The Decentralized Internet is here to stay. But what exactly is the meaning of decentralized internet that every entrepreneur is talking about? The Internet is one of those game-changing inventions that are responsible for incredible leaps in human history. It’s like the wheel, or antibiotics, or the steam engine, or electricity. You couldn’t imagine the world without any of these, and the Internet has a well-deserved place in the pantheon.
And why shouldn’t it? The Internet is a tool for the democratization of the world. People believe this even when someone uses it for opposite purposes.
You can go online and experience the greatness right now. You can read whatever you like online. You can listen to music. You can create stuff and put it up for others to enjoy. You can visit websites and you can create them. The Internet lets everyone in, and no single entity controls it. But a couple of them are getting close.
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How Google Does It
Think about how many Google’s services you use. Gmail, YouTube, the search engine, AdSense, Drive, Docs, for starters. Then you have the Chrome Browser, the Android OS for smartphones, the Google Play for smartphone apps. Finally, you have Google Cloud, Google’s analytics, data storage, computing, and machine learning platform. But all these products and services are only the surface of everything Google offers.
If you’d look at the full list of Google’s products and services, you’d see that the company has created an ecosystem that gives you no reason to leave it once you start using it. You can do pretty much everything you want online using Google’s products and services. But even that’s not the major issue. The real problem comes from the fact that Google, together with Facebook, accounts for close to two-thirds of total digital ad revenue in the United States. And their share is getting bigger. Google is also the preferred search engine of three-quarters of Internet users, or nine-tenths if you look only at mobile users.
The Problem of the Centralized Internet
The Internet is a fundamentally decentralized technology. However, the Internet as we know it today is a significantly centralized place. There are a handful of big tech companies that act as gatekeepers that are hard to circumvent if you want to make the most out of everything the digital world has to offer.
Google is not alone in this process. The four tech giants that are pushed in the forefront of the centralization of the Internet are Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. The whole online experience the average user needs is provided by these four companies. Amazon even ventured into content production, which isn’t something tech giants were traditionally comfortable with.
The central position that makes these companies hard to avoid makes them the gatekeepers of the Internet. It gives them a whole lot of power they can use without much oversight. And “don’t be evil” doesn’t really cut it as a guarantee these companies won’t abuse their power, or help others abuse it.
The Alternative — A Decentralized Internet
Many people, including the legendary creator of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, are advocating for a different kind of Internet. They want to see an Internet that is truer to its original proposition, which was highly decentralized, a new decentralized internet. The way some of the pioneers see it, the exciting new technology that underpins digital currencies like Bitcoin, blockchain, is the thing that will set the Internet users free from the clutch of the big tech companies.
Blockchain is a technology that’s based on peer-to-peer distributed networks. Because of the way these networks are constructed, there is almost no chance that someone will tamper with the data they contain, it has fewer vulnerable points and no central points of failure that could take down the whole network. And, most importantly, the whole network and everything on it is distributed between the members of the network.
The Movements Towards a Re-Decentralized Internet
The prospect of an Internet that doesn’t rely so heavily on a few companies and their products and services is interesting to many. Mozilla is strongly in favor of a decentralized Internet. The foundation sees it as a part of keeping the Internet open and healthy. Berners-Lee is working on a project called Solid, hoping it would pave a way for a decentralized Internet by allowing apps to share every possible type of data. And even Kim Dotcom has a plan to launch a new Internet called, you guessed it, MegaNet.
The fact that such prominent figures in the creation, development, and mythology of the Internet are placing their bets on a decentralized Internet says volumes about how important the shift might be. Still, for it to succeed, it needs to be able to attract users, and it needs to attract a wider range of entrepreneurs.
The Decentralized Entrepreneurship So Far
The decentralized Internet has more than a few kinks that need to be worked out, to say it mildly. Still, there are some people who are starting to create products and services that are more decentralized in their nature. It might be a while before these new entrepreneurial gems really lift off and come into their own. But if you’re excited by the prospects of an Internet that doesn’t bow down to the giants, you’ll find plenty of things that will pique your interest.
Storj is trying to decentralize the cloud, for example. The startup is offering storage at a decentralized, open-source platform. Gladius is a distributed security solution that helps websites prevent DDoS attacks. It can also speed up your website, or you can monetize your bandwidth by joining Gladius’ network. GraphiteDocs is like Google Docs, but decentralized and without all the creepy tracking of everything you write.
As more promising products and services for a decentralized Internet arise, we’re getting closer to the point when these services start competing with those of the tech giants. But until that day comes, and until we get closer to the Internet that’s not ruled by a few big companies, the least you can do is try using them. The best thing you can do, however, is joining the ranks of decentralized Internet entrepreneurs, and use your skills to help all the people who are trying to figure it out. It’s great to be a pioneer in something.