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Ask HN: Is “a decentralized alternative to X” the new “Uber for X”?
80 points by maephisto on Apr 20, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments
I keep seeing more and more products being launched in Show HN or Product Hunt that present themselves as a "decentralized alternative to X" (GitHub, Youtube, Facebook, Soundcloud). Is this just a hype train that people board or is it the future of web?

Unfortunately, it is a hype right now.

It really shouldn't be, but for that, everyone needs to understand, the federated (eg. "decentralised") is infrastructure, not a product. Infrastructure is rarely capable of making vast sums of money, it's more about serving needs for longer periods - think of post, or ISPs. Yes, it's profitable, but it's not unicorn, and exit strategies are also incompatible with decentralisation.

It can, could, and, should be the future, but it needs a change in mindsets before we can get there.

Not all decentralization measures require federation.

>Is this just a hype train that people board or is it the future of web?

It's even less than "uber for X". It's an "uber for X" kind thing with no commercial options and nobody but us geeks caring for what it sells ("decentralization").

Yes, there is definitely a hype train, but that's not mutually exclusive from being productive. The dotcom boom produced many failed companies... alongside Amazon and Google, which changed society in many ways.

Most decentralised projects are inherently unmonetisable, meaning these aren't new companies but mostly open source community projects.

I think it's a pushback against the hyper-centralisation of the web over the past few years. This is people wanting to provide open, trustworthy alternatives to the walled garden approach. I personally am pretty excited about the opportunities of decentralisation and the distributed web.

> Most decentralised projects are inherently unmonetisable

Good. For example, the value of email, is not email itself - it's the communication it can provide. Maybe some things never meant to directly make money, but to add value in other ways. Imagine of Facebook was actually to connect people and to make communication and sharing simpler.

Also, many business ideas that people laughed at and called hype scams during the bust later went on to prove themselves (delivery dog food, anyone?). The first wave of companies were just a few years too early.


I watched e-Dreams a week after Amazon announced Prime Now (1-2 hour delivery). Made me feel bad for Park...

Are you claiming that decentralization is the core business that makes amazon and google money? Or is it something else?

No, I'm saying that it's possible to have valuable companies emerge from overhyped technologies.

Yes, but I hope that more decentralized application for X will have a network effect that can talk one to another in the future, if they were built with that kind of mindset at the first place.

I'd like to see a decentralized alternative to "rating stuff".

(where the rating applies to everything from products, services and websites to comments)

Aaron Parecki wrote a very nice article on this: https://aaronparecki.com/2016/12/17/8/owning-my-reviews

Non-profit (but not actually decentralised) https://lib.reviews/

So you mean a decentralised alternative to Yelp? ;) I actually agree, would love to see that too.

Ratings are worthless without trust. Actually PeerMountain is building a decentralized trust protocol that supports this. They call ratings "attestations". It's worth a read.


Do they have the concept of "transitive trust"? (Is there a better term for that?)

Let's say I want to buy some new camera. I'd like to express something like:

- People on HN, I trust for 80% (say, because of the technical nature of the product)

- Friends on facebook I trust for 40%

- Friends of friends on facebook, I trust for 10%

Then using this spec, I'd like the system to come up with a sorted list of cameras, with ratings. Would this be possible without privacy issues?

By the way, if a rating system turns out to be robust, we could potentially use it for rating politicians :)

Yes. Transitive trust is a core concept for Peer Mountain. And they call it exactly that.

Interestingly enough I'd trust a long, well written blog entry as a rating much more, than I trust current amazon reviews.

Not until we see more companies raise millions/billions in venture capital to fund it. It's certainly a trend right now, but it doesn't seem to be as much of a 'mention it and get free money to try starting a unicorn' one as say Uber esque services or cryptocurrency ones are at the moment.

How can a business effectively make money, and scale, running on decentralized infrastructure (blockchain) though? How is it not more cost effective/business-wise to run in a centralized cloud environment? Seriously what are the business & profit models for these companies? (beyond crypto and ICOs).

"Hard for companies to make money" is seen as a benefit for some

There was another reply that is now gone that stated something similar where the founders would effectively limit their profit gains and declare some statement that their work was done for the people rather than profit...

I’m not trying to bring about a formal argument here and I may be way off, But IMO these type of quotes are borderline reflective of Marxism or wording that belong in Mein Kampf.

I'm sorry, what? Mein Kampf?? Seriously? The idea of non-profit driven organisations is very old and very well established. From charities, to co-operatives.

Decentalization is the future. Unfortunately 99% of the projects out today are money grubbing. Think about this: if the team needs to hire tech to run an ICO, how would they ever build a blockchain solution? De facto, they don't have the skills! (only outsourcing marketing makes sense)

You know what this reminds me of?

Back in the day the hype was "open" and openness. That's the wave that companies like Twitter and Facebook rode to grow.

At the time there was no time to talk about any of the hip hot topics you hear about today like "russian trolls", "political ads", "regulation", "twitter's harassment problem" and so on.

The cult belief was open and free and connected and inclusive will magically create a beautiful utopia.

Openness was thrown around as the obvious solution to anything.

This "decentralised hype" looks very much the same.

