Remember when the Internet was considered to be the “Wild, Wild West”?
It’s possible you don’t remember. If you were born after 1990, you missed the heady early days of the “information superhighway” and the freewheeling sense of possibility that existed in the mid to late 1990s.
Cyberspace seemed big back then, even though it wasn’t really. No one was the top dog, and a million tiny little websites by unknown operators ruled the World Wide Web.
Now, in some respects, the Internet has shrunk. Since “Web 2.0,” Google has taken over a good portion of the web, killing off most of its search engine competitors with only Microsoft’s Bing holding any position against them.
A slew of small Internet forums, Usenet groups, and bulletin boards got swallowed up by the behemoth known as Facebook. Sure, you can keep in touch with what your high school acquaintance is up to, but you’ve lost your anonymity and sense of exploration.
If you consider how overwhelmingly corporate the Internet has become, you might begin to understand why a resistance is growing to the Internet establishment of today.
From Web 2.0 to Web 3.0: Decentralization and Distributed Applications
The initial excitement about the Internet was that it was decentralized. Instead of one mainframe computer being the hub for an organization, the Internet utilized client/server relationships. Multiple servers would deliver information to a potentially infinite number of clients (or users).
Despite claims that Al Gore “created the Internet,” much of the early Internet (ARPANET) was designed by the United States Department of Defense. If a nuclear weapon were to wipe out an important mainframe, then the network would go completely down. A decentralized network of multiple services that could connect, even if one of the servers was destroyed, could better survive a war.
Unfortunately, much of the Web 2.0 “revolution” was more about centralized social media networks and mega-companies like Google controlling a large portion of the Internet traffic.
This is why many tech visionaries are pushing for a Web 3.0 that goes back to the Internet’s decentralized roots with distributed applications (dapps) that aren’t relying on one company or server to run.
Decentralized Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Is Leading the Way
The old decentralized organization definition is still mired in corporate thinking, where mid-level managers make decisions together instead of the head of a company. Decentralization means a lot more.
For cryptocurrency enthusiasts, decentralization means that banks and large financial institutions no longer need to control monetary transactions. With decentralized cryptocurrency, anyone can participate in verifying transactions that are recorded on a transparent, distributed electronic ledger known as a blockchain.
As part of taking control back from centralized corporations, cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum are encouraging everyday people to participate in the creation of a decentralized web.
Ethereum dapps (decentralized applications) can be created by anyone to handle Ethereum “contracts” that are part of transactions.
Ethereum has a website offering information on creating your own dapps, and why this is important:
“What makes it different from web 2 is that on Ethereum, there are no web servers, and therefore no middlemen to take commissions, steal your data or offer it to the NSA, and of course nothing to DDoS.”
The Ethereum Dapps for Beginners website promises that anyone, from a “seasoned full stack developer to a complete beginner,” can learn to build their own Ethereum decentralized application.
Examples of Ethereum Decentralized Apps
When looking at the technical side of things, you may wonder what Ethereum dapps can actually do. “Contracts” sounds boring. Can cryptocurrency dapps do more than that? Yes, they can. Here are a few examples:
Etheria is a virtual world like Minecraft where players can build their own little online fiefdoms. No one entity “owns” Etheria. As long as Ethereum exists, the game will exist in some form.
EtherTweet offers a microblogging platform like Twitter but without the censorship and control of a central corporation running things.
As their website says: “Here, decentralization means there is no company or central authority in control of what is being published.”
Crowdfunding is a popular way to fundraise, but users often have to pay hefty fees to the companies who run the crowdfunding platforms. Additionally, crowdfunding companies can sometimes censor users based on political views, especially if pressure comes at the company from outside activists.
WeiFund offers decentralized crowdfunding that is not at the whim or control of any one corporation.
Can the Internet Truly Go Back to Its Decentralized Roots?
While the new decentralized technologies being innovated through cryptocurrency are certainly exciting, will they last? Already, corporations are moving to cryptocurrency, and governments will certainly look for more ways to regulate the Internet. Still, a dedicated group of crypto-anarchists are looking for new ways to free themselves from central control, and dapps are just one way they are going about this.