Distributed Blockchain Technology vs. Centralized ICANN. Will There Be a Collision?
I have a phone, and I have no idea how it actually works despite the fact that people, like me, created it. I know that there are detailed descriptions of its operation, nevertheless, when I make a call, it is magic for me. I am used to it, and I perceive it as something routine, but it is still a kind of magic.
We are surrounded by these "black boxes" that perform some operations we do not understand. We have created some of them and, generally, understand what they do. Some "boxes", however, were created by nature and we have poor understanding of their magic, or we have none at all.
What are we going to discuss here? The point that a number of small super-efficient systems are better than one large system. Does that mean that a number of alternative DNS root zones are better than one large ICANN? Well... What about Blockchain-powered roots?
Natural Magic and Technomagic
Dispersion: Technology allows us to observe Nature
At home, I have a wooden board. This wooden board is really no mystery today; it consists of plant cells, which, in their turn, consist of smaller components that consist of molecules, which consist of atoms, etc. But I can take a saw and cut the wooden board. Knowledge about the cells will not help nor hinder me in sawing off the required part. The wooden board for me is like a black box, and the saw is an interface tool which helps me to perform the work without thinking of the cellular structure.
Natural magic appeared on its own during the Big Bang. We, naturally, do not know how it happened. We probably will never know. The magic is here, and we can use it to make Technomagic like my phone (or saw).
Technomagic now is at a crossroads. Which is better, to create large systems that have an interface for interaction with customers and include a large number of components which are still part of the system? Or is it better to follow another way by creating a large number of small independent systems that posses proper interfaces and can interact with each other to perform the jobs done by larger systems?
What is the Internet? It is a large number of independent systems including providers, data-centers, software developers and many other participants. All of these have interfaces for interacting with each other. The best proof for this is the fact that right now I can simply read other people's articles and write my own as well (if only I could charge my battery over the Internet...).
So, can we say that the Internet is a perfect example of how the distributed complex systems should be designed? I would sure like to. But it would not be the complete truth. How did it happen that the symbol of distribution is still a poor example of the distribution?
The Internet's Technomagic
Between my request to open a site and the data I receive, there is a large number of steps hidden from me. The first step is at the man/machine border, and it is of the greatest interest.
I want to visit Wikipedia to read about cryptocurrencies. So I input 'wikipedia.org' in the URL bar. This name is clear and understandable for me as a human being.
But for the system that processes my requests, this name is gibberish. DNS servers are the mediators here. Therefore, the next step is to translate the 'human-language' name into the IPv4 or IPv6 address, which will be comprehensible for the system.
DNS servers allow for translating the address that is readable by humans into the one that is readable by the router.
Proper software, telecommunications and a network of DNS servers are the intermediate layers between the human and the automatic system. These intermediate layers allow for starting the chain, which results in me seeing the main page of Wikipedia.
Well, it seems that the DNS works, although, there are some contradictions. But before we start criticizing the existing solutions, let us have a talk about how Blockchain fits into this.
The Blockchain Technomagic
One of the best visual representations of the Blockchain idea. Source: CryptoMechanics
The main difference between Blockchain and any other database lies in the Blockchain's decentralization. The web addresses and IP correspondence database is stored on the DNS servers. The servers themselves are distributed around the world and are decentralized to some extent. So, if a fire occurs at the location of one of the servers, the Internet will keep working.
The servers themselves are controlled according to strict rules and are managed by different organizations and governments. The main management company ICANN implements quite democratic policies for creating new domain areas and registering addresses. However, it obeys a number of restrictions, and the US government is one of the ICANN stakeholders...
On the other hand, we have the decentralized Blockchain technology. A record can be saved in a blockchain only if it satisfies certain rules, and it cannot be deleted later. You can, of course, edit the database on your PC and your friends' computers, too, if they do not protest. But if many users around the world download blockchain, this kind of hack is not possible.
The blockchain, which is distributed around the Internet, is not under jurisdiction of any certain country. Moreover, being an egalitarian database, blockchain is not under ANY jurisdiction. This does not apply to a private blockchain, which has a certain owner and the access to it is restricted.
The Blockchain technology itself allows for improving the cost-efficiency of the infrastructure, but the Internet community does not consider this point the main advantage. The primary benefit is that Blockchain is truly decentralized, and that the system is self-organizing, i.e. it does not require any central governing institution (like atoms perform according to the laws of physics and do not need a government to tell them what to do).
Originally, the Blockchain was developed as a financial application. It was intended to be some large account book, which would store records on who transferred money to whom. Bitcoin is the first implementation and a good example of such a ledger.
Nevertheless, Blockchain can be used to store any kind of data, for example, the records that allow matching a web address with an IP.
