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Why Decentralization Matters (medium.com) 93

Chris Dixon has an essay about the long-term promise of blockchain-based networks to upend web-based businesses such as Facebook and Twitter. He writes: When they hit the top of the S-curve, their relationships with network participants change from positive-sum to zero-sum. The easiest way to continue growing lies in extracting data from users and competing with complements over audiences and profits. Historical examples of this are Microsoft vs Netscape, Google vs Yelp, Facebook vs Zynga, and Twitter vs its 3rd-party clients. Operating systems like iOS and Android have behaved better, although still take a healthy 30% tax, reject apps for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and subsume the functionality of 3rd-party apps at will. For 3rd parties, this transition from cooperation to competition feels like a bait-and-switch. Over time, the best entrepreneurs, developers, and investors have become wary of building on top of centralized platforms. We now have decades of evidence that doing so will end in disappointment. In addition, users give up privacy, control of their data, and become vulnerable to security breaches. These problems with centralized platforms will likely become even more pronounced in the future.
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Why Decentralization Matters

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  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @01:31PM (#56158012) Homepage Journal
    " Over time, the best entrepreneurs, developers, and investors have become wary of building on top of centralized platforms. "

    Um, this is certainly not true. In fact, recently behavior has been the opposite. Everyone is building for closed, centralized systems. The only reason email still exists is because no one has figured out how to displace it. Eventually that will go too. Google AMP email is one step towards it.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Everyone is building for closed, centralized systems.

      Citation needed.

      The only reason email still exists is because no one has figured out how to displace it.

      ... with open protocols that everyone could agree on. Microsoft tried it with Outlook. For about 5 minutes. Until they figured out that enough important people were using something else and they'd have to support IMAP, POP, SMTP, etc. Or end up just another AOL/Compuserve silo.

      • Decentralized systems like XMPP have largely been abandoned in the market and people are using centralized messaging systems like Facebook. I didn't say email was displaced - I said it will be eventually. Google AMP is a step towards that. Eventually decentralized/open systems will be displaced, in the name of "convieniece" or "security" or whatever.
    • This is a real problem though. Take Gab.ai... whatever you think of the platform itself, they are committed to free speech. It was this commitment that got them booted from the Apple store and from Google play for "lack of moderation". You now need to download the apk manually if you wish to use it which in this day and time basically makes the platform a non-starter. As much as it is a buzzword these days, blockchain seems like the answer.
  • Back in my day (Score:4, Insightful)

    by llamalad ( 12917 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @01:36PM (#56158062)

    we used to call this a "sudden outbreak of common sense"

    It's not new that overwhelming centralization is bad for everyone except those who share the profits of the resulting behemoth. It's not even new in technology - google "bell system breakup".

    It's only news that people are starting to talk about it in the context of the current tech giants. The underlying theme is old hat.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BlueStrat ( 756137 )

      It's not new that overwhelming centralization is bad for everyone except those who share the profits of the resulting behemoth. It's not even new in technology - google "bell system breakup".

      It's only news that people are starting to talk about it in the context of the current tech giants. The underlying theme is old hat.

      Now, if only more people could make the logical connection between "internet centralization bad" and "government power centralization bad", as the same general principles regarding concentration of power & control apply to both.

      Strat

      • Talk like that is how you get flagged for a free prostate exam when you go through the airport security.

        • Talk like that is how you get flagged for a free prostate exam when you go through the airport security.

          Hahaha! I've posted stuff *way* more anti-authoritarian than that!

          Besides, I have no need to fly commercially and take alternate forms of transport if I do need to travel somewhere, if for no other reason than the fact that I don't trust airport baggage handlers and TSA/Customs eco-warriors with my guitars that have rosewood and ebony fingerboards and ivory inlays that have caused airport authorities to seize other musician's instruments, and which are also adverse to being tossed about carelessly as baggag

          • If you can get a large enough hard and securely locking case (they make them with custom foam), you can put a starter pistol in it (counts as a firearm for the TSA, and legal to posses in every state unlicensed) and declare it at check in.

            It'll cost you, but depending on your travel could save you days.

            They do an inspection before checking it, and they have to give it social handling and are not allowed to open it at all. You are allowed (required even) to use real locks.

