Centralized vs Decentralized — The Internet of the Past, Present and Future
The internet of the future is still unwritten. There are warning signs it’s driving towards further centralization, and flickers of hope that a new wave of decentralization is about to take hold.
How will we know which version of the future we’re headed towards? Is one destined to win?
Initial Conditions and Chaotic Systems
Chaos theory teaches us that slight differences in initial conditions can lead to wildly different outcomes. And systems that have this property, where they are highly sensitive to initial conditions, are known as complex chaotic systems. Weather is one chaotic system and human history is another.
Today’s internet is a part of human history. It grew from a specific set of initial conditions via a complex set of human interactions. Thus it’s fair to say that the world we see today wasn’t inevitable and the future isn’t determined.
In many parallel universes, the internet didn’t begin like the internet we know. Imagine one where the domain name system was built to be secure from the beginning. Imagine one where the internet wasn’t ruled by Google, Facebook and Amazon. The initial conditions varied, and that made all of the difference.
Today we have an opportunity to make all of the difference for the future of the internet. We can take the conditions of “now” and shift them in our favor.
The Shift to a New Internet
The shift to a new decentralized internet will be tough. There’s already a lot of momentum in the direction of consolidation. There’s a lot of money and talent that is providing fuel to the fire of centralization.
Open or closed? Centralized or decentralized? Which is destined to win? The answer is neither. The best products with the best overall experiences and qualities are those that win.
The best products are built by the best people. The best people go (a) where there’s enough money and growth (b) where there’s the best story about the future.
The past of open source and decentralized systems was defined by a lack of funding and little hope for the future. For this reason, open source products and networks were no match for the juggernauts of the internet.
The world of open source and decentralized systems that we’re building today, though, is defined by a surplus of funding and bright hope for the future. Blockchains and tokens change everything.
Blockchains and Tokens
Blockchains and tokens provide two crucial puzzle pieces for enabling the rise of the decentralized internet.
Blockchains enable coordination and organization across company lines like never before. They allow many different people to come together and agree upon information without having to trust each other.
For more on this, check out Albert Wenger’s talk from the Blockstack Summit.
Tokens, meanwhile, enable incentives across national and company lines like we’ve never seen before. As long as they’re decentralized and widely distributed, they allow us to create private economies around open platforms. They allow many different individuals and corporations to work together towards a common cause.
In the past, the Facebooks and the Googles of the world had the ability to out-incentivize and out-organize all the smaller and more open competition.
In the future, the greatest capacity for incentives and organization will rest with the open tokenized systems that are powered by the blockchain.
With Bitcoin and Ethereum and Blockstack and Filecoin, this capacity for open, global incentives and organization is exactly what we’re fighting for. Come be a part of it and build the internet of the future.
Note to the reader: the original version of this article was posted on Medium here.