A few days ago, I came across an article in the Guardian, talking about decentralization as the next big step for the world wide web. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and have written about before.
Re-decentralizing the web is a good idea, but I think some of what’s proposed in the article misses the point. Centralization is mostly a social problem, not a technical one, and it requires social solutions. The technologies needed to re-decentralize the web mostly exist already: we just go back to doing what we did before it all got centralized. We need, for example, to revitalize the culture of blogging rather than posting.
Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as many people are only able to share their thoughts and ideas as a result of centralized services; they aren’t technically proficient enough to make their own website. We don’t want to leave these people behind as we move to re-decentralize things. This further illustrates that the problem is a social one much more than it is a technical one. Maybe the answer is something akin to Geocities (or WordPress.com, Blogger.com, etc.), rather than everyone having a Facebook profile. Technically, this would still be a centralized service, but the design and mentality behind it would much more closely resemble the decentralized web — everyone has their own website — than the social networks of today, in which everyone is part of the same website and all of their data is aggregated and analyzed in increasingly creepy ways.
Still, there are some good links in that Guardian story. Graphite Docs seems cool, although the fact that it’s based on the Bitcoin ledger makes me question its environmental sustainability. Beaker Browser is also interesting but, without widespread adoption, it’s not going to be revolutionary; and I just don’t see widespread adoption of an obscure browser happening anytime soon.
If the Dat protocol was a standard that could be used through any web browser, it might be different. It would still likely be a niche protocol, but it would at least have a chance at finding wider adoption among decentralization geeks.
Ultimately, if we want to retake control of our personal data and push back against the latest capitalist enclosure movement — the enclosure of not only our data, but of our relationships and identities — we need to re-decentralize the web. We don’t need a blockchain to do it. We need to rethink our relationship to the Internet and the big, centralized service providers. The revolution we need isn’t a technological one, it’s a social one.