Decentralization: why is it so difficult

In front of me is a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee that smells like coffee, looks like coffee, and tastes like coffee too. But the true connoisseurs of coffee would turn their nose away from this cup, because I like comfort and I drink 3-in-1 coffee — a coffee perversion, if I may say so.

For lovers of delicious coffee, the 3-in-1 option — convenient sublimated coffee with bleach and sugar crystals — symbolizes a loss of control. The only thing that can be controlled here is the temperature of the water with which you pour the soluble mixture. And it’s all. Each coffee connoisseur will say that to fully disclose the taste of the selected grains, you need to use water of a certain temperature. The temperature of the milk and the type of sugar are also important, because all of these components affect how much you can enjoy a cup of cappuccino. However, when it comes to digital interfaces, most of us are content with the 3-in-1 option.

Online applications such as Facebook, Amazon and Google dump user interface, code and data into one extremely user-friendly application or website. But while most users choose these amenities (and quite understandably why), they also choose less control, as is the case with the 3-in-1 coffee blend. Most of the software and all the data of these companies is in the cloud, and even worse, many companies do not have their own cloud computing systems. Take, for example, Netflix. The company is responsible for a quarter of all Internet traffic, but uses servers that are managed by Amazon Web Services and are owned by it. Control over user data gives companies tremendous power – you can leave and start using another service, but what will happen to all the photos, which you downloaded, with all the videos, with all your memories? Thanks to the networking effect of industry leaders, the longer you are online, the more you have to pay to get out of it (it’s like AT & T for your digital version).

This is where blockchain technology comes to the rescue.. Its concept is simple: to separate the interface (digital wallets), code (decentralized applications) and data (user input data). Thanks to this, power again becomes decentralized and returns to users who today give centralized digital giants an incredible power to rule in this realm. The bottom line is that users can now decide for themselves how and where they want to share their data and what compensation (if necessary) they want to receive for it. From the point of view of big data, one user has no value, but if each user had the opportunity to decide how to manage their data, all of them as a single group would receive tremendous power. In the context of such decentralization, users can transfer their data during the transition from one platform to another, thus motivating the creators of decentralized applications to act in the interests of users and treat them well. In addition, thanks to the decentralized nature of the application, users will be able to directly interact with each other, they will not need data-collecting intermediaries, such as social networks and e-commerce giants.

Have you got a kind of deja vu effect? After all, we have already seen it. Decentralized services , which were then called peer-to-peer, filled the Internet in the era of its inception. One of the most popular services of the time was Napster (ask what their grandparents did). Then no one knew how to create a reliable decentralized database that would be open, unchangeable and solve the problem of the Byzantine generals (this is a situation where several generals want to attack the city and it is not known who is a traitor and who is not, and there are no guarantees that messages are transmitted to each general without distortion and in a safe way). But everything changed after the appearance of Bitcoinfrom Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. And although Nakamoto created this system for a financial use case, it gave an impetus to joint efforts to decentralize the digital sphere.

It will take time to create the right tools and applications for decentralized Internet, and we are still far from the most difficult element of decentralization – changing traditional institutions to adapt them to the new order of the digital world requires a huge amount of time. Blockchains should managenot centralized administrators, but communities, it is necessary to be able to reach a consensus on the inevitable problems. As hard fork Bitcoin Cash (which eliminated billions of dollars in market capitalization cryptocurrency) showed, it is sometimes very difficult to reach a consensus, and if a clear consensus could not be found, the result can be disastrous. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the interests of the participants are not always coordinated, whether they are miners who support the blockchain, users of digital tokens, speculators or application developers, as well as developers of the blockchain core – not always the interests of all participants are agreed.

No matter how complicated all this may seem, cryptocurrencies and blockchains are gradually pushing us towards decentralization. Previous attempts at decentralization failed because of the lack of economics and the father of the modern Internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and the blockchain and cryptocurrency finally offer a way of economic motivation to maintain the ecosystem. In the past, researchers and non-profit organizations created and managed protocols. Therefore, the era of the World Wide Web, built on top of the Internet, has become an era with several protocols and a myriad of applications. In the case of blockchain and cryptocurrency, we see a myriad of protocols with a myriad of applications (hopefully in the end it will be so). Money is always complicated. When the Internet began to spread rapidly around the world, money flowed like a river, and commercial interest made it very difficult.finding a consensus . Instead of supporting the protocol, engineers took up a more lucrative business — creating applications running on top of these protocols, and if they are not motivated to support protocols, then who is to blame?

