The founders of the internet envisioned the internet as a decentralised entity. But over time internet traffic has become concentrated on a few websites.
According to Ahrefs.com, most of the global internet traffic goes to a few websites. Websites like YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon get the most of it.
Every internet user has become dependent on such mega-corporations. Namely, Facebook for communication, Amazon for buying things and Google for accessing information.
Do you have questions about how this decentralized internet system became centralized?
To know, read on.
Using the internet, anybody can access an unlimited amount of information from any corner. All you need is an internet connection to do so.
Nowadays, the internet is being used for almost anything like shopping, paying bills and ordering groceries. You can even be part of a safari while sitting at home. The Internet has become a necessity for every person. If the internet goes down for a few seconds, it will create havoc in the world.
But, all this development comes at a cost of the internet losing its decentralized identity. There used to be a time when anyone could publish anything on the internet with no dependence on any third-party service provider. The internet provided equal opportunities for all with a level playing field.
It is true that no one still owns any significant part of the internet infrastructure that connects us to the worldwide web. But, by using innovative ideas and providing easy-to-use platforms, companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have grabbed a large part of internet traffic.
Now, few tech giants are dominating the internet with their services. Over years, these tech companies have developed a monopoly in their field. They also have controlling power over what one can access over the internet.
Mass Adoption of the Internet
Mass adoption of the internet is the major reason behind few websites dominating the web.
The US Department of Defence (DoD) invented the earliest form of the internet. They invented the Internet to enable computer communication in the event of a disaster or war. The internet was designed decentralized to help access information even if one part of the network goes down.
Later, many institutions and organisations contributed to making the Internet what it is today.
The following inventions led to the mass adoption of the internet
1. World Wide Web
Tim Berners-Lee changed the internet forever by inventing the world wide web and HTML. The users, now, can access the websites using the provided hyperlinks.
This entire system came to be known as the World Wide Web (WWW) which is why we have to use “www” before typing the domain name we want to visit.
The development of the browsers helped in making the internet reality it is today. With the invention of browsers, accessing the internet became less complex and user-friendly.
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer launched in 1995 boosted the use of the internet. Later, many browsers came that made accessing the web convenient and user friendly.
3. Search Engines
As the internet became popular, many websites came into existence. The need for a search engine that indexed all the websites became inevitable.
Many web searching and indexing systems came into existence like Yahoo. But, the undisputed market leader in search, Google only came in the late 1990s.
Google became ultra-popular by offering a simple user interface and fast search results. Many people use the word “google” as a verb alternatively for Internet search.
4. Internet Service Providers
Now, the internet was ready for mass adoption. All that was needed was service providers who can bring the internet to people's homes. Thus came the Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
The ISPs started providing internet over a dial-up modem with a data speed of 14-28 kbps. With the advancement in technology, data speeds now are touching 100 Mbps.
Commercialisation of Internet
As ISPs came into existence, internet connections got stable and reached the masses. Many businesses started using the internet and many internet applications came into existence. This was an essential point where the internet got commercialised and web 1.0 was born.
Microsoft played a major role in boosting internet usage and its commercialisation. The launch of Internet Explorer inbuilt into windows 95 was where all this began. Microsoft introduced the internet to many first-time users.
My first exposure to the internet was also using Windows 95 and Internet explorer. I still remember those initial days when the internet was nothing it is today. Similarly, the Internet touched the lives of many like me.
Slowly but steadily, the internet picked up as many new users joined in. This resulted in large amounts of information being shared online. This further boosted the commercial aspects of the internet.
And with commercialisation, the process of centralisation began.
As the internet became more commercially viable. Many new platforms emerged that enabled users to access information, communicate with ease, and shop online.
This was the birth of Web 2.0 as the web user interface became easy to navigate and users could access the internet from different devices.
Many companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google came up with innovative ideas. They provided services that helped them dominate the internet.
These companies, now, have grown so big over the years that they have the largest share of user’s attention and data. The data being referred to as modern-day oil, which is constantly harvested. Data is then sold to third-party companies by providing them with a platform to advertise.
No doubt, these companies grew so big only by providing platforms to meet the user’s needs. The problem is that they have grown so big that it is near impossible for new entrants to compete with them. They wield so much power over what users can see and what they cannot.
Facebook has grown so big over the years by acquiring many small companies like Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus. Providing a variety of services, ranging from social media platforms to VR devices. It is, now, difficult to find someone who has used none of the Facebook products.
Similarly, Google has acquired many platforms over the years that make google a giant that provides many services. Google has Gmail, Google Maps, Gdrive, YouTube and many other services. Almost everyone who has access to the internet uses one or another google service.
These platforms have access to an enormous amount of user data. Ranging from where you are travelling to what you like to watch.
Other platforms like Amazon, Twitter and Snapchat have dominance over different demography.
Thus, centralising the internet as the internet became limited to few service providers.
Now the question arises: What's wrong with the centralized internet? if we are getting top quality services and internet access is stable.
We can define a centralized system as a system with concentrated power and authority. You might question that you still can use the Internet to create your own website and put out what you want.
Yes, you can do that. But you will not get traffic to your website without getting your website Indexed on google. Or without having social media presence on one of the Facebook-owned platforms. That is exactly where things get centralized.
Domination of Facebook and Google also resulted in behavioural changes in the ways people access information. Earlier if a user wanted to read news he would go to their favourite news website or blog. But now things have changed.
Most people I know rely on microblogging sites Twitter for news or Social media platforms like Facebook or WhatsApp for information.
Facebook alone has 2.70 billion monthly active users and another 3.14 billion users are active on other Facebook-owned platforms.
