Yesterday the internet broke, let us fix it together

July 18, 2020

Apparently yesterday the internet broke. Why? Because the internet (or the web) has become centralized. And, when a system such as the web becomes a single point of failure, it’s just a matter of time before it breaks down. Yesterday, the “web-infrastructure and web-security company” Cloudflare was this single point of failure, and as a consequence 12 million websites were cutoff from the web.

So, what does “centralized web” mean? There are a few ways in which the web is centralizing, but let’s focus on the one that caused yesterday’s broken internet.

More and more (large) website owners try to protect themselves against problems related to extraordinary demands on limited bandwidth, such as a DDoS attack, or the Slashdot effect. To protect themselves, website owners rely on so-called content delivery networks, or CDN’s. Cloudflare is such a CDN. They have a world-wide network of servers that sit in between you and a website: you navigate to that website and, unbeknownst to you, the website is served by Cloudflare. And unlike most website owners, Cloudflare has sufficient resources to manage massive peeks in traffic. All is well, isn’t it?

No. Looking at yesterday’s outage, we can safely say that centralizing the web - moving large websites “behind” CDN’s - does not work.

Luckily there is a simple solution, and it has been here since the late 90’s: peer-to-peer. The only problem with peer-to-peer (p2p) is that it has a bad rep because of piracy. With p2p, all visitors together become the content delivery network, if you will. Whenever I visit and thus download a website, I can subsequently serve that website to another visitor, or peer, and they in turn can subsequently serve that website to yet again another visitor. Simple as can be! And, no need for the unwieldy infrastructure of world wide networks of servers.

Great isn’t it?

Yes, and p2p has another advantage! It would make for a much more democratic web. What?!

Previously I’ve written about how I’m not using Youtube anymore. It would be great if there were a good alternative, but with today’s web only Google can run the second most popular website. Serving 100.000 years of Youtube videos per day(!) requires tremendous amounts of resources. No single human being could ever host such a website… but hey, it could be possible to host a similar, nay, better platform on the p2p web, because we would seed it (in p2p parlance) together.