A number of alternative root servers exist next to the ICANN system. For instance, Tor has its own domain '.onion', which requires a special build of the Mozilla Firefox browser or a plugin for access.
There are two popular solutions among the Blockchain-based software. They are called Namecoin and Emercoin and allows matches between web addresses and IP to be stored in the Blockchain. To use the additional domains with your browser, you need to install a plugin.
The complication of the Blockchain DNS lies in the fact that although a computer has access to a larger amount of resources, this solution implies storing the whole database on the user's computer itself.
However, there is a solution that deals with this annoyance. For instance, OpenNIC offers its own DNS servers, which not only process ICANN addresses, but many alternative domains as well, including those of Namecoin and Emercoin.
So, on the one hand, we lose the decentralization, because the domain table is stored in a centralized way on OpenNIC servers. On the other hand, however, it is very convenient for a user. Not everyone would like to download a large blockchain and synchronize with the network just to expand the zone of the Internet available.
Decentralization implies that the power over any service, including the domain registration services, must not belong to any certain person, organization or government, but should be distributed among all the participants of the system.
Anyway, the decentralization/convenience problem also applies to money transactions: not everyone would like to download the blockchain to be able to perform a proper decentralized transaction. In many cases, it is simpler to connect to a trusted node to perform the required operation.
Decentralization of the Blockchain-based solutions is not based on the fact that every user has a blockchain downloaded to his computer, but on the fact that many users around the world have a copy of it. At that, only one blockchain keeper might be present for a thousand common users. If there are hundreds of millions of users, it provides enough decentralization and independence to consider that no single person nor organization could influence the operation of this Blockchain-based service.
And the answer to the question, "Why do people waste their efforts to create an analogue of ICANN if ICANN itself is operating successfully?" is this: of course, it is not to squat the domain 'microsoft.com' in the alternative DNS root and place there his hamster's homepage. It is to prevent any possibility for a single man, organization or country to control registering the domains.
More Magic, More Interfaces, Less Centralization
The self-organizing magic: every participant does only his job, but the total result exceeds the sum of the results of individuals' jobs
You have a big system with many over-complicated processes running inside (for instance, tax service or the transport department). And there are many small systems which can interact with each other, and together they can accomplish the same tasks as the large system does. Now, try to answer the following question: Which one has a better chance of survival, the large inefficient system or many smaller systems with large operating costs?
I hope you have already answered the question. Centralization was the trend in the 20th century, and if you voted for the large inert system, I can safely guess that you have spent the most part of your life in the 20th century.
The Internet, which covers the largest sapient part of the planet, allows for spatial distribution of the process. For example, you can work in Seattle and live in Thailand. You can design products in Denver and produce them in China. Actually, you can use a 3D-printer located in Denver.
You can also live in your own house, get power from the sun and recycling organic waste, and filter the water you need. Thus wires and pipelines become obsolete, so why do you need a central provider if you have everything you need right here?
We expect that business in the future will be even even more integrated with the Internet and using decentralization and interaction interfaces. Can we be just as optimistic and claim that the age of centralized money emission, centralized stocks and centralized control of the Internet is over?
Many alternative root DNS have already learned to join together and stand up to ICANN, but they are still weak. After all, ICANN is more confident than the alternative DNS, even despite the fact that a number of such DNS use innovations (I mean Blockchain here).
The Bytecoin Team believes that the Blockchain technology is an alternative for centralized infrastructures, but we do not expect the extinction of the centralized structures, especially those supported by governments.
Another scenario seems to be more real. Decentralized Blockchain-based solutions have already proven their efficiency, but only on a small scale. After all, we do not have a Walmart-size Blockchain-based retailer, and total capitalization of the most successful cryptocurrency case is a mere $6.4 billion.
However, the state monopoly is wavering. This waver is very small, but the long-term consequences can be seen. Attempts for establishing government control over Blockchain-based networks will fail, as will the attempts to create the digital state within the Internet by the cryptocurrency enthusiasts.
After this, negotiations will start to discuss how centralized and decentralized can co-exist. Despite Snowden's disclosures and the quite sane critiques by Stallman, a compromise with the government should be reached, and its conditions and terms will have to be accepted. However, the government would also have no other choice but to offer trade-offs.
The agreement has its limits. If there is a rule for adding data to the blockchain, it would not be possible to remove it due to copyrights or violation of somebody's feelings. Blockchain is as inflexible as the laws of physics are, and it does not care what senators and lobbyists think about it.
The most interesting point is, how can we reach an agreement?
In order to be up-to-date with Bytecoin and not miss the next article, you can sign up on our mailing list here. If you have questions that we could discuss in our articles, feel free to contact us.