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Why Decentralised Applications Don’t Work (ingrids.space)
423 points by intarga 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 296 comments



The author's definition of what makes a "decentralized application" is too strong and I don't agree that email isn't an example of a decentralized application. She argues that it's not because it's really hard to run your own mail server.

To me, "decentralized" doesn't mean every user has to run their own node. It means it's an open network, anyone can join, and there's no centralized control / censorship. You can buy a domain and use Proton, Fastmail, or any other provider to have your own email. If you become unhappy with them, it's easy to move. We have open specs that allow every service to interoperate, so you don't need to know or care what provider your recipient is using.


> I don't agree that email isn't an example of a decentralized application. She argues that it's not because it's really hard to run your own mail server.

I don't think this is a fair characterisation of the article. She argues that email is an example of something that is failing as a decentralised application: Google's power over email is too strong. This is very different from claiming that it isn't an example of a decentralised application.

Email and the web are decentralised applications. But they are not the email and the web of the 1990s, when their decentralisation was the killer feature that saw them beat out centralised networks. To try and live on a non-Google/non-Facebook web is like using Linux on the desktop in 2000: it's certainly possible, but it's a bit of a hairshirt.


Agreed and I will add that a huge reason Google is used by so many was very effective spam filtering. A huge reason why hosting your own email is hard? Getting filtered by Google because of the massive amount of spam they are blocking.

Spam filtering is a a very difficult thing to do well and Google's implementation was very good, very advanced, and trained on huge amounts of data. Something a normal person could never do on their own server and those who could would be spending a lot of time training the blocker which those using Google never even needed to think of.


Anecdote: although I have spamassassin set up to add a header to my email, my filter for moving likely spam into the appropriate folder is currently commented out, because I get so little spam. I get a very small amount at my public GitHub address, and a little more at one address that is in the source code of a FLO (free/libre/open) app I maintain, but it totals maybe one or two emails a month.

Public organizational emails in orgs I've been a part of (e.g. admin@example.com, community@example.com) get a little more spam, largely sales pitches from what appears to be actual humans at shady SEO companies. Maybe 2 a week.

I get way more "legitimate" corporate spam than actual unprompted/cold spam. The most egregious example in recent memory was when I made an online purchase at Bed, Bath, & Beyond, and made sure the "sign me up for the email list" checkbox was not selected. They sent me no fewer than four emails asking if I would like to sign up for their email list, including one titled, "Thanks for signing up for our email list!" (inside: "Just take this one last step to confirm your subscription <signup link>").

In conclusion, I perceive unwanted email to be largely a self-inflicted problem at present. For example, someone I know likes to complain about the quantity of email she receives, but also refuses to unsubscribe, because sometimes she sees something interesting in one of the many promotional lists she's on. I also don't understand people who say they're not bothered by advertising, but to each her own.


Agreed. After moving away from Gmail about 6 months ago to Namecheap Private Email, I am impressed at how little spam I get. It has SpamAssassin which is quite effective, but the overall spam volume is significantly lower than 10 years ago… and this is an old email address and domain I’m using, not new.


I just counted emails in my spam folder, and it is between 6 and 10 per day. Email I actually subscribed to or from other legit sources is in the range of 12-20, almost exactly twice of spam. I am not counting days when I do a contradictory post on local tech resource and getting hundreds of reply notifications.


Interesting. I assume you have a single email address, so you can't tell the source? (I have a catch-all at my domain ⇒ I use a different email for each site, which is how I know which addresses generate spam). Is your address posted publicly in plain-text somewhere?


Yes, it is a Gmail address, from the beginning of Gmail itself. I beleive it was exposed countless times since. This thread made me think about changing that and get a new address on a personal domain.


I'm not convinced Google really solved spam, they're just not afraid to turn the sensitivity on the filter way up even if that means a chunk of legitimate mail gets marked as spam. Most smaller admins seem concerned about correctness and so they don't do this.

I think this really sums up Google's M.O. in general.