Many decentralized projects (especially those that were not a scam ) sought to develop their own economic models using cryptocurrencies. They wanted to replace a centralized firm with a decentralized organization, the main one of which would be incentives created through the release of digital tokens – the so-called “cooperative society” with tokens. Unlike Web 2.0, where most of the ecosystem monetary reward went to the application developer, the decentralized project meant that all participants, including users, owned the company’s share and received a decent share of the value created by the protocol. Here another key problem of decentralization has appeared, which needs time to be solved.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Xinhai Revolution in China put an end to the rule of the Qing dynasty, which lasted for many centuries. The People’s Republic of China, which emerged from the results of these unrest, was to become democratic under the leadership of the first president, Sun Yat-sen. The biggest problem (and there were many of them) of the ruler was that the dynasty ruled so long that the Chinese could not understand the concept of democracy – they did not understand what their voices meant and how important they were.

On this subject there is one anecdote. When Sun Yat-sen arrived in a small town to check how the mayoral elections were held, he saw that some voters receive bribes for their votes, while others vote at random, because they are not sure of their role in democracy. The problem was that China had never had democracy before and the concept that their voice could solve something was alien to them. The same thing is happening in America today. Compared to other developed countries, the United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates. If there are problems with laziness or refusal of illusions, then in order to involve people in the process, time and effort are needed, because if voters believe that their voice will not solve anything, then the participants do not feel that they can somehow influence the process.

When this happens in the political system, the problems of decentralization become apparent. Until users get motivated to participate in the protocol, they will choose the path of least resistance. In systems with cryptocurrency protocols, cryptocurrency is a reward, and as long as it has a certain value, there is an economic incentive to participate.

Moreover, in almost all blockchain projects, the control systems are missing or are only being developed. Democracies required such fundamental concepts as the rule of law and the separation of powers, and blockchain projects need dispute resolution mechanisms and constitutions to consolidate the decision-making process. Even Satoshi Nakamoto, who created Bitcoin, failed to create such a guide.

From the experience of our era, it becomes clear that in order to create decent decentralization, continuous efforts are needed. At least now, when the allegations that the existing blockchain structures are fairly centralized are not unsubstantiated. Almost all Bitcoin mining takes place somewhere in China, and if not there, it is still managed by the pools in the interests of China. Owners of digital tokens (which in some projects have a significant impact) are also rather concentrated in certain places. A quick search on the public addresses of digital wallets shows that almost 90% of all bitcoins belong to only a group of addresses.

Does it make sense to try to create a decentralized Internet?

Personally, I think that this question cannot be categorically answered “no.” Our generation is marked by strong inequality within and between nations. Poverty goes alongside luxury, and thanks to round-the-clock news, we have become indecently insensitive, and this situation no longer affects our psyche. Perhaps we can learn something from the Swiss management model. Switzerland is a prosperous nation in which the minimum material condition is guaranteed. All Swiss men are also required to do military service. Swiss citizens are strongly involved in domestic politics and other affairs of the country, a referendum should be held before issuing a law or resolving a problem.

Decentralized Internet, given the huge diaspora and the diversity of its participants, will be hard to follow the Swiss model, but this does not mean that we should not try to take a step in the right direction. We constantly see how the centralization of power in technology companies with commercial interest and fuzzy commitments can have a serious impact on the real world. These companies pretend that there is no problem, and to accept their status quo means to turn away from our human duty to make the world a better place than it was when we were born. Perhaps decentralization is only the first step, but I think we should do it.

Umair Ahmed
Umair is a web & graphic designer based in Newcastle. Umair started designing and drawing from a young age and most of his design skills and knowledge are self taught. He moved to Digital Media while doing Multimedia course at Newcastle College. Umair loves writing about games and emerging technologies. "The one thing I love most about writing is it feels like an accomplishment." He can be reached at: [email protected]

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