MAR 03, 2018 2:02 PM PST

Can "Decentralization" Revolutionize the Internet?

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

A company called Substratum is developing a new way of serving and receiving internet content: through a decentralized network. Justin Tabb, one of its founders, says a decentralized web is “absolutely the future of the internet, because it puts the power back in the hands of the people to decide what content they do and do not want to see.” Tabb is an experienced software developer. He and his team think Substratum can promote equality in online content access and fight censorship around the world.

Substratum decentralized internet illustration, credit: Substratum

As the name suggests, a system using decentralized technology is not centered in one primary hub; it is distributed or spread out among numerous computers. “Decentralized” is a term often used to describe a blockchain, the type of technology that underlies cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. A blockchain is a distributed ledger of information; a growing list (“chain”) of records (“blocks”) secured by cryptography. A decentralized system is designed to enable participants to run and use the network between themselves and to be immune to manipulation by any one person or organization. In the case of Substratum, a decentralized internet uses a worldwide network of computers (“nodes”) to host secure internet content, which is viewable in any typical browser like Chrome or Firefox, as well as on mobile devices.

How Does It Work?

Substratum works when network members run its broadcast software with their free computing power. Anyone can choose to do this. These computers serve as nodes that can host content in the decentralized network. A business or person who wants to share content such as sites or apps via the Substratum network will pay the network members to host the content. Network members are paid with SUB – Substratum's digital coin. End users can then view the content online. Tabb says by charging SUB for content hosting, the system rewards those running nodes on their computers, essentially paying “people to share their spare computing resources.”

“Using these nodes, people all over the world will gain access to the same internet, one that is open and free,” he adds.

A Censorship-Free Internet

Tabb says Substratum’s system will remove the need for a VPN (virtual private network) or Tor (internet-privacy software), which are used to create private internet-surfing experiences. VPNs provide online anonymity and are popular among web users in countries like China for circumventing elaborate governmental internet censorship practices. China reportedly plans to ban VPNs at the end of March 2018. Also, in late February 2018, President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party announced a plan to end presidential term limits, which was followed by a new wave of censorship of online words in the country, such as “emperor” and “shameless,” along with images that the government deems subversive.

In the video below, Substratum explains that freeing people from these types of practices and empowering everyone to have access to anything online are some of their primary goals. The information and media hosted by Substratum nodes (on the computers of network members) are secured with cryptography, resistant to content suppression and equally viewable by everyone through traditional internet browsers.

Tabb shares that the company is growing and “feverishly” working toward their Open Beta stage. He believes the decentralized internet network will achieve mass adoption and tells the public to, “Hang on, the future is coming!” A “sneak peek” of the SubstratumNode user interface that was released in September 2017 is below.

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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