I was there when they launched Gmail. I had an email account at almost every other big provider. Most of them were full of spam. Gmail was clean and the amount of legitimate emails misclassified was insignificant.

Everyone else had to up their game due to Gmail. On all fronts.


Comparing a new gmail account to an older account that hat many more chances to end up on spam lists is not really fair though.


Honestly, over years I think the amount of emails that were marked as spam but actually weren't (they were news letters that I didn't consider as spam but also were not important) was below 5, I think.

meanwhile tons of spam (crypto related) is marked as spam, without that it'd be pain enter my mailbox


even if that means a chunk of legitimate mail gets marked as spam

Obviously a personal anecdote, but I signed up for Gmail close to when it first came out, and I don't think I've ever had a legitimate piece of mail marked as spam.

I remember people clamoring to sign up for Gmail because it was the new thing, it had the counter that kept going up with "a lot" of storage space, etc. Folks were even paying others for a Gmail invite.


> Most smaller admins seem concerned about correctness and so they don't do this.

This, definitely. Take a look at gmail spam folder, it's always full of false positives.


> Even if that means legitimate mail gets marked as spam

I think that’s “especially as”. Other mail providers are competition, after all.


This seems to be a rule - “inbound” decentralized systems are susceptible to the spam problem - but “outbound” ones like DNS seem to work OK. Nobody cares if you create fifty billion sub domains.


maybe Google does (or could), not sure where their algorithm stands on many subdomains.


Spam seems pretty "solved" (if one can call it that) problem nowadays though. Most people who run their own servers simply put SpamAssassin and a couple of other tweaks; not much fuss is needed anymore.


I second that. At work we run our own email server (50 people company). I receive single spam message maybe like once in two weeks. With a Gmail home account I have that once in a month.

A slightly more problematic is targeted phishing attacks, where the attackers try to put at least some work-relevant information “. Some of those attempts are not so trivial. I do receive them few times per year, while with GMail I do not remember getting one in at least a year. But on other hand I am not so sure that Google will defend against those if we have used GMail at work.


I’ve occasionally wondered why the responsibility to mitigate abuse can’t be pushed all the way out to edge nodes (individual ISPs and data centers) instead of relying on centralized abuse prevention. I imagine this does happen for certain kinds of abuse, but wouldn’t the threat of others not peering with your node be good motivation for ISPs not to provide services to spammers?


That's one big part of what Google does, and it's part of why it's so hard to get Google to accept self hosted email. They have a list of known good hosts (that they effectively "peer" with), and if you're not on that list your mail may or may not make it into a Gmail inbox.


> Agreed and I will add that a huge reason Google is used by so many was very effective spam filtering.

I wish this meme could die. gmail spam filtering isn't particularly good, it never has been. They crank up the false positive rate high enough that the spam in your inbox is about comparable to other solutions, but at the expense of tons of false positives.

I've had a gmail account since the launch. Been there got the tshirt (literally.. have a tshirt of the launch when they were bragging about 1GB storage). I've also been managing email servers and mailing lists since the very early 90s to today.

Notice every site that interacts with email has the ubiquitous warning abot "check your spam folder"? Not solely, but largely a legacy of so many users on gmail getting used to so much legitimate email going to spam. it doesn't have to be that way.

You can easily to an order of magnitude better on fewer false positives while still getting less spam overall in your inbox, by running your own email servers.

I haven't had a false positive in ... certainly many years on my own email on my servers. And a bit less spam getting through than on the gmail account.

> Getting filtered by Google because of the massive amount of spam they are blocking.

gmail has a big false positive problem, yes, but it isn't any worse for you as a sender if you run your own email servers. I experience more false positives emailing from work account to work account (both sides hosted by gmail) than from personal account (hosted by me) to gmail.

> Spam filtering is a a very difficult thing to do well

Spam filtering is actually not hard anymore. I've been running email servers and mailing lists from before spam existed, through its rise and later fall. There was a time, ca.2000, when it was hard. Because nearly every legitimate email server was misconfigured, so one had to allow it all through, but most was spam. So it took a lot of client side filtering.

