, and we are actively working to support a better way to treat traffic with Strings, our network management solution.

-Mariano Malisani.