            • If you can get a large enough hard and securely locking case (they make them with custom foam), you can put a starter pistol in it (counts as a firearm for the TSA, and legal to posses in every state unlicensed) and declare it at check in.

              Not sure, but are you suggesting placing a starter pistol (or actual pistol) in a case along with a guitar to circumvent inspection and possible seizure of the instrument by overzealous agents? You said yourself they will inspect it first, which would defeat the purpose if it is to prevent an instrument's seizure by overzealous agents. Hell, you might even get charged for the attempt to circumvent the regulations.

              If you just randomly dropped that whole bit about taking guns as checked baggage, your post see

              • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

                That's the idea.

                A starter pistol counts as a firearm (for the purposes of flight, but not in any local laws). the inspection happens within your sight. I know photographers that do this with their equipment.

                I guess they could still seize it, but they won't "lose" it, and they won't inspect it randomly in transit.

                I mean, if you always have enough time to drive, more power to you, but it's a strategy I've seen used when transporting expensive stuff that couldn't be carried on.

      • by fplant ( 4054431 )

        You mention in your post "government power centralization bad", but then in your signature seem to imply that Liberalism leads to more authoritarianism. I see things just the opposite, especially in the Trump era. The libertarian wing (I call them the liberals of the right) of the conservative movement is getting more and more marginalized, and Trump seems to be moving the party more an more authoritarian every day.

      • Hear, hear! I'm always amazed at the anti-monopolists who think that ever increasing government powers are wonderful. What?
    • Well, he mentions "blockchain" which these days is almost never related to any form of common sense. Blockchain technology can be used to do this sort of decentralisation, but if there's a coin of some sort attached to it, you know you're probably being scammed.
      • That thereâ(TM)s mania, seeming idiocy, and certainlyFUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) around blockchsin tech doesnâ(TM)t mean that it doesnâ(TM)t have huge potential.

        The problem isnâ(TM)t with the technology. Itâ(TM)s with there being no easy profit or power to be accumulated from making the best and most truly beneficial and democratic use of it. Thereâ(TM)s no budget for working with it, for marketing it.

        There is money to be made, market share to be kept, and power to be ma

    • It's not even new in technology - google "bell system breakup".

      If only you substituted "web-search'' for "google" your assertion would have some lasting value.

    • Indeed, the bell system was broken up many times; AT&T had to divest Bell Canada. Western Electric stopped doing things like sound for movies. They stopped making consume electronics. The latest is of course the 1/1/84 breakup of the former Bell System.
  • Non-Sequitur (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StormReaver ( 59959 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @01:37PM (#56158076)

    During the second era of the internet, from the mid 2000s to the present, for-profit tech companiesâSâ"âSmost notably Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFA)âSâ"âSbuilt software and services that rapidly outpaced the capabilities of open protocols.

    This is total nonsense, as they did no such thing. When protocols were involved at all, these companies built their services on top of the same open protocols everyone else used (or could have used). Where these companies outpaced everyone else was in throwing obscene amounts of money at the patent system to keep out competitors (both real and imagined), and in building internal processes and technologies to support their rapid growths.

    While decentralization matters, Blockchain seems to have utility in a rather narrow set of circumstances. It is certainly not anything even remotely close to the silver bullet its proponents make it out to be.

    • by llamalad ( 12917 )

      > they did no such thing

      No? Facebook and Twitter didn't take HTTP and build huge services with it? Clearly they did, and that is goodâ" standing on the shoulders of giants and all that.

      Whether we're talking REST interfaces to web apps or SDKs for an OS, they often have public APIsâ" but they're in charge of who can use them and how. Where ostensible platform providers begin to subsume the functionality of their third party developers is where coopertition (a portmanteau of cooperation and compe

      • by suutar ( 1860506 )

        I think the disagreement was more with "outpaced the capabilities of open protocols". It's still HTTP under there, after all.

        • Itâ(TM)s worth hashing out the semantics of it.

          To that end: where are the open protocols and ubiquitous easy to use third party client apps for sharing pictures, building and maintaining a social network, etc?

          THe proprietary implementations of those (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, AIM) outpaced and outmarketed and our innovated the open implementations (if any exist or were attempted). Diaspora comes to mind.

          • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

            The open protocol is pretty much http. There used to be things like ftp as well, but http won. All the examples you mention use it exclusively.

            The apps are harder. There are some open ones, but they're pretty much flops. There used to be quite a few successful commercial ones though. Then Facebook bought them all.

            The original comment was "outpaced the capabilities". I don't think any of the closed solutions, much less the ones that are popular now, outpaced any capabilities. It's not exactly difficul

            • by llamalad ( 12917 )

              I get it. They got some terminology wrong and some folks are stuck on it.

              Happens all the time in wide-audience articles about technical or medical or scientific matters.

              We're not their target audience, and we're likely to seize up over the imprecision in it. But if you try to get past the semantic problems and see what they're trying to convey... they're making a good point that even us nerds can benefit from thinking about.

              • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

                I don't disagree with you that they're making an important point, but I think their error is more than semantic.

                Dropping the semantics, they assert that Facebook did something technologically superior. They didn't. Facebook won because they were in the right place at the right time with something that passed the bar of minimal functionality. The reason they're so dominant is that social networks, by their nature, benefit from central coordination. The one that all your friends are on is the one you want

      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        Switching apps is more about being able to handle the data, and not where that data comes from. Distributed storage only helps for availability, not usability.

        • This is why we need open standards for data formats. Combine that with safe serverless storage and the current tech titans game gets turned on its head. Suddenly competition is truly only merit based and every geek in their basement apartment can have a go at creating the next big thing in whatever genre theyâ(TM)re inclined to tackle. P

      • Think bigger. Suppose all your apps' data was stored in a blockchain, or STORJ or Maidsafe or some other encrypted distributed digital storage mechanism. Suppose the data formats were as open as SMTP/POP/IMAP/RADIUS/FTP. Suppose you could switch apps just by downloading a new one and popping in the necessary credentials?

        This is what I'm thinking about these days. It's going to be a game changer.

        Yeah... so who vets these apps? Who removes them if they're found to be nefarious? As soon as you think you have the perfect decentralized system worked out, the Average Joe will complain that it's too hard to grok and then some entity rises to the position of One True Gatekeeper. At least, that's why Google is what it is.

        • by llamalad ( 12917 )

          There is always risk in letting other people make decisions for you.

          Everyone with responsibility can screw up. I've literally had a wheel fall off my car due to a mechanic using a shoddy parts to repair a much more minor issue. I've gotten food poisoning from bad food handling/preparation practices at a restaurant.

          Lawmakers often have conflicts of interests. Software companies are more beholden to the dollar and their shareholders than they are to their customers and society in general. News media gets by o

      • Facebook and Twitter didn't take HTTP and build huge services with it?

        Yes, on Open protocols. In fact, none of these massive Internet companies could have ever succeeded without these Open protocols' capabilities. It is those Open protocols that underpinned those companies' runaways successes. The API's you referenced sit on top of the Open protocols, rather than replace them.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know about that; one of my friends used medical blockchain to cure his marthambles.

      Always wondered what bullshit would supplant "the cloud".

  • The link, top of the S-curve in the story summary does not work!

    What's happening to Slashdot editor(s) these days?

    Kindly fix.

    • There should be a period at the end of the link, instead there is one outside it.

      https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/0*7lrwGIDbAYk6q7zG.
  • Ha ha right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @02:00PM (#56158220)

    Blockchain is going to save us all! Because it will surely be essential to creating a place for people to chat with their friends and share pictures (i.e. virtually all of social media). And people will flock to these new saviours because they haven't had the option to use open social media systems before. But wait! These have blockchain!

    Someone the other day was all excited about using blockchain for scientific publishing. I suggested they use git, since it's an already existing blockchain based document tracking system with a well proven record. Huh?

    I've arrived at the conclusion that the vast majority of people, including all the ones writing articles, actually have no idea what blockchains are.

    • I've arrived at the conclusion that the vast majority of people, including all the ones writing articles, actually have no idea what blockchains are.

      Sure. But he probably has 10 venture capitalists lined up outside his door right now trying to throw money at him.

      We had an article in a local paper a couple of weeks ago about a company that was doing blockchain stuff. I mean, "stuff". The article was basically bullshit and to my trained nose it was obvious that they're taking venture capitalists to the cleaners and probably laughing about it daily.

