Lisa Rein: Alright. Next up is Brewster Kahle. Brewster Kahle founded Aaron Swartz Day with me several years ago. We decided after the memorial that something had happened there. The energy there was incredible, and people kept saying we need to do something like this again, not so sad, but having the energy that’s here, the dedication that’s here, and do something with it. So that’s how things started, and the rest is kind of history. It just gets bigger and bigger every year. This is definitely the largest one, and Brewster’s talks every year are always very amazing, so I’m looking forward to this one, too.
Ladies and gentlemen, Brewster Kahle.
Brewster Kahle: Thank you Lisa very much for organizing this for another year. And a bunch of Intenet Archive staff, admin staff that’ve been doing a bunch of the stuff behind the scenes. Thank you.
And welcome to the Internet Archive. Those are some petabytes of servers behind you, serving the world as we speak. The little statues are made for the people, of the people that’ve been dedicating several years of their lives at least to bring universal access to all knowledge.
Locking the Web open. We’ve spent the last 25 years pouring our lives into this open Internet. Our expression of who we are, what we’ve done, all sorts of stuff has been going into the World Wide Web. It’s been fantastic. Can we lock the web open?
The way the Web is coded determines a lot of the way we live our lives online. As Larry Lessig, my friend and hero says, “code is law.” So the way that we code the Web makes a huge difference. So does it have our values in it? Freedom of expression, universal access to all knowledge, privacy. Does it have that in it? Turns out, no. It’s actually really quite fragile, this World Wide Web that we’ve got.
But it is huge. We know this because the Internet Archive collects about a billion pages every week (we operate the Wayback Machine) and the life of a web page is only a hundred days between the times it’s either changed or deleted. So they flip on and off servers, all the time.
Also, the World Wide Web isn’t reliable. It’s massively available, unless you happen to live in China. Or currently in Russia you can’t get to the Internet Archive. Or in many of these countries you can’t get to the New York Times or all sorts of other things. So the Internet itself and the World Wide Web is not reliably accessible from places.
It also isn’t private. Something that I attribute to Ed Snowden was…not attribute, it was because of Ed Snowden’s revalations that there was an article in The Guardian that I found chilling. People that were going to WikiLeaks during the Cablegate times were being watched by GCHQ. And with IP addresses, that’s personally-identifiable in a lot of cases. They turned these over to the National Security Agency, that then used that to be able to spy on all of those people (even American citizens) because they were of heightened interest.
Reader privacy, for the library world, is a very very important thing because we have a dreadful history of having people being rounded up for what it is they’ve read and having bad things happen to them. And we have this structure now, on the World Wide Web.
But it is fun. So the World Wide Web is not very reliable, it’s not very private, but it’s fun. We have all these wacko things starting to happen, and you can go and change it and play with it and do all sorts of interesting things. So I think we’ve done one out of three of the big issues. It’s not reliable, it’s not private, but it’s fun.
I’d suggest it’s time to fix the World Wide Web. I think we can get all three of these characteristics, and I’m going to suggest the way to do this is by building a distributed Web. This is a call to build a distributed Web, to lock the Web open.
What do I mean by a distributed Web? Isn’t the Web already distributed? You know, there are servers all over the place. But it isn’t, in the sense that if any particular piece of hardware goes out, that thing blips out. Or, if you stand in front of it, you can watch all traffic to it. Or if you stand in front of you, you can go and make sure that you can’t get to anything, or you can limit what you can have access to.
It’s not distributed in the sense like the Internet is a distributed system. So distributed in the sense that any particular pieces of hardware can be nuked, literally, and the thing will continue to work. It’s harder to build distributed systems than it is to build centralized systems. But they’re very useful if you do spend the time and effort to do it.
Let’s take another example of a distributed system. Amazon.com operates data centers all over the world, and you can go and use them to go and host your web sites or whatever, and they move the services from machine to machine to get around hardware problems. Or if they’re starting to be used more in a certain area of the world, they migrate these services closer to people. So they replicate more and they can move around. What if we could make the World Wide Web on the open Internet operate something like an amazon.com that is for everyone and for free?
And what if we could try to bring reader privacy into this in a real sincere way? Reader privacy turns out to be harder than writer privacy. Going and making it so that it’s hard to go and find who’s reading what, it’s interesting because it’s a flip opposite in the physical world. It used to be that publishing a book was really hard to do anonymously, but you can kind of sneak it around, put it in a [mumbles, mimes shuffling objects around]. You could spread knowledge anonymously much more easily in the physical world, and it’s somewhat flipped opposite now in the digital world.
And this time around, if we’re going to reinvent this World Wide Web, let’s put a time axis into it in the beginning. The Wayback Machine is really kind of a kludge gone and put onto the World Wide Web after the fact. It’s basically a time axis for the World Wide Web, and it’s not even bundled into the browsers yet. So it’s not really part of the World Wide Web yet, even though it’s been around for twenty years. So how do we go and build the next-generation World Wide Web to fix some of these problems so that it’s more like a Git, if you will. So that there would be versions, and that they would be distributed in ways.
I would also like to see if we can actually fix some of the financial problems, We didn’t put in any real mechanism for making any money on the web. Even if people wanted to pay, it’s so clunky and hard that we couldn’t do this.
We also have strong crypto that wasn’t legal at the time to distribute. We won that war, let’s use it. This blockchain idea of a distributed system that can be used for naming systems and the like. And I’d suggest that Bitcoin is really helpful new technology that we can weave into our future systems to make it so that if you author a particular page, you’re going to have to sign that page, you might as well sign it with a Bitcoin address.
So can we go and make it so that we can basically fix these problems? I’d like to pose a goal. I would suggest we want WordPress-functionality web sites, but distributed. Can we make it so that it’s really easy and fun to go and put up a web site that has different themes and maybe different modules in it, that has people with accounts that have different roles? So there are administrators and there’s editors and commenters, but it has these characteristics of being private and reliable, served from many places in a peer-to-peer structure such that the web site moves, the living web site moves.
And I’d say it’s actually possible. There are people that are doing interesting parts of the problem. There’s IPFS, there’s Maelstrom by Bittorent, there’s MaidSafe, Namecoin. There’s Bitcoin, of course, there’s proof of storage systems that are starting to come out, Oceanstore, PeerJS/WebRTC.
All of these technologies are coming about. I’ve seen all of the pieces needed to build a distributed Web. So I’d say it’s possible to do. It takes a bunch of work. But to go and make it so that it’s not just wishful thinking, I had a programmer in Amsterdam take my blog from WordPress and dump it, and then try to make it into a peer-to-peer-served system. And I’m going to try to do something that you’re really not supposed to do. I’m going to try to do a live demo.
So bear with me, and you’re going to have to applaud if this works. This is a gateway address to IPFS. IPFS is a Bittorrent-like system. It took my web blog, all of the articles and indices and also even a little search engine, and put it in… Let’s see if we can get it. So I double-click and it launches a web browser. [Kahle’s blog loads; audience applauds]
We’ve basically been able to figure out how to at least show it’s possible to go and take a living, dynamic web site. It doesn’t have the authentication systems, it doesn’t have some of the other components to it, but it’s got sort of a “Hello world” idea that you could go and make a distributed Web and have it work.
So we’ve seen these pieces. The challenge is now, can we go and weave this all together? Can we go and as a community do something actually pretty hard? Can we go and fix the World Wide Web? Can we make it so that it’s archivable? Can we make it so that it’s privacy-enhanced? And still always keep attention to making it fun. Can we lock the web open? Can we bake the First Amendment into the code itself? Can we make openness irrevocable? This I think is something we can do, and we must do.
Thank you very much.