The Internet That Is Being Built In Parallel

If you know anything about the crypto industry at all, you may have heard of this phrase before; not your keys, not your coins. If you haven’t heard of it, let me explain it to you. Crypto assets are stored in digital wallets that can be accessed via private keys (a long alphanumeric string). If you lose the key, you lose your coins.

Some people prefer storing their crypto-assets with exchanges for the ease of doing so. But when you store your assets with an exchange and access them using an email address and password, technically you don’t own the private keys to your wallet. The private keys are known only to the exchange and if they have the keys, they own the coins.

There are pros and cons of this design but it ensures that your money is yours. That you can’t be denied or questioned on your right to withdraw or transfer your funds which does happen all the time with traditional financial institutions.

This is a parallel internet that is being built and it isn’t just limited to finance. You could build any kind of app using the same design where there is no central authority dictating what can and can not be done.

The internet that we’re accustomed to was beautiful but I no longer feel that it still is. The power is getting concentrated in the hands of few mega trillion dollar companies and they set the rules for what can and can not be done.

In the good old days of the internet you could host content on your own sites. Now for better deliverability, it is preferred that you serve this content via instant articles on Facebook & AMP on Google. By not doing so, you may be ranked lower or get reduced visibility.

If you want to own an e-commerce store, you could create your own store using woo-commerce (self-hosted) or Shopify (hosted by Shopify). If you’re looking for visibility or discovery, it’s better that you go with Amazon.

However, if you go with Amazon you can only sell what they allow you to sell. There are many things that are legal to sell but can not be sold on Amazon. They will also use your data in knowing what sells best and then launch their own private label brands to beat you at their own game, which by the way they do all the time.

If you decide to setup your own store, as long as it’s on Shopify, they can suspend your store for whatever reason e.g one of our stores was suspended for listing face masks although we hadn’t listed any. This resulted in monetary losses that shouldn’t have happened. But even if we did list the face masks, our store shouldn’t have been suspended as long as we were not doing anything illegal.

The problem with the internet in its present state is that in order for your business to work, you rely on these mega trillion dollar companies despite knowing that they will practice more control than they should be allowed to. You will be stopped and banned from doing activities that are legal to conduct.

As long as your business is on Amazon, Facebook Shop or Shopify, your business’s fate depends on them. It’s not really your business in the true sense. This isn’t any different than “not your keys, not your coins”.

On the contrary, the parallel internet in its present form is slow, expensive and even allows illicit activities, so at the moment it’s much worse than the internet that we’re accustomed to.

These mega corporations including Facebook are already trying to maintain their control on the parallel internet e.g Libra by Facebook.

The parallel internet can solve everything that’s wrong with the present internet but comes with its own set of problems.

One is too centralized that it even prevents legal activities for private gains, the other one is too decentralized to even allow illicit activities.

The Open Internet That I Envision

Just yesterday, my Twitter account was suspended. It was suspended because Twitter thought I was involved in “artificial account interactions and engagements”. On appeal, my account was reinstated with a warning that “any future violations could lead to a permanent suspension”. But I didn’t engage in the above-mentioned behavior.

Despite no policy violation, my account now has what we marketers call a “strike”. Future strikes mean, I’ll lose my account permanently. And I’ve a serious problem with this kind of policing.

Twitter and other social media gained popularity because they provided a place to speak independently providing censorship-resistant platforms. But that has slowly been taken away in the name of keeping community safe from abuse and misleading information.

My Breadcrumbs

Because of the obvious problems with the internet today, I no longer feel safe hosting my thoughts on other platforms including Facebook & Twitter as I do not see them as a permanent place of storage for my thoughts and information which will eventually be governed by them, can be deleted as per their will, and removed permanently from the internet. Such web-applications pretend to provide a free and impartial place but are no longer censorship-resistant.

I’ve written 22,500 tweets so far over the period of 10 years, all of which can be deleted by the “propriety” centralized automated system removing my breadcrumbs completely.

Internet Is Broken Today

Just last week, founder of twitter Jack acknowledged these problems himself by doing a round of Tweetstorm

As mentioned by Jack, social media today no longer serves as a place to simply host content, instead it has become recommendation engine of sorts where content competes for attention also incentivizing content creators to create attention-grabbing content which can often be controversial, gruesome or simply negative.

This sort of recommendation engine is not just limited to social media. It has also taken over emails. Gmail now powers over 50% emails in existence, and controls/prohibits 97% of emails from reaching users’ primary inbox using similar recommendation engine approach.

The problem with these propriety recommendation engines is that you can’t view the hosted content in a different manner using alternatives yet as mentioned by Jack, but it could be possible if social media was a protocol, and Twitter one of the clients with one of the available recommendations engine. The consumer of content could pick and choose any recommendation engine he preferred.

The Open Internet

I read a very interesting post published by Albert Wenger, explaining why finally the time is now for open protocols. The traditional caveat with open protocols (like HTTP, SMTP etc) has been that there wasn’t a big enough financial incentive associated with creating, contributing to or maintaining an open protocol.

This can finally be solved with token-economics as mentioned by Jack as well in his tweet.

An excerpt from Albert’s blog explains how cryptographic tokens can rescue the internet

Now, however, we have a new way of providing incentives for the creation of protocols and for governing their evolution. I am talking about cryptographic tokens. You can think of these like the tokens you might buy at a fair to get on a ride: different operators can have their own rides and set their own price in terms of tokens. You only need to buy tokens once (in exchange for fiat currency) and then can use them throughout the fair. With blockchains we now have a way of issuing and redeeming these tokens digitally (the underlying blockchain can be Bitcoin or Ethereum or possibly its own as in the case of Steemit).

A for profit company can now create a new protocol and create value for itself (and its investors) by retaining some of the tokens. If the protocol becomes widely used, the value of the tokens will increase. For instance, think of a decentralized storage service (a la Amazon’s S3). Anyone can implement the storage protocol in whatever language they want to as long as they meet the protocol spec. They can then get paid in the relevant storage tokens. The original creator of the protocol will make money to the extent that it is adopted and to the degree they have retained some of the tokens (so they can sell them at a higher price later on). This is not hypothetical as there are a variety of such protocols out there, including Storj, SIA and Filecoin.

I can’t emphasize enough how radical a change this is to the past. Historically the only way to make money from a protocol was to create software that implemented it and then try to sell this software (or more recently to host it). Since the creation of this software (e.g. web server/browser) is a separate act many of the researchers who have created some of the most successful protocols in use today have had little direct financial gain. With tokens, however, the creators of a protocol can “monetize” it directly and will in fact benefit more as others build businesses on top of that protocol.

With newfound financial incentives now available to create open protocols, the stage is finally set to make pave for the open and decentralized internet.