These days, very easy. Legitimate senders are well configured, so just reject all misconfigured clients at the SMTP connection. There, that's 95%+ of spam blocked. The few remaining items are easily filtered by whichever bayesian filter you like. I'm using spamprobe. Done. No spam. No false positives.


> Spam filtering is a a very difficult thing to do well and Google's implementation was very good, very advanced, and trained on huge amounts of data. Something a normal person could never do on their own server

I'm sure most normal people could install SpamAssassin and configure it to use community blacklists on their Dovecot/Postfix server. It's not that hard.


I run a mailinabox server for almost half a year and gmail is a pita. I send an email to a gmail user and it always goes into spam. I have to phone them to unspam it but next day same thing. Yahoo mail or others dont seem have this issue because I have 10/10 on the dkim something scorecard.

Google somehow wants to force me to not use my email server. Fuck them


Do you have a residential IP?

It you don't have dmarc enabled that is for sure worth doing too.


Name an ISP that will allow non-filtered TCP port 25 traffic for a non-business account to go through.


A $5 reverse proxy with a cloud/colo IP goes a long way (so you can map 25 -> whatever you like).

It does mean your traffic is centralized through a data center, but it probably goes through one already...


i am using racknerd


It's been 5+ years since I've last used SpamAssassin, but at that time it didn't hold a candle to Gmail's spam filtering.

Also you're incredibly alienated if you think a "normal person" could manage their own mailserver. 95%+ of western people couldn't use a CLI.


Hm, personally I feel Google is cheating. While they catch also all spam they also catch a lot of legitimate mails. I have a couple of accounts at Google and one at a company which uses SoamAssasin and I prefer that SoamAssasin setup since it has way less false positives but still catch most spam.


> A huge reason why hosting your own email is hard? Getting filtered by Google because of the massive amount of spam they are blocking.

> Spam filtering is a a very difficult thing to do well and Google's implementation was very good

How can these two sentences be true at the same time?


I don't work at google nor have any details on this, but I would assume that just because they could detect it doesn't mean that it doesn't have a cost and blocking things which don't meet some minimum trust level from Google's perspective would cut a lot of the noise down from naive spamming.


My reconciliation:

Spam filtering is very hard. Therefore there are some content based rules and some sender based rules. Google is very good at both of those, which means in this context means accuracy and precision based on content and strictness based on sender. Sender based rules make it hard for spammers to send mail pretending to be from a domain, but does make it harder for anyone to send mail. Hosting your own mail server means hosting the authorization architecture to prove you're not a spammer, which makes it harder.


it’s not written clearly, but google does tend to spam filter email from independent domains along with all the obvious spam. they use a legitimate feature as a cudgel against competitors and to lock-in all that juicy personal data flow. it’s one thing to compete with a better spam filter. it’s another to aim it at potential competitors. pretty despicable actually.


Google mail is used by so many because it has resources to make it free.


> Agreed and I will add that a huge reason Google is used by so many was very effective spam filtering. A huge reason why hosting your own email is hard? Getting filtered by Google because of the massive amount of spam they are blocking.

No. It is the domain. No one else in this business has a short pronounceable *mail.com


> No. It is the domain. No one else in this business has a short pronounceable *mail.com

Except for, oh, I don't know, maybe https://mail.com/ ?


Wow, you get this popup on the site :

    Note: Your browser version is outdated. We recommend using the new Firefox Browser. Download now for free!
My browser is up-to-date, their "download now" link takes you to their own download page with a custom Firefox download. They seem like call center scammer level scum. Wonder why Mozzila is allowing them to use their trademarks like this.


They aren't really in a serious email business.


the name is not as good as hotmail, mainly because the standard pronunciation is geemail, meaning that back when the name was not well known you could theoretically say gmail.com to someone and they might think you had said email.com if they were a little hard of hearing or your enunciation was not clear.

the implementation however was much better than hotmail or any other web-based email at the time.

