Decentralization Is Inevitable, And Here’s Why
Most people don’t know what decentralization is — not when it comes to the web, anyway.
Or, perhaps more accurately, most people don’t care about it.
In reality, there’s a tiny percentage of people who have the technical knowhow to understand why decentralization might be a better option than what we have now.
Add to that the very vocal (and global) announcements that have slammed Bitcoin, blockchains, and decentralization as a scam, and you might have a difficult time coming to terms with the title of this post.
If no one’s heard of decentralization and even less people care about it, how will it ever have the chance to thrive?
Now, I don’t want to get into the intricate philosophical arguments behind whether decentralization is the “right thing to do” or not, but we can certainly look at how it might just be an unavoidable milestone in the evolution of technology.
Earlier this year, the Decentralized Web Summit focused on this idea of the DWeb (Decentralized Web). The argument is that it will be a shiny new web that people around the world can use without having to bow down to the orders and demands of huge corporations who, let’s face it, are often simply out to get our data.
You’ve Heard of ‘the Stacks’, Right?
If we’re talking about decentralization, we have to talk about the other side of the coin as well — centralization, or the big conglomerates that have monopolized most industries.
These huge (often American) companies have been dubbed ‘the Stacks’, and they include mega-brands like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Yahoo!, and Twitter.
Between them, these companies have the power and control over pretty much everything we do on the internet, whether it’s using search engines, using a smartphone, doing our online shopping, watching videos, or reading the news.
It’s safe to say that right here, right now, the internet is mostly run by the Stacks (just take a minute to think about the things you use the internet for).
Why Decentralization Hasn’t Happened Yet
Believe it or not, the internet started life as a decentralized marketplace. Then, over time, apps liked Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! popped up to make things easier for web users.
We willingly lapped them up, and with good reason.
The Stacks are great at what they do; they make life easier for us, whether that’s through helping us communicate with someone on the other side of the world in a split second, or by letting us buy a last-minute gift for someone with the click of a button.
Without them, life would be a little trickier.
To completely decentralize the internet would mean having to run your own web server for your website, rooting your own phone, or running your own mail server so you can send and receive emails.
For the non-tech savvy crew, that’s just not an option.
But that’s not the only reason decentralization hasn’t taken over the digital world yet.
Of course, there are the Stacks who are fighting against it because they like to have the power, but the fact is that decentralization just isn’t speedy enough yet to keep up with our fast-paced way of life.
Imagine for a moment just how much bandwidth email apps need to send billions of emails a day and store terabytes of attachments. And compare that with the blockchain that, at the moment, can carry out about seven transactions a minute.
It’s just not enough — but that’s not to say it won’t get there.
Remember, the blockchain and the concept of decentralization that comes with it is still in its infancy and, if we’ve evolved this much since the birth of the World Wide Web in 1989, who knows where we’ll be in another 30 years.
So, to sum it up, the vast majority of consumers are happy just trundling along using the Stacks on centralized networks because they’re just easier and way more convenient.
But What It Means to Be Convenient is Changing…
However, the latest news around spying and data leaks, combined with headline news stories like that of the Snowden revelations and the Cambridge Analytica scandal means that consumers are starting to realize the ramifications of a centralized web.
More and more people are starting to rethink data collection policies and are becoming stricter with who they do and don’t want to have access to their private information.
Now, it’s just a case of whether convenience trumps online safety or not.
But it’s not just data privacy concerns that are drawing more people towards a decentralized web.
We have to look at where our convenience lies. Sure, using the Stacks makes life a whole lot easier, but even newer technologies are emerging that make our lives even more easier.
Take self-driving cars, as an example.
Soon we’ll probably see cars driving themselves around the roads and, whether or not that sounds terrifying to you, it’s likely to happen within the next few years.
But in order for this new and scary technological endeavor to work (and not backfire in the most horrendous way), the cars would need to communicate with other vehicles on the road — and that communication can’t happen over a centralized network.
This is because if a centralized server goes down, there would be no backup and there would inevitably be accidents on the road.
It’s no longer a case of data security; it’s a case of life or death.
So, while it was once convenient for us to communicate via a centralized email app, in the future it might be considered convenient to get in a car that you don’t have to drive. But, in order to do that, we’ll need a decentralized system to keep communications online.
The world is evolving at a scarily fast pace, and the tech world is evolving even quicker. These new, “convenient” technologies like self-driving cars are inevitably going to become a part of our future and, therefore, so will decentralization.
But, if we really do want to decentralize parts of the internet and move away from the Stacks as we know them now, blockchains won’t be enough — not yet, anyway.
Instead, we’ll need a whole new layer of scalable decentralized networks and, while there are some projects working on this as we speak, no one has found a solid solution yet. So, for now, the internet will remain mostly centralized and we’ll continue to use the big Stacks out of convenience.
But I’d suggest you watch this space as, like with most things in the online world, everything could change in the coming years.
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Written by: Lizzie Davey