We are all a part of different networks.
Some networks are comprised solely of people, such as an alumni network, whereas other networks are based on a collection of computers talking to each other. Many are a combination of people and computers.
Even though it may not sound important, the underlying design of these networks substantially changes how they are used, and what features and limitations they have.
The best-known network is the Internet itself.
It’s a collection of billions of computers through copper wires, fiberglass cables, cellular towers, and even satellites. This immense network allows an enormous amount of information to move around the world at very little cost, with huge benefits to the people who have access to it.
The underlying design of the Internet is decentralized.
This means that there is no central point of control on the Internet. If any particular computer in the network goes down, or even if certain cables are cut, the network as a whole continues functioning. The Internet was specifically built to be decentralized in order to make it robust and resistant to attempts to shut it down and stop the free flow of information.
However, the way most people use the Internet today is largely through centralized networks.
Most of the major platforms used for social media or ecommerce today are centrally controlled by certain companies. Even applications that give users the experience of connecting directly with one another, such as Facebook, Etsy or Snapchat, are owned by the companies of those names. As such, they have complete access to–and even ownership of–all of the conversations you have and the content you share on their networks. Unlike the decentralized Internet itself, these companies control the flow of information on their own network.
Here is the basic model:
The outside circles are users, and they are all forced to communicate with the large circle in the middle, controlled by the platform itself. Information moves into and out the servers owned by these businesses and is used for the benefit of the new owners of the data.
These centralized networks act as middlemen on top of the Internet itself. These middlemen are extremely popular because they offer value services to their users at low cost, monetary or otherwise. Many charge no money, but they are still paid by collecting all of their users’ data. Some do charge money, especially the ecommerce networks.
As widespread as they are though, many of these networks still have restrictions like payment methods that can’t be used, certain items that can’t be sold or they don’t allow users from certain geographical areas to join.
Here is the decentralized model:
Instead of being forced to use the networks of these middlemen, users can now choose from a variety of decentralized networks which aren’t controlled by any organization; they are fully peer-to-peer (p2p). These networks are decentralized as the Internet itself is decentralized, meaning there is no central point of control, no company collecting all of the users’ data, and no one to make them pay for access to the network. Users can join from any location and don’t need permission.
Decentralized networks provide a way for people to take greater control of their online lives.
For an application to be truly p2p, it means that a user’s own computer or node connects directly to another user’s computer or node to communicate, with no stops in between. There are several of these networks being used today, such as:
- Bittorrent is a p2p network that gives users the ability to share files between each other.
- Bitmessage is a p2p network that gives users the ability to send secure messages to each other.
- Retroshare is a p2p network that gives users the ability to participate in a social network without relying on a third party.
- Bitcoin is a p2p network that gives users the ability to send digital cash to each other.
- OpenBazaar is a p2p network that gives users the ability to engage in ecommerce directly with each other.
On these networks people are able to do many of the things they could do on the centralized platforms, with the benefit that they aren’t relying on a middleman anymore.
- With Bittorent, they have access to files that other platforms don’t allow.
- With Bitmessage, they know that no one else can read their messages.
- With Bitcoin and OpenBazaar, they don’t need to ask permission to send money or engage in commerce.
Some of these technologies have been around for a few years, and some of them are very new. They are in various stages of development and many lack the features that the centralized platforms have built but they grow stronger every day. It’s unclear how widely these p2p networks will become adopted in the coming years, but it’s of major importance that users now have another choice.
Instead of just choosing between competing middlemen, they can now choose to bypass them altogether and use the Internet as it was originally built.
Are you looking for ways to decentralize more of your applications?
Download OpenBazaar to begin buying or selling right away with no middlemen.