The internet is now almost entirely centralized.
It is controlled by a small number of huge corporations, such as Google, Alibaba, Facebook, and Amazon. The communications infrastructure powering the internet is controlled by a small number of organizations, including the likes of UUNET, Level 3, Verizon, and AT&T.
While even countries are identifying this as a problem and are starting to build their own data centers, this does not solve the problem from a user perspective.
It's fair to say that the original dream of an internet for the people, by the people, is long gone.
Fast forward to 2020, and one startup has a mission to redress the balance by making the internet decentralized, inclusive, democratized, and secure, while reducing its dependence on large amounts of energy, making it better for the environment.
ThreeFold was founded by internet veterans, including serial entrepreneur, Kristof de Spiegeleer. Disclaimer: I occasionally advise ThreeFold but do not have any financial stake in the business.
Having founded and built startups such as Q-Layer, Dedigate, Virtualbox, Amplidata, and GIG Technology, Spiegeleer recently spoke with John Koetsier of Forbes and VentureBeat about his vision for the future, and what needs to happen to get us there.
The first of De Spiegeleer's points is crucial. We think of the internet as an all-encompassing entity, but that's far from the truth.
"It's so much in our life that it should be everywhere you choose to be able to get to it," De Spiegeleer said. "Yet still today, it's in very few locations. As an example, in Africa, there is almost nothing - or South America. Many places in the world don't have it yet."
According to the latest statistics, less than 60 percent of the world's population has access to the internet. All while access to the Internet was declared a human right by the United Nations. Sometimes that's because the internet is simply not available in that country. In other cases, it is because governments have limited or withdrawn internet access from their citizens.
ThreeFold's solution hopes to address that issue but is also designed to fix other problems with the way the internet is provided to its users right now. But, importantly, De Spiegeleer has no interest in becoming a vast corporation, because that would shift the power from some big organizations to a new one.
By creating the world's largest peer-to-peer (P2P) internet and cloud storage solution, ThreeFold is already on its way to providing the capacity and space to create its decentralized vision.
And that's the key. Called "farmers," ThreeFold is inviting everyone to take part in its system, by offering server capacity and computing power to the ThreeFold Grid.
"We're inviting a lot of people to become part of, and help us to build, a new internet," De Spiegeleer said. "If we send a message to each other now, it goes to a server somewhere in America and will then go to another server close by, and that's not how it should be if I send a message to my friend right here in Ibiza. Wouldn't it be more logical that my message goes from me to my friend directly here on the island?"
And distributing storage and computing power comes with other benefits too.
"We don't have to build these huge big data centers," De Spiegeleer said. "These are these huge big generators of internet capacity that are centralized. But we all can buy a small or a big box, put it in an office or home, and then all of these boxes together in such a way that if we need something from this new internet, it will be close by."
ThreeFold claims that its version of a decentralized internet uses 90 percent less energy than the current system, which revolves around several massive data centers and server farms. That's important because it paves the way for filling the current gap in internet usage. If we can make the internet that much cheaper, it is more likely to be made available in countries and regions that currently don't have access.
The way that ThreeFold has developed its ThreeFold Grid also means that it is private and secure. It is fully democratized, meaning that governments and other organizations would not be able to limit access to it or the critical information it holds.
So, where is the ThreeFold Grid now in terms of its launch, capacity, and storage capabilities?
"Today we have quite some capacity online in 21 countries, with 600+ farmers," De Spiegeleer said. "These are the people that connect their boxes. It's a lot, and also not a lot. It's currently more storage and power than all blockchain projects put together, so that says something."
That amounts to 80,000,000+ Gb of existing capacity, and more than 20,000 CPU cores. That being said, ThreeFold is looking for more. Much more.
"We want to add 10,000 more locations in 2020," De Spiegeleer said.
ThreeFold has a mission to expand its grid quickly, and after a long period of stealth, is now ready to tell the world about its solution.
"It's not a dream of something in the future," De Spiegeleer said. "It's more like we have it. We have the technology, we have the ambition, and already more than $40 million has been invested. And now we just need to move to the next scale. I'm super positive. We have many partners that want this to happen."
ThreeFold has already moved quickly following De Spiegeleer's last interview with Hackernoon. His advice should you be reading this, and want to get involved by becoming a farmer?
"Go to threefold.io, where you should find a place where you can register your interest to become a farmer, and then we help you in a decentralized way," De Spiegeleer said. "We call them cooperatives - people who can help you become a farmer."
Potential farmers can also visit farmer.threefold.io to apply for the next batch.
While still in its infancy, something is compelling about reducing the dependence of the internet from a few significant corporations to everyone. A web for the people, by the people, is once again a possibility.