ecosystem

What to know about the Future of Digital Public Infrastructure in Five Minutes

Jul 7, 2023

The Decentralists, a twitter space series hosted by Filecoin Foundation speaks with top minds at the intersection of Dweb and technology created for real world applications.

Filecoin Foundation Senior Fellow Danny O’Brien spoke with Ethan Zuckerman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, about the future of digital public infrastructure and how communities can govern their own digital spaces. Stream the full episode here, and check out the highlights below:

The Importance of Community Involvement in Shaping Digital Spaces

Zuckerman shared an anecdote about his former doctoral student Nate Matthias, who worked closely with Reddit communities to understand their needs and aspirations. "What Nathan ended up doing was working very hard with communities on Reddit to have them run their own experiments and essentially think through what it would mean for their community to be successful." This approach, he argued, could lead to more effective and inclusive digital spaces.

The Transition to Community Governance is Key to Succeed

Zuckerman praised the democratic nature of platforms like social.coop, where users collectively pay server fees and vote on decisions. He emphasized the importance of building communities that can govern themselves and broaden the conversation beyond the privileged few. O'Brien echoed Zuckerman's sentiments, stressing the importance of tearing down boundaries and creating spaces where people can meet others who are different from them.

Zuckerman also highlighted the need to help marginalized communities become the builders and governors of digital spaces. He cited the example of Ushahidi, a Kenyan platform that put crowd mapping into people's vocabulary. Moving forward, he said he’s interested in helping similarly marginalized communities become the people who build and govern these spaces.

Recognizing the Limitations of Current Digital Platforms

O'Brien pointed out that many users feel trapped within the confines of traditional tech platforms, unable to effectively alter or adapt the technology they rely on.  The discussion also explored the dynamics of user migration between platforms. He noted the sudden shift of users from WhatsApp to Telegram in 2021, attributing it to changes in terms of service and geopolitical events. He also highlighted the reluctance of journalists to switch platforms due to the lack of certain features.

The episode was a call to action for all of us to consider questions around accessibility, interoperability, and inclusivity. The discussion underscored the need to empower communities to:

  • Shape their own digital spaces
  • Democratize the digital world, and
  • Ensure that the future of digital public infrastructure is built on principles of fairness, inclusivity, and respect for diversity.

The conversation was a testament to the commitment of Filecoin Foundation and its partners to create a more equitable and inclusive digital future. It was a reminder that while the challenges are significant, so too are the opportunities.