I've been following Ethereum since it was announced and I remember that the appeal was that it was "Bitcoin 2.0". While email replaced the post and Bitcoin replaced fiat, Ethereum would replace legal papers (wills, birth certificates, etc).

I'm learning that Ethereum is a "World Computer" and decentralized apps (DApps) are simply applications, much like Facebook, Instagram, Google Drive, and so on. In order for someone to use the apps, they need to pay Ether. They can earn Ether by commissioning their personal machine to work a day job and help manage the whole World Computer with everyone else. Is this right so far?

My main confusion is: if Ethereum is a new "World Computer," it's basically a new internet, right? But on the current internet?

What happens to the internet of today? I've read HTML, CSS, JS are still utilized in Ethereum, but how? Do I point my browser to a web App/DApp? Or will there be special Ethereum browsers? I think that's essentially what Mist is, right?

I'm really interested in what Ethereum could mean for computing and the Internet of Things in the coming decade, but that's based on what I imagine the system to be. Any clarification is appreciated!


2 Answers 2


There's the logical layer of the Internet and there's the physical layer of the Internet. Ethereum is a tool for decentralizing a particular part of the logical layer of the Internet. The physical layer of the Internet remains to be decentralized. (Meshnet projects like Hyperboria are taking aim at that aspect of decentralizing all the things.)

Ethereum can be paired with software such as the Mist browser, Whisper, and IPFS (and the upcoming Swarm) to provide a decentralized, Web-like experience. HTML, CSS, and JS are all used exactly as they were before. They're just part of the presentation layer, and they don't really care about how they're passed around. Whether they're being downloaded from a central server somewhere or a swarm of peers, it's all the same to them. They're just text files with special filename extensions.

Ethereum proper allows some of the logic that currently lives on centralized servers to be moved onto a blockchain. In some cases, all the logic currently living on centralized servers can reasonably be moved over. In most cases, the greatest value-add is going to come from moving only over the most sensitive components that must be agreed upon by all parties and either keeping the more computationally-intensive components on a central server somewhere, or else employing a weaker form of consensus, such as Piper Merriam's Ethereum Computation Market.

And, of course, if there is private data involved that cannot under any circumstances be shared with the public, you're either going to need a central server for that or you're going to need to employ some clever cryptography to decentralize that aspect as well.


Your explanation of Ethereum, as a non-technical introduction, is fine.

The question has some resemblance to a very non-technical introduction to Ethereum, that compares Ethereum to the Internet, concluding that Ethereum is not a replacement to the Internet, but adds a significant dimension to it.

What Ethereum means for computing is that new types of applications and systems can be built. For example, before the Internet when someone wrote a program, they had to physically put the program on a disk and give the disk to users. With the Internet, the program can be placed on a server, and anyone with an Internet connection and a web browser, can access the program. But the server can malfunction, be turned off, or tampered with. With Ethereum, the program is on every computer in the network, so the program can only stop working if everyone decides to turn off the network.

Underlying Ethereum is a single, global blockchain database that the Internet of Things can use, instead of each device being disconnected from each other by having their own separate databases and networks. The blockchain's unmatched uptime has been mentioned, and it is also not owned by any single entity or group of entities, so there will be no issues of CompanyX (who may have owned the database had not it not been a blockchain) from allowing CompanyY's devices to work and access the database.

On a more technical note, you're right that HTML, CSS, JS are still used in Ethereum and that browsers can point to Apps and DApps. Since current browsers don't have functionality to connect to the global Ethereum network, people can run DApps using the Mist browser which has a built-in Ethereum node (Geth).

Finally, a technical note to clarify: "They can earn Ether by commissioning their personal machine to work a day job and help manage the whole World Computer with everyone else." The World Computer is currently a consensus (an agreement) of all computers (that are on the network) on the result of computations. Note how this is different from the simpler view (which is possible in the future) that each computer contributes some processing power to the World Computer, and that the World Computer is the sum of all that processing power.

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