Data, Identity, and the Future of the Internet

By Jarrett Retz -April 11th, 2020

Now and again I'm inspired. I grab a note sheet and start writing things down, drawing lines, boxes, small notes, etc.

Typically, the flame burns out and the enthusiasm becomes a memory.

However, the last time this happened it was an idea about redesigning the internet. Bold: very bold idea. Instead of sitting on the idea for a day or two before letting it slip away I jumped online and started Googling my thoughts.

I quickly found a hit. I came across Solid and was immediately ready to sell my soul to work towards their mission.

SOLID

Solid was created by the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Its mission is to reshape the web as we know it. Solid will foster a new breed of applications with capabilities above and beyond anything that exists today.

Solid is a protocol and stands for socially linked data. You see, it drives me crazy having to make accounts for all the things I do online and that's just the start of it. Adding to that discomfort is always having the ability to sign in with Google or Facebook. Not a fan. I don't want to do that. Confession: I sometimes use Github to sign-in to sites.

Consider this snippet from Solid's website.

Solid empowers users and organizations to separate their data from the applications that use it. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time.

That's what I want, and that's why I had my soul in the shopping cart ready to hit check out. I explored their site and discovered that there was a React SDK (don't quote me on that) and some documentation.

I was maybe an hour into reading up on Solid, and Inrupt, when I decided to get my hands dirty (Inrupt is the company that is trying to build around what the open-source Solid project was trying to accomplish).

I tried setting up a Solid server with Inrupt but was quickly discouraged. I lost the vision at that moment. I was a believer in the message but the implementation was a little rough. I liked that Solid was a project separate from Inrupt. However, the project seemed like it was running low on gas. It lacked force. Maybe because it's still in its infancy? Regardless, it just didn't seem different enough as I was setting up the server.

I still wanted more background on Solid/Inrupt so I jumped on Youtube to do some more research and saw some interesting comments. One comment that stood out was similar to, "lol Elastos is so much better". Deep breath. Time to look into Elastos.

Elastos

Below is a great video comparing the two.

I visited Elastos's website. My first thought was this website is more legit (I'm a sucker for a good graphic). It wasn't a thorough judgment of the organization's strength and direction but it spoke to me. Before I could scroll any further—hard stop. Blockchain? Crypto? Yikkessssss.

  • Is this a flavor of the week thing?
  • What are they trying to do?
  • Why is there blockchain?

The first guy that ever told me about Bitcoin had such a profound impact on how I have viewed Bitcoin and blockchain technology. In college (circa 2015?), there was this guy—that worked for this company—that was at the place where I worked in college—and we were having a conversation in the office.

He had medium length blonde hair. I think he was wearing two shirts, like a short sleeve over a long sleeve. He had a necklace with, coincidently, a coin on it. He asked if I knew what the dark web was, specifically Tor.

I said no.

The dude was so gratified that he could now tell me about this thing. And I knew that he was relishing this moment of being the keeper of secrets, so I down played my interest in the whole topic because people (me) can be like that sometimes. I treated it like he had just told me there's a bike outside the door with two flat tires that might be free.

It's not a pointless thing to point out, but I'm not going to do anything actionable with that information.

A few minutes later in the conversation, he mentions that for the right amount of Bitcoin you could pay someone on the dark web to kill someone else.

A few things became very clear at that moment:

  1. I should avoid this guy as much as possible and leave this conversation
  2. All people associated with Bitcoin are murders
  3. I don't need to use Tor or the dark web.

That's why I wasn't interested in Bitcoin or crypto a few years later when people were spending, or selling, thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin (or any other crypto currency). To me, Bitcoins are war bonds.

Furthermore, blockchain and smart contracts are considered complex topics for the majority of people. That acted as a natural barrier or entry to me stacking up knowledge in that domain.

Blockchainge of heart

Strangely, in 2019, I was talking to my brother about the deep fake videos. I mused that maybe blockchain is the way to deal with the authenticity of a video (or digital file for that matter).

I heard enough about blockchains at this point to understand that blockchains can validate actions. This kind of ledger, I figured, could be useful for the true identity of media files. This had put blockchain and crypto in a different light to me. Nonetheless, I was skeptical when I first read the Elastos uses blockchain. I began to tread lightly.