To argue the name was the important aspect is to argue marketing is more important than the quality of what is being marketed, an idea that HN is generally not very open to.


> the name is not as good as hotmail, mainly because the standard pronunciation is geemail, meaning that back when the name was not well known you could theoretically say gmail.com to someone and they might think you had said email.com if they were a little hard of hearing or your enunciation was not clear

gmail became a brand nearly immediately via initial scarcity of invitations. Hotmail and yahoo mail sounded like idiotic kid email addresses. Webmail never tried doing email. Pobox.com did only forwarding and was too linked to the physical mail in the mind of people. Same went for mailboxes.com.

> To argue the name was the important aspect is to argue marketing is more important than the quality of what is being marketed, an idea that HN is generally not very open to.

Yet the only successful companies are the companies with great marketing and an OK ( or more product ).


>gmail became a brand nearly immediately via initial scarcity of invitations

yes, to us (the techies), but there are billions of people in the world who didn't know who or what gmail was for a at least 4-5 years. I specifically made the observation of geemail sounding like email because I had that experienced less than a decade ago giving the address to a dentist's secretary in Denmark.

>Yet the only successful companies are the companies with great marketing and an OK ( or more product ).

first of all I'd say Google had a great product and ok marketing for a few years, nowadays they have great marketing, an ok product, and built in market dominance.

So I suppose I can accept that good marketing is a prerequisite but not sufficient.

That said what do you mean by successful? I mean great marketing being required for successful makes you think that the only successful companies can be ones you've heard of, because how successful can a company be that you've never heard of.

And on that note when I tell people I used to work for Thomson Reuters and nobody knows who that is I suppose this means Thomson Reuters is not a successful company?


> yes, to us (the techies), but there are billions of people in the world who didn't know who or what gmail was for a at least 4-5 years. I specifically made the observation of geemail sounding like email because I had that experienced less than a decade ago giving the address to a dentist's secretary in Denmark.

I would say you have to look at the alternative names - hotmail? yahoo.com? gmail sounds like a fantastic choice.

> That said what do you mean by successful? I mean great marketing being required for successful makes you think that the only successful companies can be ones you've heard of, because how successful can a company be that you've never heard of.

Your target customers know who you are.

> And on that note when I tell people I used to work for Thomson Reuters and nobody knows who that is I suppose this means Thomson Reuters is not a successful company?

Random people are not customers of Thomson Reuters and Thompson Reuters is not in a market of converting them. Those that consume news content as a part of their product know who Thompson Reuters is.


>Your target customers know who you are.

I guess if that is the requirement I would say adequate marketing is required to succeed.


Yahoo tried to make Ymail a thing, but that was long after they'd lost most their market to Google.


No one took @yahoo.com addresses serious.


hotmail.com? Just as many syllables


Terrible, potentially offensive, branding.


hotmail.com seems to meet the "short pronounceable *mail.com" criterion.


Then the argument can better be characterized as “The final result of a free market is an eventual monopoly.

It is not about centralization but about one player winning and beating the competition in that case.


I think that's a fair characterisation of her premises. For instance, she argues that these outcomes aren't happening because of any systematic quality difference in the products: many centralised products that win significant marketshare are a bit ordinary. I'm not in a position to judge that claim; I tend to avoid products that make gratuitous demands on my personal data so I have less material to compare, but the idea that a universal Electron app is better than a variety of independently developed native apps is certainly not one I would rush to accept.

Her actual conclusion is that in order to create a market whose average members are free, we need more regulation.


She'd be wrong about that too. Just look at how much better email is than instant messaging. It has succeeded infinitely more at being a decentralized application than IM.


Well that is an argument no-one is making. No one is comparing email and IM and asking which is succeeding better at being a decentralised application. You're right: email is certainly less centralised than Whatsapp. But it's a red herring. The comparison is between the original implementation of email as a decentralised system and the current experience of email, which is highly centralised.