    • I used to respond to blockchain letters until I found out that the Post Office frowned upon them.

  • It starts to get really tiring all this talk about descentralization matters when you lived enough to see all the attempts of making that work that ended up in failure or lesser competition.
    This idea of replacing currently centralized systems with descentralized ones is nothing new, it doesn't give you any brownie points anymore, and it's always lopsided with this one perspective view pointing out all the bad deeds of big corporation ignoring everything they made to get there.
    So if you wanna talk the talk,

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      No need. There are a bunch out there. People didn't like them. And with good reason: centralization is convenient and allows easy discoverability.

      Every once in a while someone comes along and decides they're going to invent the next social network app and it will be way better than Facebook because something something, and won't be abusive at all (how are you going to pay for it?). This one just has blockchain!

      At least the idea of an open Facebook has merit, even if it seems to be impractical. A block

  • Check out Sovrin. https://sovrin.org/ [sovrin.org]. They are working in this same space and have similar view points about decentralization. There's a number of white papers available on their site.
  • by randomErr ( 172078 ) <ervin,kosch&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @02:16PM (#56158338) Journal

    Hackers Hijacked Tesla's Amazon Cloud Account To Mine Cryptocurrency [slashdot.org]

    If you become too decentralized you get to the point that no one track was is going on.

    • People do track, because decentralization has dynamic limits due to signalling constraints, like any complex system. The people who care to invest the effort and time required to position themselves such that they can do the tracking, and thereby collect highly exclusive information about the informal hierarchies that structure the 'structureless' channels of influence within it, understand how powerful the cloak of decentralization is.
    • That same case could also be taken for a case for de-centralization: It was a low priority system, completely segregated from the rest of their systems.

      Yes, decentralization adds complexity in a central administration context, but it also provides for compartmentalization.

  • by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @02:48PM (#56158520) Journal
    This is nothing new...We have known since the mainframe era not to build on sand.
  • Decentralize the info you would normally put on Facebook and Twitter. The concept is old, but apparently becoming more relevant.

    https://alistapart.com/article... [alistapart.com]
  • So Many Buzzwards. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @03:32PM (#56158794)

    Don't operate your business on one vendor.

    Because if you do chances are you will get burned. Because such vendor will change or go out of business.

    If you have to rely on a vendor, try to minimize its impact. Like I work in a Microsoft shop... That doesn't mean for me to go all hog into all the MS API's and use those special features, tempting they are.
    No you write your code in a way that porting to a different platform in case MS drops support is relatively easy.

    Even if you are dealing with an Open Source product, unless you are willing to take the torch and ready to fully support it, a project can stagnate, or just never become popular, or some personally causes support to drive off into an other direction.

    • The problem with this is you have to go to the second derivative, which most people won't do: Make sure your two vendors do not share infrastructure.
  • ...in a less overtly hostile context. Yet the effect is exactly the same, with the innovation that blame for any unwanted harmful side effects and external costs is shifted from "disruptors" to the nameless, anonymous agency of of "the people" or "the investors." In the end, gravity wins, and that which was decentralized will re-centralize in roughly the same form.
  • Read Jaron Lanier's "Who Owns the Future." (Be sure it's the paperback edition, which has an important Afterword.)
  • Security needed for a truly decentralised, peer2peer network has to be based on a trustworthy, audit-able network topology.
    We haven't got that yet.
    A modifiable, software based network is chasing it's proverbial tail to try to patch security leaks without trusted base hardware and protocols.
    We haven't gone far from the old days of the centralised mainframe and client terminal paradigm.
    The corporations control the data and application silos holding the world at ransom for their profits.
    People create ideas and

  • blockchain-based networks

    uuuugggghhhhh.

    Also, wtf would a block-chain.... network... be all about? How are they using "network" here?

    to upend web-based businesses such as Facebook and Twitter

    First off, Twitter isn't web-based, it's Internet-based through and through. And there's a compelling argument that facebook isn't really web-based anymore either. Most of their traffic is through phones and their application, which bypasses the web.

    Both of these are only networks in the sense that they have social networks (and whatever CDN they run on).

    And decentralized facebook has been tried. des

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