Web3: The hope for protocols over platforms

by | Jul 29, 2022 | Technology

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In the beginning, there were protocols…

Rather than write about Web3 again, I want to write about Web1: the 90s. At that time, I used something called Communicator. You can think of it as a suite of internet clients and applications. Of course, it had Navigator, a web browser, but also a messenger for emails, a news client and even a push system. It was a good example of how the early web worked: multiple protocols for different purposes. You may remember FTP, SMTP, Gopher and Archie, but also XMPP and many, many more. 

The cool thing about these protocols is that they made the computer you used irrelevant. They abstracted away the underlying operating system and hardware. Similarly, these protocols embraced the Unix philosophy and only focused on one thing to do it well: file sharing, email transmission, push messaging and so forth. 

Then, HTTP and HTML won 

The most “abstract” of these protocols was HTTP. Even though it was initially designed for transfer of hypertext documents, it quickly became apparent that it was good at transferring pretty much any kind of file. Similarly, HTML pretty quickly saw the emergence of JavaScript as a way to make static documents more dynamic. The web stack was (and still mostly is): 

1. Make requests to download HTML, JavaScript and CSS files over HTTP. 

2. The browser “executes” these to render them as fancy websites and applications. 

This meant that other, more specialized protocols could just become applications on top of HTTP and HTML. If you’re using Gmail and sending an email to another person using Gmail, you’re probably not using POP, SMTP or IMAP, but only HTTP and HTML. FTP and XMPP are now known as Megaupload and WhatsApp, for better or worse.

What might surprise you is how hacky HTTP and HTML are. After all, the HTTP spec uses Referer inste …

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