Similarly, Google is the ultra-popular search engine that processes about 5.8 billion search queries each day. Google has become the only place for most people where they visit to access information.
This has resulted in power being rested in the hands of a few that make them gatekeepers of the information users can access.
Related Fact: Facebook even tried to introduce a free internet service in India to first-time users, which had aimed to make them think Facebook is the internet.
User Data Leaks and Misuse
By accessing these platforms, users are giving these platforms access to lots of their personal information. They know where you dined or watched a movie. They know your birthdays and anniversaries. Data is being harvested constantly that would be used by third-party companies to serve you ads.
Every Internet company works on a centralized system where they store all the information in their own data centres. These centralized data centres face a serious security threat of data breaching.
Recently the mighty Facebook suffered a data leak in which hackers leaked personal details of 530 million users. Almost every month there is some news about data leak or some data being sold on the dark web.
Centralized data storage provides hackers with a single target to access the information. There are many DDoS attacks on such centralized data centres of big tech companies.
User data is also misused by big tech companies or third-party advertisers to manipulate people. There have been cases of election manipulation in which data was used to target voters with ads to influence their voting decision.
There has also been the case of the government's surveillance on its citizens and political dissenters using the data.
Fear of Single-Point Failure
Centralized architectures are popularly used to manage and store data. Having centralized data centres can cause a single point of failure. There can be hacker attacks or some technical issues that can lead to system failure.
There is always some news related to some or other services facing outages. When a centralized service like Amazon web services faces outage many websites that are hosted using services go down with it.
Similarly, an issue with google servers can take down YouTube, Gmail or Gdrive with it.
There have been many cases of Single-point failure. It makes people suffer because of a global outage because of a technical glitch in some data centres.
You might be thinking that, if what we are now using is a centralized Internet. Then what is a decentralized Internet and how can we achieve it?
Decentralized Internet as you might have figured out from the name is an Internet system that doesn’t have one owner. Decentralized internet would have many owners that will store a copy of the information that users can access.
Decentralized internet can also crash but it won’t cause an outage across the internet like a centralized internet. As data will be in many places, users could access it even when there is a fault in one or more servers. Torrenting systems, for example, are used to share data information. It uses similar peer-to-peer sharing where many users share the same data.
Cryptocurrency is another example of what a decentralized system can do. Everyone, nowadays, is talking about Bitcoins or Dogecoin or another new entrant. Even if cryptocurrency doesn’t interest you, the system behind it must, which is blockchain.
Yes, Blockchain is the technology that will help us make the internet decentralized again. The idea many experts put forward is to build a peer-to-peer internet network. Where the community controls the system instead of a single Internet Service Provider.
A decentralized system will create hundreds of access points or nodes through which users can access the internet. This can only become reality using blockchain. That is why Blockchain is the core concept envisioned for Web 3.0.
Decentralized Internet: Web 3.0
Back when the internet came into being, websites were static HTML websites, which are referred to as Web 1.0. Then the internet evolved to Web 2.0 which gave rise to dynamic user-driven websites. Web 2.0 has given rise to social media and companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google.
Definition of Web 3.0 is still evolving but it will rely on peer-to-peer technology like blockchain. Web 3.0 is the attempt to return to the original internet where people had control over what they wanted to post. An internet where no ISPs controlled what you can see and no single point of failure for the internet.
Web 3.0 aims at getting over the constant surveillance, targeted advertisements and displacing the centralized tech giants that control a sizable chunk of the internet. This will also enable users to take control of their data and decide who will have access to it and who will not.
Web 3.0 will operate with no centralized servers making it secure and free from a single point of failure.
Benefits of Decentralized Internet
The Decentralized internet comes with many benefits. Here you will find a few of them.
No doubt, decentralized internet networks would be one of the most secure networks. Blockchain technology ensures that your data is secure using encryption. In the blockchain, data from the adjacent blocks is needed to validate the data. That means high-level encryption that is impossible to break.
Decentralized internet means very little censorship, unlike the centralized internet. In the current system, the service providers choose what they show to the users. As there is no central authority in a decentralized internet, it will be less exposed to censorship by governments or tech companies.
3. Efficient browsing
Web 3.0 with a decentralized system can drastically improve web browsing by providing a more convenient experience. With a smarter algorithm and the use of AI, users will be able to filter the manipulated search results. And users get only the most relevant information.
4. Data can’t be modified
Using blockchain technology means that there would be no chance of unauthorised data modification or deletion. All records of changes are stored all through the blockchain, even the changes made by an authorised person.
5. No Central Point of Control
With a decentralized internet, data is no longer stored in centralized servers that are at risk of damage or DoS attacks by hackers. As there would be multiple points to access the internet, it becomes near impossible to stop the free flow of information.
The future seems bright for Web 3.0 as internet connectivity is increasing worldwide. The chances of blockchain-based internet becoming a reality have increased. There will be a truly decentralized future of the internet like it was when the world wide web was first invented.
Future holds the internet that is free from a few tech giants dominating over the internet. Web 3.0 will provide a level playing field for all and where users control the content instead of ISPs or tech companies.
The decentralized internet might face some challenges as it enters mainstream adoption. But once it becomes mainstream, the users will get back full control of their data and identity.
Innovative services provided by ISPs and tech giants like Google and Facebook boosted the internet's growth. But, this has resulted in power being in the hands of few and the internet being controlled by governments and tech service providers.
Decentralized internet with the use of blockchain has the potential to address these problems with the internet. Thus, Decentralized Web 3.0 will provide secure internet connections with information flowing without censorship.