The Modern Internet

Elastos claims to be "The Modern Internet". It is not a competitive crypto currency, and utilizes blockchains as part of its technology stack. Elastos's blockchain is primarily used for authentication and commerce on network.

Elastos is not laying cable to create a new internet. It still uses the infrastructure that is currently in place, but it doesn't communicate directly with the internet.

It runs on a peer-to-peer network (Elastos Carrier), therefore achieving decentralization.

A peer-to-peer network is one in which two or more PCs share files and access to devices such as printers without requiring a separate server computer or server

This requires other devices and connections to be whitelisted before access to other devices . There's a big security benefit with this.

How do you know that the server, application, or user you are connecting with is who they say they are? Blockchain identity management.

Elastos utilizes a blockchain, mined in parallel with the Bitcoin main chain, for stability and identity. This parallel mined branch is Elastos's 'main chain' and from the main chain many side chains can be spawned for Elastos.

Before I get ahead of myself, the network that Elastos uses is called Carrier and it sits between the actual internet and Elastos applications as a peer-to-peer network.

Identity is critical in this equation because everything is blacklisted in the beginning (I think).

Blockchains handle the identification of all the components in Elastos. For example, there is the DID.

The DID (Decentralized Identifier) Sidechain issues completely decentralized IDs to users, apps, and devices that are not controlled by any individual or third party. DID is an autonomous and secure identification system.

Using blockchains for identification and verification is ideal, but storing large amounts of data on a blockchain is not ideal.

To solve that issue, Elastos has HIVE.

In conjunction with Elastos DID services, Elastos Hive enables applications to store user data in a distributed manner such that data is only accessible to its owners.

It would be a slow process to store all of the data in Elastos on the blockchain. HIVE handles that storage, in conjunction with the identification process so user data is protected.

The Ecosystem for dApps

HIVE, DID, and Carrier creates the ecosystem for decentralized applications (dApps). dApps are decentralized apps that utilize these aspects of the ecosystem.

Elastos calls this new thing a SmartWeb;

A SmartWeb has its own DIDs, browsers, micro-websites, and instant mini-apps, but no explicit IP addresses, nor communication protocols. This prevents any network attacks or third party apps from stealing user data. This is what elastOS can do for users and developers. All user and application data on elastOS will be bound to the user’s DID, and the data itself will be stored on a decentralized storage system. Source

A side effect of this ecosystem (combined with things like ELA, the Elastos token) is that all the data on Elastos becomes a digital asset that can be bought, sold, traded, constrained, and tracked.

It's written in the Elastos whitepaper that, "...property rights pave the way for wealth creation." Data, eBooks, songs, pictures, etc. can avoid piracy and distribution. Ideally, this causes creativity to explode because there's now an economic incentive to create and distribute the new protected "goods".

Formally Trinity, now elastOS browser

elastOS integrates all the services provided by Elastos and combines them into a whole API interface framework for DApp developers to get started easily.

elastOS is the 'gateway'. This is how your Android phone, and soon iOS, can use Elastos.

Interestingly, in a recent update on Elastos, and the subsequent release on mainstream app store, causes an interesting relationship with the smart phone app store and elastOS.

This is because elastOS is a self proclaimed app store. So why would an app store allow another app store to sell on their turf? This situation almost begs the question, does elastOS need a totally different device to survive?

The world has been put on hold recently with the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, but at the same time, even without that hiccup it seems that this project is a long shot.

Reality...?

There are so many things about this project that are beautiful. Identity on the internet is troubling. Data has long been the new currency on the web and the wealth is controlled and is continuously aggregated, by a handful of key actors. Elastos takes on both of these issues. A person may think that this is what they want in their internet, but currently, the transition costs seem too high.

I want this thing to survive because it makes so much sense to the internet that I want to develop on. Elastos might not be the answer in the end but it seems so close to being on the right track.

The increased security, default control of data, and identity is what I want to see in the future.

I haven't formed all my thoughts but it's something that I will be keeping an eye on.

Another good video on Elastos is below. The founder, Rong Chen, can be heard talking about the project.