The antidote to the abuses of big tech is the very thing that gave birth to the Internet itself: decentralized, neutral technical protocols.
- The thought that inspires my work. Ever since I started work on Nupedia and then Wikipedia, a thought has always inspired me: just imagine the stunning possibilities when people come together as individuals to share their knowledge, to create something much greater than any of them could achieve individually.
- The sharing economy. There is a general phrase describing this sort of laudable activity: the “sharing economy.” The motivations and rewards are different when we work to benefit everyone indiscriminately. It worked well when Linux and OSS were first developed; then it worked just as well with Wikipedia.
- The Internet itself is an instance of the sharing economy. The Internet—its ease of communication and publishing together with its decentralized nature—is precisely what has made this possible. The Internet is a decentralized network of people working together freely, for mutual benefit.
- The Internet giants have abused the sharing economy. About ten years ago, this all started to change. More and more our sharing behavior has been diverted into massive private networks, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, that have exerted control and treated contributors as the product.
- Facebook’s contempt for our privacy. All you want to do is easily share a picture with your family. At first, we thought Facebook’s handling of our private data would just be the price we had pay for a really powerful and useful service. But over and over, Facebook has shown utter contempt for our privacy, and it has recently started censoring more and more groups based on their viewpoints. We don’t know where this will end.
- This aggression will not stand, man. We need to learn from the success of decentralized projects like Linux, open source software, Wikipedia, and the neutral technical protocols that define the Internet itself, that we don’t have to subject ourselves to the tender mercies of the Internet giants.
- How. How? Just think. The Internet is made up of a network of computers that work according to communication rules that they have all agreed on. These communication rules are called protocols and standards.
- Protocols and standards… There are protocols and standards for transferring and displaying web pages, for email, for transferring files, and for all the many different technologies involved.
- …which are neutral.These different standards are neutral. They explicitly don’t care what sort of content they carry, and they don’t benefit any person or group over another.
- We need more knowledge-sharing protocols. So here’s the thought I want to leave you with. You evidently support knowledge sharing, since you’re giving people awards for it. Knowledge sharing is so easy online precisely because of those neutral technical protocols. So—why don’t we invent many, many more neutral Internet protocols for the sharing of knowledge?
- Blockchain is awesome because it creates new technical protocols. Probably the biggest reason people are excited about blockchain is that it is a technology and a movement that gets rid of the need of the Internet giants. Blockchain is basically a technology that enables us to invent lots and lots of different protocols, for pretty much everything.
- Why not Twitter- and Facebook-like protocols? There can, and should, be a protocol for tweeting without Twitter. Why should we have to rely on one company and one website when we want to broadcast short messages to the world? That should be possible without Twitter. Similarly, when we want to share various other tidbits of personal information, we should be able to agree on a protocol to share that ourselves, under our own terms—without Facebook.
- Wikipedia centralizes, too. Although Wikipedia is an example of decentralized editing, it is still centralized in an important way. If you want to contribute to the world’s biggest collection of encyclopedia articles, you have no choice but to collaborate with, and negotiate with, Wikipedians. What if you can single-handedly write a better article than Wikipedia’s? Wikipedia offers you no way to get your work in front of its readers.
- Everipedia, an encyclopedia protocol. Again, there should be a neutral encyclopedia protocol, one that allows us to add encyclopedia articles to a shared database that its creators own and develop, just like the Internet itself. That’s why I’m working on Everipedia, which is building a blockchain encyclopedia.
This is a little speech I gave to the Rotary Club of Pasadena, in the beautiful Pasadena University Club, January 31, 2019.
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