Allowing the internet to be controlled by a few mammoth businesses is anathema to its original vision. We may one day look back on this as a period of great centralisation of the web; the advent of revolutionary technologies like BitTorrent and Bitcoin have really kickstarted the restructuring process.
The next generation of the internet is sometimes referred to as "Web 3.0". Given the current obsession with cryptocurrency price movements and bubbles, we are starting to see more discerning commentators in the mainstream media shift their focus on to the progress of this new decentralised web architecture.
To make a decentralised architecture function well involves solving a group of extremely tough computer science problems. The computer scientist and legal scholar Nick Szabo reminds us that just about all IT these days is very insecure, therefore we should be careful about buzzwords which relate back to something that's fundamentally flawed.
Szabo told IBTimes UK: "The label 'web 3' suggests bringing over the careless, security-poor programming habits of the web. When crypto or smart contracts are programmed like a web page they are doomed. An economy with crypto and smart contracts in it has to be based on more secure, more careful programming."
Szabo designed a mechanism for a decentralised digital currency called "bit gold", back in 1998. The design featured proof of work in the form of cryptographic puzzles and a Byzantine-replicated chain of transactions. Many of these ideas were later tested in the field by Satoshi Nakamoto's Bitcoin plan with its powerful incentive to market scheme.
He added: "A crypto-enabled future has to happen on a secure base, and the web doesn't provide such a secure platform, as we've seen with the hacking of many web-based exchanges.
"So the crypto future has to start with public blockchains, and, for holding keys to the assets and smart contracts on those blockchains, hardware wallets and similar techniques.
"In addition 'layer 2s' on top of blockchains such as Lightning, Sprite, or Raiden will be important for enabling smaller value transactions: as public blockchains grow in use they will transition to high-fee, high-value transactions (as we've seen already happen with Bitcoin) and layer 2 (or as I call them, peripheral networks) will be needed to pay for the coffee and pizza," said Szabo.
Another pioneer of decentralisation technology is the co-founder of the Zcash cryptocurrency, Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn. His work on the Tahoe-LAFS cryptographic, distributed file store is credited as an influence on Beaker Browser (through the Dat protocol), IPFS, and Ethereum.
Asked what he thinks is most broken about the web today, Zooko said: "So much is wrong, I could go on for hours. The lack of encryption around our personal information, communications, businesses, finances, and systems tied to critical infrastructure is unacceptable.
"Zcash is a blockchain, a currency for exchange of value, but at our core we are a science driven organisation that works on very hard, very advanced encryption that could do the world a lot of good - we hope more people, businesses and governments take note of what we have accomplished thus far and how they could use it to protect people better."
Regarding "Web 3.0", Wilcox-O'Hearn says he doesn't a consistent vision yet. There are too many new ideas sprouting up it's hard to tell which ones are really going to produce useful results. Unpacking the term itself, he said Web 3.0 contains at least two separable concepts, and it would be helpful to consider them separately:
First, a World Wide Web with decentralised storage, computation, and communication. "This is an interesting technology, and worth exploring, but it is by no means guaranteed to be successful. Also, it might have little use for blockchain. One particularly promising project in this area is Beaker Browser, which doesn't use a blockchain for anything.
"Beaker Browser is probably not as well-known within the cryptocurrency/blockchain industry for the simple reason that, not using a blockchain, it misses out on some opportunities for hype and funding. But, perhaps a future, viable decentralised Web architecture uses blockchain for nothing but payments and domain names."
The second concept, said Zooko, is a World Wide Web built on new economics. "The problems of today's Web aren't accidents, and they aren't caused by the limitations of insufficient technology. They're the way they are because that's the most profitable way to be. To fix it, we have to provide a more profitable way to be.
"Cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and tokens might help, or they might be just the first pass idea which fails but which shows the way to the real answer. In light of this, one of the projects that interests me the most is Brave / Basic Attention Token. Notice that fixing the economics of the web might not require decentralising the storage, computation, and communication," he said.
Beaker Browser's founder Paul Frazee uses the term "peer-to-peer web" which he defines as "an experimental technology that runs websites and applications on people's computers instead of relying on servers. The goal of that technology is to give people control over the web instead of relying on large businesses to run their services".
Frazee, who has been known to call himself an "Unblockchain consultant", said: "The original vision of the web was that anybody could create and own their website. It was creative and diverse. Now, all that power to create is on other people's servers."
"So we want to try to invert that relationship – to one where the source code and the data live on people's own computers. Then folks can just transact with each other directly, as opposed to having to go through these third parties."
In terms of new technology to look out for, Frazee said he was quite surprised how much interesting stuff coming is out of standards bodies right now. "There's the Solid project, which is headed by Tim Berners-Lee; there's the WC3 social working group had been working on something called Activity Pub, and I think they're doing good work there.
"And the Secure Scuttlebut community is still a really great and thriving underground community; a lot of really good ideas come out of there."
A newer set of decentralisation problems to form around blockchains is how their consensus algorithms operate. Bitcoin's Proof-of-Work system requires an army of specially optimised computers to burn through a ton of electricity to ensure the system is secure. Many people think this is unsustainable, and another system, Proof-of-Stake, is being developed. This is really a crypto-economic system with participants holding deposits, or a stake in the network, which means they can be punished as well as rewarded.
Zcash uses Proof-of-Work mining and like Ethereum's current PoW mining, this algorithm involves the use of memory on the chips, which means it's resistant to the sort of ASIC chip optimisation that has happened in Bitcoin.
Zooko said: "We're watching carefully to see how Ethereum fares in their attempt to switch to Proof-of-Stake, for one thing, as well as researching other mining algorithms.
"However, any change to Zcash's mining algorithm would require group decision-making and a whole lot of coordination, because the Zcash network is so widespread and integrated into so many diverse use cases and cultures.
"If a subset of the use cases chose to switch to the new mining algorithm and another subset chose not to, then it would result in a cryptocurrency fork, unless one of the two use-case-groups was too small to be self-sustaining, in which case it would result in just a normal, hard-forking network upgrade.
The Zcash Foundation wants to be a conduit through which the community can collectively decide and coordinate such things.
Zooko added: "However, I don't accept the common statements about Proof-of-Work mining such as that it is bad for the environment.
"Most of the public conversations I've seen about the social costs of Proof-of-Work mining are confused because they assume that all energy usage is a negative externality i.e. when someone uses electricity, then that makes us all a little worse off.
"In fact that's not true in general, and in particular Proof-of-Work mining may be a good fit for solar and wind energy, which is (as of last year) cheaper than coal and natural gas to supply when available (i.e. when the sun shines or the wind blows), but more expensive than coal or natural gas to supply on demand (i.e. when a consumer turns on their microwave).
"Since Proof-of-Work mining can be a profitable energy sink for those times that the sun is shining but the consumers aren't microwaving their meals, it may cause it to become profitable to build large-scale solar and wind farms which otherwise would never have been built," he said.
Szabo was unequivocal about mining algorithms: "I think Proof-of-Stake is fundamentally less secure than Proof-of-Work, and not suitable as a global store of wealth or for settlement of high-value transactions."
As far as interesting new technologies that might have an impact in the future, he added: "I think DAGchains have some good potential, although the implementations I've seen so far have been very underwhelming."