A change is coming.
As you may have noticed, there’s a bloody lot going on with the internet recently (understatement of the year).
The metaverse. Bitcoin. Cryptocurrency rug-pulls. NFTs. The Internet of Things. Self driving cars.
It’s exciting times. But beneath this there is a greater change happening that spans all of these ideas and more.
All the above examples are applications of the internet, in that people are taking the concept of the internet and applying it in different ways.
But the underlying change that is coming is not via an application, but by a massive structural change to how the internet is governed and maintained.
To understand it you need to understand where the structure of the internet is at right now.
Essentially, the internet is “owned” by a handful of big companies.
They don’t have the deeds but their tracking pixels that monitor user behaviour, browser capabilities and grip on monetisation through advertising mean that access to the internet without them is either impossible, expensive or essentially useless.
This control causes what are known as “walled gardens” where a company like Meta is so massive that users are incentivised to stay within its walls more and more, and user data is siloed into a few big companies data warehouses. In other words, it’s centralised and not shared.
This means that big companies can essentially control large swathes of internet behaviour, have a monopoly on the resource that is data and can knowingly or unknowingly influence public discourse, and we have seen that this can have disastrous consequences for democratic processes and essential scientific information.
Well because the current structure of the internet makes this kind of centralisation possible.
Big companies privately rent servers and create large private databases to host their sites and apps. All the data generated by applications is legally owned by the corporation, not the user. The big cheese makes more and more money selling this data, which allows them to buy more servers and infrastructure, making their data collection easier and more scalable and ad infinitum until we end up where we are now.
So, to change this, a structural change needs to be made.
We cannot change this situation with an application of the current system.
We can change this situation by beginning the process of decentralisation, dismantling the very way we see the internet itself.
It means that instead of using a third-party, centralised platform to send, host or sell content, a shared and open network will be used instead.
Currently, an organisation buys a server and hosts their site or app there, owning all of the data this generates.
In the future, sites and apps will be hosted via a network of independent and interconnected computers that will provide the user with a completely private and secure connection to the content they want to view.
It already is. Blockchain technology is a completely decentralised technology. It isn’t hosted through a single server, instead being hosted on a series of computers around the world, and each new block is determined by a user rather than an organisation.
Take Bitcoin, the shining prince of the blockchain world. If you take Bitcoin’s market cap and compare it to the world’s biggest companies, it’s the seventh largest. No governing body. No organisation mining your data. No creepy adverts. Just people connecting around the globe to create a community worth more than Berkshire Hathaway.
This is not a radical idea being discussed exclusively on nerdy message boards.
This is happening right now.
Well, originally you won’t actually notice much difference at first. Websites will function in pretty much the same way as they do now, but your data will be protected in a much more robust manner.
Those creepy ads that follow you around the web will disappear in place of more contextual advertising.
You may be asked to contribute financially to more and more sites as digital advertising becomes less accurate and therefore a less profitable method of monetisation.
You may be able to make money passively by hosting part of a network yourself.
There’s even some exciting talk around the act of selling user data being transferred to the user themselves, so you can essentially monetise your own data, rather than data about you being a commodity for a few tech giants.
A lot still needs to be worked in terms of the actual physical infrastructure, but keep an eye out for more and more decentralised applications, and for the ones that are already functioning right now.
I’ll leave you with a final thought.
If this scares you, remember this isn’t a progression but a regression. The internet was never supposed to be run like this. Its original idea was to allow computers to connect to each other across vast distances securely, but technological limitations forced our hand, creating tech monoliths. But now, we have the capability to change everything and that's just really bloody cool.