Why We Built TrueBlocks

Thomas Jay Rush
5 min readNov 5, 2023

We built TrueBlocks because we wanted to “re-change” the world.

One of us (Rush) played a vanishingly small part in “changing the world” in the early-mid 1990s during the birth of the World-Wide-Web.

He wishes to make amends.

What Happened?

For more than 25 years, humans have lived in a world dominated by web servers and websites. We are only now beginning to understand some of the deleterious effects of decisions made when the “web stack” was created.

Back then (early- to mid-1990s), everyone was wildly enthusiastic about the astonishing things the web enabled. Anyone could publish anything. Everyone could read anything. All the information in all the world's libraries would be freely available. Even in the furthest reaches of the deepest outback, a child could read about Copernicus or Einstein. A better world was at our fingertips.

Many architectural decisions were made back then — all of them guided and constrained by the available hardware. The most obvious of these was the client-server model. The client was the consumer of the data. The server was the provider of the data.

But the most important part of the system was that everyone was supposed to be both. There was to be no dichotomy. There was to be no division between the consumer and the producer. Everyone, it was thought, would run a web server on their own computers. It took a few years, but eventually, even Microsoft Windows had a built-in web server.

What Went Wrong?

Despite the enthusiasm, I think a few things that now seem obvious were missed when the Web 2.0 stack was born:

  1. Websites are winner-take-all,
  2. The incentives between providers of data and consumers of data are misaligned,
  3. The winner who’s taken all cannot be trusted to behave fairly.

Point three is captured by the age-old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is where the Web 2.0 stack has led us.

When Did It Happen?

I distinctly remember reading scientific journal articles in the mid-to-late 1990s describing the data being gleaned from website logs and cookies. No one thought it was unethical. No one (or at least, very few) commented that people’s privacy was being invaded. The only thought was that this data was a boon to the sociological sciences. Scientists could study human beings in the wild. People did not realize that this would metastasize into the privacy-invading monster that it’s become.

I think people missed the fact that censorable, capturable worldwide information systems are —oddly — censorable and capturable. Nor did they realize that these systems would be fully captureable.

The idea that everyone could publish “morphed” from “everyone can publish from their own locally-running website,” to “everyone can publish through Facebook.” And then YouTube, and Twitter, and What’s App, and Instagram, and Infinitum.

This was a profound mistake.

But Who Captured It?

You may ask who captured the world’s data stream.

Was it Q-Anon? Some evil cabal of evil people? The advertising industry? Who cares? It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the web has been captured by people whose incentives are opposite to us all. The web has been captured by those who want to monetize everything. It’s time for us to take back our own system.

The architectural decisions made in the 1990s and early 2000s were constrained by the capabilities of the hardware that was then available. Rate limiting was born out of a necessity to protect servers from overuse. Logging in to websites was born out of the need to rate-limit.

The first websites I ever used had no concept of a “login.” Anyone could read anything. Privacy invasion is a natural, unintended consequence of logging in. Only retroactively does this seem obvious.

Since that time —over the last 25 years — the capabilities of computer hardware have advanced by 10 orders of magnitude. The software stack for delivering data — consisting of web servers and user-based web clients — has not changed fundamentally since then except for the fact that it’s gotten more and more invasive. The massive gains in computer hardware have gone almost exclusively toward deeper and deeper privacy invasion by the producers of the data. This is not surprising— it’s their data. It’s on their servers. And remember, their incentives our different than ours.

Why Did We Build TrueBlocks

I believe that blockchains (such as Bitcoin and Ethereum) which allow any user to see anything, are examples of systems taking advantage of the 10 orders of magnitude increase in hardware capability for the benefit of the end user. Blockchains pull back power from the massive worldwide privacy-invading machine known as the Internet…supposedly.

TrueBlocks is an attempt to show by example that indexing and searching this newly decentralized data may also be fully decentralized. We believe that if searching and indexing are not as decentralized as the underlying chains, the system will fall back down to the scorched Earth of the Web 2.0 stack.

We ask why existing blockchain data access systems, such as EtherScan, Covalent, QuickNode, Dune, and The Graph, are so prevalent in the space. These systems are so obviously old-fashioned Web 2.0 technology. Everyone knows these systems will be captured. Everyone knows they will ultimately be used against our own best interest. Why do we continue to use these systems?

TrueBlocks is trying to show that if indexing were integrated into the node’s processing and if that indexing were natively and naturally sharded and shared (i.e., distributed through a content-addressable data store such as IPFS), the cost of publishing the same would be negligible, particularly as the system automatically enlists end users to share the burden of carrying the data (as they should). TrueBlocks does this by “pinning by default” and creating a “naturally sharded and shared chunked index.”

We look forward to continuing our work and expanding our understanding of the new paradigm. Help us by contributing to our repos and/or donating to our GitCoin grants.

Fin and the Obligatory Image

Hopefully, this time we can all build a worldwide information system that doesn’t suck.

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Thomas Jay Rush

Blockchain Enthusiast, Founder TrueBlocks, LLC and Philadelphia Ethereum Meetup, MS Computer Science UPenn