On the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Web, we remember how it disrupted the centralized social networks of the day: America Online, MSN and Compuserve. However, Web 2.0 has made social media dominate our daily lives, and our data, identity and relationships are now stored “the cloud” hosted by one or another huge corporation. With great power comes great responsibility, and it’s time for Web 2.0 to be decentralized.
- Trust. Just in the last year there were several scandals around privacy settings. Cambridge Analytica being the major one.
- Reliability. Google Plus is simply shutting down, for instance, just like Google Reader taking everything with them. And no matter how large you get, you can always be deplatformed or your API keys revoked.
- Gatekeepers. Could Google, Amazon and Facebook have emerged on top of AOL/MSN/Compuserve? They were built on top of the Web, originally accessible through Web Browsers, because the Web was permissionless and completely took over.
- Rentseeking. Brands are not always happy to have to pay the platforms.
- Encryption #1. The other day Zuckerberg said he wants to build privacy and encryption into Facebook, but people don’t buy it.. When the large companies say WhatsApp or Telegram is secure on the back end, we just have to trust them. The only way to be sure is to install open source products on our own servers and devices, with client software that uses end-to-end encryption.
- Encryption #2. Just this week we heard that Russia’s passing laws that can land you in jail for criticizing the government (it was already doing this), and thousands turned out to protest Russia’s bill curtailing internet freedom. Given how many people live in Russia, China, a question arises whether free speech is important at least for small, local networks.
- Monopolies. Again just this past week, Elizabeth Warren has support on the left and right when it comes to calling for breaking up these monolithic networks which got there via network effects.
Government action is a heavy hammer that can be wielded as a last resort. The industry has been repeatedly disrupted in the past, where open source projects disrupted closed, centralized networks:
- The Web disrupted America Online, MSN and Compuserve
- Wikipedia disrupted Britannica and Encarta
- Craigslist disrupted classifieds in Newspapers
- Blogs powered by WordPress comprise 30% of websites in the world
There needs to be an open source software platform that any community anywhere in the world can run on local intranets, whether it’s a university in Bulgaria or a village in Africa. Collaborating on a document shouldn’t need the signal to go to google docs servers. Making plans with friends, or booking a reservation locally shouldn’t need Facebook.
PS: This video is the first in a two-part series that puts our work in a larger societal context. It was taken with our new blackboard setup, but a bit before we improved the lighting. There’s something about appearing in front of a black background (no shadows) and suddenly being able to draw on it, that seemed like a good format for educational videos.