The Decentralized Internet: A Future State

Over the course of the next two months, we will be diving head-first into a new series of content we are calling “The Decentralized Internet: A Future State.” It will explore decentralized storage, decentralized identity, decentralized media, and the new realities these make possible.

The Internet was created to serve a wider purpose of human connection and collaboration. Unfortunately, reality has been much more complex. This series will explore how the premise of increasing decentralization can bring us closer to that original promise. An introduction to the series below…

Many of us who have committed to building the world of web3 were originally motivated by one of its central aims: taking control out of the hands of large centralized companies and placing it back in the hands of everyday users by way of decentralization.

While we may have more skin in the game than most by virtue of the fact that we are dedicating our time and resources to this cause, when it comes to the Internet, questions around control tend to spark wide scale interest, and even concern. Who owns our information? Where does our data go? What can or can’t we access online? These are all issues everyday users deeply care about and incidentally are mediated by centralized control.

The Internet was originally built to enable people to communicate with one another. But many people feel that the way we communicate with one another online feels increasingly broken. Social media companies are disintegrating before our very eyes. The “creator economy” makes it extremely difficult for creators to actually own their uploaded content. Targeted news feeds have contributed to the rise of political polarization, the spread of misinformation, and an increase in hate crimes. Increasing cyberattacks continue to put users more at risk of their personal data being breached. 

These problems are all interrelated, and whether we realize it or not, they are also tied to the ways we use the Internet. When large tech companies own our data, they are free to do with it what they please. Many companies sell user data for advertising purposes - yet we give it to them because doing so feels like a small price to pay in exchange for convenience. This data is then fed into algorithms that tailor content to suit our particular inclinations, with potentially harmful consequences. Getting ads for a pair of shoes is one thing... being shown politically charged or factually incorrect information is another altogether.

Data storage provides an example of another domain where users are pushed to prioritize convenience at a personal cost. We upload our data to centralized cloud servers because doing so feels like, and often is, the path of least resistance. Not only are these moated centralized systems vulnerable to data breach, they also lock in their users, rendering them subject to any decisions made concerning how data is stored or how expensive it is to access. 

The more we attempt to untangle the web of intricacies related to who we are, how we communicate, and what we share online, the more we realize just how enmeshed all of these topics are, as well as the compromises we are forced to make as a result of centralized systems. 

As Edward Ongweso Jr. so aptly put it in his article for Vice News titled Social Media is Dead

“The data we generate, the data centers that hold it, the algorithms that process it, the servers that host it, the teams that label and sort and interact with it, the cables along which it travels—the platforms, their infrastructure, and the technical know-how are not ours. Even the data we might use to develop alternatives is hoarded by firms who are committed to business models that require this wholly privatized system. The computational resources we might use to experiment with that data are privately owned by the tech companies or other concentrations of capital... that treat internet infrastructure as tradable financial assets rented back to major technology firms.”

Is there another way? We at MESH believe we are at a key juncture where the need for decentralized systems across the Internet has never been clearer. In this series, we will delve into decentralized storage, networks, compute, identity, and data storage. The age of community will be manifested through the creator economy, ownership economy, P2P social networks, news publications, and more. We will consider each of these verticals and examine how we got to where we are, what we think can be improved, and which projects we believe are pushing the needle forward - both at MESH and beyond.

Stay tuned for Part 1 on decentralized storage…