It's thrown around mindlessly as the obvious and magical solution to problems.

When in reality it leaves many things unsolved and almost always turns into "theoretically decentralised but there are like 10 people who actually control it".

A part of it is people looking for an excuse and a cover to gain power.

A part of it is nerds wanting to solve everything with the single hammer of tech that they have.

Bitcoin is a good recent example of how quickly the utopic ideals and promises give their place to a good old blood bath.

In the same way that "open everything" hype created problems that now people are complaining about.

I think a decade of "decentralise everything" hype will eventually backfire in the same way.

And once people see and feel the consequences they will get annoyed and will be asking for the opposite of it.

"We said openness and freedom of speech ... but not these horrible people ... take these people away"

"I said freedom of speech .. everyone can publish stuff yay ... but NO FAKE NEWS! fact check it all and make sure it's all true"

"I said decentralised but I don't want these inconvenient consequences of a decentralised system"

Same thing that happened with the open/free/freedom/connected wave.

Also see this Dilbert: https://i.imgur.com/FlC0K2l.jpg

Federation isn’t a feature, but the promise (although not explicitly guaranteed) of data portability and service inter-op is definitely a feature. For me at least. I’m not too fussed about a federated Facebook, but I’d be very interested in a data platform that allows me to use Facebook if it’s the best social network tool and then instantly switch to twitter or some other system if I want, taking my data (graph & content) with me easily

Interesting also, data portability also comes with individual responsibility, however I don’t believe most people would want that responsilibilty. Most SMEs outsource IT for this reason.

I don’t think that’s a sustainable model at the individual level.

The underlying technology is important, IPFS, WebTorrent, WebRTC, blockchain, but how they are going to disrupt an entrenched competitor is another question.

Very much so. No doubt this is a form of "growth-hacking" where you copy existing names, words, and ideas.

This leads to:

* A curated list of ..

* ... made with love

* Deep learning ..

* .. on the blockchain

* .. uber for X

Sometimes these things do lead go genuinely interesting projects & products, but often-times the hype is so hard to swallow that people move on to the next big thing.

A curated deep-learning list of uber for X on the blockchain made with love :D

This is just a re-sorted version of producthunt. Wouldn't be too hard to sort it with some stupid deep-learning model then upload the links to the bitcoin blockchain in that order.

Wherr can I buy?

ICO coming to your nearest beach bar any moment now.

entering pre-sale. all sold. let's hodl. to the moon.


it's gone.

I'd like to add "... for humans"

Maybe too cynical but


resonates IMO.

It depends. If it mentions just plain P2P stuff, it might be. If it mentions blockchain or involves some kind of ICO then is probably more like "Ponzi Scheme for X".

This is the future of the web. Platforms and networks that offer better incentives for participation will replace those of the old (current dominant) model. Rather than users-as-the-product, users will be in the driving seat - with agency to accept or reject changes that are offered as well as be rewarded for their contributions. But it will go much further than this as even the basic corporate structure (passive investors only interested in monetary gain and managers beholden to them) may be challenged by new organisational architectures where all kinds of incentives and agendas can be baked right into the protocol.

Yes, for the same reason.

The reason why they call themselves "decentralized for X" or "uber for X" is because that's what makes most money. It was "uber for X" a couple of years ago. But in 2018 it's "decentralized for X", because of the ICO hype where all the coins rails hundreds of millions of dollars.

But on a positive note, exactly because it has so much potential I think we can't dismiss it as just a fad. After all, Uber and the similar approaches DID change the world.

It's kinda funny because if you said "decentralized for X" a couple of years ago, people would just say "yeah good luck with that, nerd", and the only place you would hear about these things would be HN.

The only change since then is Bitcoin. But even on its own Bitcoin is such a disruptive piece of technology that so many people are just betting on it. And I do think some will succeed. But from what I see, most people working on these have no idea why Bitcoin works therefore will fail.

I see two groups:

1. Super tech nerds who think they understand how Bitcoin succeeded so far, but actually totally miss the rest of what made Bitcoin successful. But at least these people have ability to build something meaningful. Most of the famous projects that sound like they're doing really well belong to this category. I won't name names, but I'm not even talking about obscure projects. The leaders from most of the top tier highest profile projects don't seem to understand how to make their project a success, they're either too focused on tech (thinking somehow if they keep working on it, it will succeed in a "decade") or too focused on shady stuff. They will all fail either because someone better will come along and fork their protocols and do it leaner and better, with all the lessons learned, or because they all get burned out before the "decade". A decade is a really long period.

2. Shallow people: most entrepreneurs I see have no knowledge about how these blockchains work and just assume that they will work and raise millions of dollars. Actually a lot of my friends are like this, but I can't just outright tell them to quit because they're friends. But I'll use this opportunity to say, if you don't understand what you're building on, from economic aspect, technological aspect, and social aspect, you'll probably fail 99.9%.

I think the success won't come directly from these first generation protocols with this naive mindset. I think the only way to actually succeed in this wild wild west is to educate yourself on a deeper level. Then you'll quickly see that a lot of these high profile projects are bunch of bullshit. And maybe along the way, you can come up with your own solution that can truly become the "Uber of decentralization"

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