The Third Web #16 - Urbit, Your New Server

Released Monday, 18th March 2019
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The range of third-web platforms in development today is greater than ever. From data-centric blockchain based approaches to agent-centric designs like Secure Scuttlebut, the potential futures of the third web are rapidly expanding.

Today we look at another approach with the Urbit platform. Like Secure Scuttlebutt, Urbit is agent centric. It is a deterministic operating system designed to be the filter between a user and the online services they use.

I last covered Urbit in 2016 and the project is now nearing public launch. Galen Wolf-Pauly explains.

What is Urbit?
A personal Server
A secure computer that
you actually own
Stores an event log of everything that has ever happened to it
That’s designed to live on any cloud server
But be controlled by a private key that you actually own
Your Urbit is meant to replace all of the consumer cloud software that you already use

How can it possibly be better than all of the expensive software that has already been created?
The basic thesis is that everything we use today runs on top of a unix of some kind.
The reason we wound up in this centralised world of cloud-based software is that Unix is too complicated.
Because the Unix is complicated, complicated layers between Unix and the application are needed.
The Urbit solution is to rip all of that out and create a single, extremely simple, complex system.
Urbit is a virtual machine, programming language, and operating system in 30,000 lines of code.
For comparison, Wordpress, an application that runs on Unix is 500,000 lines of code
Technical simplicity should turn into user interface simplicity.
Additionally, by hosting your Urbit in the cloud you no longer have a middleman serving you applications, Instead you only need them to host your virtual computer.

What does an Urbit future look like?
A single platform allows tighter integration of, for example, productivity software like Git & Asana.
As a designer, Galen looks forward to interface standardisation, -having messaging, documenting, code collaboration, task management and other consumer software working seamlessly as one system.
Rather than interfaces built for many people.

Do we need a new back end for a new front end? Hasn’t Wechat done this?
Today we use many services that have unified UIs
Google has both email and documents but do you really trust Google to have total control and visibility into your use of those services?
What if Google goes away?
Being able to run a server myself that I trust will be around a long time and is secure to me makes me feel alot better. [Platform Risk]
Wechat is a really great achievement
Apps are more like modules
But you have given total power to a single company
The decentralised Wechat pitch has gotten tired but Urbit is very much targeting that problem.
The future of cloud computing does look like that but makes no compromises in privacy or durability.

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