Building A More Decentralized Internet: It's Happening Faster Than People Realize

from the you-bet-we-can dept

More than three years ago, I wrote a post predicting that “the revolution will be distributed.” In talking about a variety of attacks (mainly on Wikileaks), I pointed out that these were only going to inspire more and more interest in building an internet that is not nearly as centralized, but actually much more decentralized and distributed — and that those defending the status quo still don’t realize what an astoundingly big impact this will have. Soon after, we noted that the real battle lines for the future will be about distributed and open systems against centralized and closed systems. Movement in this arena has certainly been slow, but it’s continued to move forward. The Snowden leaks of the past year have really only accelerated the process — and interest in these kinds of projects.

Over at the New Yorker, they have a pretty good status update on “the mission to decentralize the internet,” though, unlike a big centralized project, that “mission” is done in a decentralized and open manner as well. The short summary might lead some to dismiss this whole trajectory — as many of the initial attempts have failed to gain much traction. But that would be a huge mistake. One of the things that you will see, if you study the history of innovation, is that this is exactly how it always happens. The early projects may have some minor successes here and there, but are littered with failures. But the amazing thing about a rapidly changing world where people are doing things in a decentralized and open way is that each of those failures only contributes to the knowledge for future projects, in which more and more people are testing more and more things, getting closer to hitting that point in the “innovator’s dilemma” curve, where the new systems actually serve people’s needs much better than the old way.

It often feels like these new systems suck at first, and it’s easy to dismiss them as not being real competition for the established ways of doing things — but the rapid rate of improvement, and the almost underground nature of many of these advancements means that when they suddenly catch on, they’ll catch on quickly, and the folks who previously dismissed them as not being viable won’t know what hit them. In fact, I’ve seen a few much more ambitious projects than what Joshua Kopstein discusses in his article, which suggests we’re already well on our way to creating much more distributed systems that will make many of the debates we have today about the internet, internet governance, surveillance, copyright and much, much more totally obsolete. It’s an issue I’m planning to explore in much more detail in 2014, so stay tuned…

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Comments on “Building A More Decentralized Internet: It's Happening Faster Than People Realize”

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20 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I thought, well, back in the late 90’s, that this is what the Internet was, a big decentralized BBS…

I fear the day that I can’t get, see, and do what I want on the internet. I don’t see it happening in Canada, even Herr Harper SS couldn’t push for the kind of legislation, horrid, horrid legislation that is passed in a lot of the first and second world (second world is Russia/eastern europe/some of asia, I know it’s a rarely mentioned term)

fogbugzd (profile) says:

>>One of the things that you will see, if you study the history of innovation, is that this is exactly how it always happens. The early projects may have some minor successes here and there, but are littered with failures. But the amazing thing about a rapidly changing world where people are doing things in a decentralized and open way is that each of those failures only contributes to the knowledge for future projects, in which more and more people are testing more and more things, getting closer to hitting that point in the “innovator’s dilemma” curve, where the new systems actually serve people’s needs much better than the old way.

This is exactly why software patents are such a terrible idea. The whole process breaks down if the first person patents the idea. The chances of real progress are greatly diminished if the first person gets a patent. With the patent office and East District of Texas finding that it is OK to patent general ideas the situation is even worse because someone will be likely to patent the original idea in some vague form and never even bother to produce the essential first failure. Yes, it is probably unfair that later innovators eventually reap most of the profits from early essential failures, but that is the price of progress. And in fairness, even those early failures were almost certainly produced on the backs of other, more distant failures.

I singled out software patents as being especially bad, but that is mainly because the pace of software innovation can be so rapid in the absence of software patents. “Design patents” are another case where the patent system blocks innovation, or as the constitution says, promoting progress in the arts and sciences. In practice, most patents are bad because they stifle progress which is the opposite of the purpose stated in the US Constitution.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

There you go

But the amazing thing about a rapidly changing world where people are doing things in a decentralized and open way is that each of those failures only contributes to the knowledge for future projects, in which more and more people are testing more and more things

And here we see why big legacy players like patent and copyright so much… If you lock everything down it slows innovation and they don’t have to change how they do things.

The wonders are that Governments swallow the bullshit and that the legacy players think their stranglehold will last forever.

Ninja (profile) says:

One of the next steps on the Internet that must take priority is the development of a decentralized DNS system that can be trusted. And encrypted. There are many developments in the DNS field such as the recent DNSSEC and that OpenDNS initiative to encrypt DNS queries (I’m using it but I honestly don’t know how to check if it works!). Then bittorrent will evolve into a huge cloud hdd making it virtually impossible to take down files from that big cloud. I’m guessing tor may evolve into something that will be used everyday too to ensure privacy and anonymity.

It’s exciting and we can thank the Govt crackdown on the Internet for that. After all this is just the Web routing around damage.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed, I can see the issue. Maybe you can have a mix of the current system and the open one? Say you got a bunch of DNS servers but you can use the keys mentioned. To make sure the site is the one you are looking for you could check several DNS servers and possibly confirm the authenticity of the servers with known keys? A hybrid solution if you will?

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t see Usenet disappearing in the near future. A lot of people still use it, more for the binaries than the text groups, I’m still nostalgic of text groups but they almost all ghost towns now. Usenet has been under the radar (mostly) of all the copyright warriors. Too many companies continue to offer usenet service and there is little reason for it to disappear. I really enjoy uploading a lot of my stuff there, infinite space file-locker that lasts practically forever with good providers with very long retention.

It’s so user unfriendly if you don’t know what you’re doing that they can’t find it to be a threat.

Tom Twiddlebit (user link) says:

Redesigning the Internet

The topic has been thoroughly discussed at the #youbroketheinternet stream of workshops on occasion of the Chaos Communication Congress 30C3. The issues that need to be addressed go far beyond just a decentralized DNS (which can indeed be realized without centralized servers).

Redesignint the Internet for the 21st Century is the vision that resulted from these workshops: http://www.wauland.de/files/2014-03-25_InternetForThe21stCentury.pdf

Anonymous Coward says:

Decentralized internet should have been promoted since day one. That is like having solid foundation of your house. Done once for all. It is a matter of general safety. Surely, other things come with the territory (like pedophiles), but that will exist regardless, and there are other means to fight.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The Internet is decentralized. Each AS is independent from the others. What is centralized is number allocation (IP addresses, AS numbers) and the DNS roots (DNS itself is a decentralized database, each domain has its own servers, and can delegate part of its namespace).

But all that decentralization means nothing when everybody chooses to depend on AS15169 or AS32934.

Anonymous Coward says:

f(motivation) = progress

There’s lots of ideas and even some projects intended to repair some of the current deficiencies of the Intertubez. Most of the projects are limping along due to low rates of adoption. The historically low adoption has been IMO due to low motivation in the general population. Thanks to Mahatma Snowden’s revelations, the levels of motivation are rising. I remain hopeful that the function is an exponential one.

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