The Internet is an incredible achievement of humanity, but it’s not without its problems. A handful of organizations – both businesses and governments – act as central points of failure. When they go down, large swaths of the Internet go down. When they function properly, the platforms have total control and can prevent or restrict user access. And users who do have access often have little to no privacy, as their actions are closely monitored either for control or advertising.
This centralization of the Internet, and its resulting brittleness and lack of privacy, are not inevitable. The Internet wasn’t built to be centrally controlled. A growing group of technologists (most recently, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey) are fighting back, building decentralized apps and protocols designed to put the power of the web back in the hands of those who use it. These peer-to-peer networks let users connect directly to each other. In this way these apps and protocols are taking out the middlemen who control access to the network and monitor its activity.
Haven is a mobile app that creates a private marketplace for users to exchange goods and services. Haven is built on top of a decentralized network called OpenBazaar, which is comprised of thousands of people around the world running free, open-source software that connects everyone peer-to-peer in order to buy new clothes, sell their music, or interact in the global marketplace however they choose.
OpenBazaar is enabling truly free trade online, and Haven brought this liberating experience to mobile devices. No one - not even the developers of the software - can monitor or control the users accessing and using the network. Haven is powered by cryptocurrencies instead of older electronic transaction technology like privacy-destroying credit cards. And communications are end-to-end encrypted, which lets users retain their privacy.
Haven harnesses the Protocol Labs’ InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), to solve a problem that hamstrung earlier versions of OpenBazaar. Because OpenBazaar is a peer-to-peer network, users had to run the software 24/7 for their stores to “stay open.” That’s a tall order for store owners. A few years ago, the OpenBazaar team started looking for a solution to this problem. They discovered IPFS and rebuilt OpenBazaar to use it. Today, OpenBazaar is one of the largest decentralized networks that use IPFS at its core.
IPFS is a distributed file system that allows data to be shared and retrieved across a peer-to-peer network of users. This means files are accessible to other users even if one (or several) of the people hosting those files isn’t running the software at the moment. When people use OpenBazaar, they run an IPFS node used to share public data about their store/listings with other users. Store owners can go offline for days at a time, and people can still access their data and engage in trade with them. The improvement to OpenBazaar’s usability was huge!
IPFS enabled another massive improvement for decentralized technology: the ability to communicate with the OpenBazaar peer-to-peer network from a mobile device. Haven is one of the first apps where a mobile node is a full member of the OpenBazaar peer-to-peer network. Most peer-to-peer networks require a constant Internet connection to function. This is a problem for mobile devices, which have limited bandwidth and battery. When the OpenBazaar team tried building a mobile app years ago, they ran into this problem.
The only approach they could take was to build what was effectively a ‘remote control’ for an existing OpenBazaar node, either run by the user themselves or hosted by someone else. This required trusting someone to run a node for you, or still running a desktop node yourself. They wanted a better option, and got it by using IPFS for Haven.
Thirty years ago, internet pioneers launched the Internet out of university labs and into our homes. And since then, there has always been this nagging worry among those pioneers and their successors that the people who control key essential inputs of the Internet will leverage them to their unfair advantage. This is a pivotal moment for the Internet economy. We’re proud of what we built with Haven – a feat that wouldn’t have been possible without IPFS. We look forward to leading the way in pioneering and creating the most powerful decentralized, open-source applications built on IPFS as we move toward a web that’s open, fair and free for all.