Distributed Work Protocols: Infrastructure Built by Developers, for Developers
The growth of Web3, the decentralized Internet, has given rise to a new breed of network architecture: distributed work protocols.
By Doug Petkanics, Founder & CEO, Livepeer
Updated July 22, 2021 • 2 min read
Blockchain technology has enabled a new type of network architecture that is lowering costs and barriers to entry for a new generation of developers. Powered by open-source software and underused resources such as computing power and bandwidth, decentralized work protocols like Filecoin (FIL), Livepeer (LPT), and The Graph (GRT) allow developers to build with nothing more than a great idea.
What Are Distributed Work Protocols?
Distributed work protocols have helped application builders offer services ranging from permanent archives to virtual venues for DJs. Distributed infrastructures provide developers with computing power, bandwidth, storage and other building blocks they can use to bring their ideas to life without paying onerous fees to central providers.
These networks have escaped the cloud and the server room. They are instead overlaid on blockchains and powered by thousands of individual computers that execute tasks — like storing encrypted files or encoding video — in exchange for fees and other rewards.
The reconfiguration of the old client-server structure turns individual computers into service providers as well as users. And, because these providers must compete with one another for work, prices are kept in check and quality stays high.
Finally, because distributed work protocols are governed by smart contracts rather than by institutional gatekeepers, they are open to all.
Pros and Cons of Distributed Work Protocols
Distributed work protocols have many advantages over their Web 2.0 predecessors, along with a few drawbacks. Let’s look at the advantages first:
Affordability: Blockchain technology means users are no longer subject to the high prices set by cloud providers and other big technology companies. Stiff competition among service providers in distributed work protocols keeps prices in check — one of the principle benefits of distributed work protocols.
Infinite scale: When idle resources can rent themselves out of open networks to generate additional revenue, no pre-provisioned servers are necessary in order to handle peak capacities. Developers can pay as they go and use resources at infinite scale, enabled by the price-coordinated economies of open work protocols.
Reliability: Because they are constructed across a far-flung network rather than housed on a single server, distributed work protocols have neither a single point of control nor a single point of failure. They are therefore both less likely to crash and more secure from manipulation or hacking. The network also runs 24/7.
Democratization: Distributed work protocols have no gatekeepers. They are open to anyone who either wants to use or provide services.
Privacy: Decentralized architecture is governed by smart contracts, not corporations or institutions. This means there is no need for users who want to provide or use services to disclose anything about their identities.
Data immutability: The nature of blockchain technology means that transactions and other forms of data cannot be forged or altered.
Trustlessness: Interactions are conducted peer-to-peer, without the intervention of intermediaries.
Distributed network protocols also introduce a few unique challenges:
Complexity: It can be challenging to update or change code in a distributed protocol, since it is deployed across a web of computers. And, less technologically adept users may find it challenging to interact with less user-friendly interfaces.
Dependence on participants: Distributed networks are more effective and more affordable when they are powered by the largest possible number of participants, or node operators, who compete to perform work. Fledgling projects that hope to keep services affordable must focus as much on building out these node networks as they do on technical innovations and partnerships.
Distributed Work Protocols in Practice
The growth of Web3 (also known as Web 3.0) has set the stage for the emergence of a large and growing number of work protocols with the potential to foster game-changing innovations.
Several protocols offering affordable decentralized storage are gaining prominence. One of the best-known is Filecoin (FIL), which offers hyper-local encrypted data storage provided by miners who compete to offer space to clients. Robert Greenfield, the author of the Filecoin whitepaper, dubbed it “the Airbnb of data storage."
Developers hoping to tap into the $70 billion USD live streaming market can use the Livepeer (LPT) distributed infrastructure for key services such as video transcoding at a fraction of the cost charged by central providers. These are again provided by node operators (known as “orchestrators” in the Livepeer community) who compete on the grounds of service quality, price, and location.
The Graph (GRT) enables the extraction of data from the blockchain about the blockchain. It allows anyone to build and publish open APIs, or subgraphs, that can be interrogated for a huge range of information on crypto trends.
Distributed work protocols offer a new and powerful way for developers to disrupt the centralized systems that have dominated the internet. The rapid growth of projects like those described above illustrate the benefits and possibilities of this technology.
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Founder & CEO, Livepeer
Doug Petkanics is the founder and CEO of Livepeer, where he focuses on protocol research and software development. Livepeer is building an open source video infrastructure platform, which leverages decentralization to drive down costs and meet the needs of developers building video streaming applications at scale. Prior to Livepeer, Doug was founder and VP Engineering at Hyperpublic (acquired by Groupon) and Wildcard.
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