In the olden days, any business could say in good faith "I want to offer email services" and they would have been treated pretty much the same as any other good faith provider of email service. But today, a business who wanted to start up an email service is insane; just check out the nearby thread of a person who replaced Mailchimp with a semi-self-rolled service. As a matter of fact, no matter what the RFCs say, people in the industry do not treat email as decentralised.

This is partially because people joined the network in bad faith, but it's also because a small number of large nodes are able to assume anyone who isn't known to them is acting in bad faith and therefore force people towards the larger nodes.

As I said before, email and the web continue to be usable in a decentralised fashion, but to do so involves wearing a hairshirt. This is the failure of decentralised applications. The author of the article has a view that is closer to "the market is only as free as its weaker members" rather than the view more fashionable hereabouts "the market is only as free as its stronger members", which leads to a different conclusion. It would probably lead to more insightful disagreements to discuss this underlying difference rather than arguing about what technologies email is less centralised than. (Edit to clairfy: These things in quotation marks are not quotes. The quotation marks are used to help delimit the propositions.)


My point is that it's better than the alternative. A "failed" decentralized protocol like SMTP is better than several "successful" silo'ed IM clients, payment providers, forum platforms, etc. Framing it as a failure without context leaves out the important detail that it's still more successful than centralized but balkanized solutions.


Decentralised doesn’t mean egalitarian, though.


Protocols like e-mail, Mastodon and Matrix where the server-to-server protocol is decentralized/peer-to-peer but clients interact with the network through designated servers are generally considered "federated" (which can be either considered as distinct from or a subset of "decentralized")

So the author seems to take "decentralized" here to mean "fully decentralized and peer-to-peer", which is indeed an unconventionally strong definition. But later on, they mention IRC, which is centralized by any definition... Actually, the author doesn't seem to be working from a strong definition at all and they seem to have given this very shallow thought and research.


> Protocols like e-mail, Mastodon and Matrix

I must correct you here on "Protocols like Mastodon". The protocol that underlies the Fediverse is the W3C ActivityPub Recommendation [0] and making that distinction is really important. Not doing so would encourage centralization in the same ways as discussed elsewhere in this thread for Email vs. Gmail.

Mastodon is just a fediverse app that was an early adopter of ActivityPub, and managed to become quite popular. Part of this due to a better productization, and the jumpstart this gave them offering the best features first. To many newcomers Fediverse === Mastodon, but - while understandable - this is massively shortselling the interop capabilities of the protocol.

What has already happened by Mastodon dominance is that they are driving the technological direction, but not necessarily in the best possible way and to the overall benefit of the Fediverse. They have a custom client API for instance that is becoming a de-facto standard, adopted by others out of convenience.

[0] https://www.w3.org/TR/activitypub/


Your point would be true if ActivityPub was a properly defined specification, but it isn't. It is voluntarily vague in many places to accommodate for the differences in implementations, which means that each implementation needs to understand how other software works to interoperate. So in practice it is more accurate to say "Protocol like Mastodon", because even if you can talk with Mastodon it doesn't mean you can talk with Pleroma or Pixelfeed or others.

More details here: https://overengineer.dev/blog/2019/01/13/activitypub-final-t...


Great clarification - thank you for calling it out.


Their definition seems less strong and different than portrayed in your comment. Below is the definition from the article.

"To clarify what I mean by decentralised: applications whose main purpose is fulfilled as part of a network, where that network is not reliant on any preordained nodes. Decentralised applications are also known as “federated”. There is also a more specific term “distributed”, also known as “peer to peer”. I won’t cover the distinction with the more specific terms because it’s not relevant here. I use the word application in a looser sense, to also cover protocols and specifications."


I somehow glanced over this, thanks for pointing it out. This definition suggests that "federated" is strictly equal to "decentralized", which is coincidentally not strictly in conflict with what I wrote (though a very unorthodox definition of federated, as it doesn't imply any federation).

Even so, IRC has no business in this list per the authors definition.


> Even so, IRC has no business in this list per the authors definition.

The "network" part is arguable, but IRC does not require any pre-ordained nodes, which matches the author's definition.

It's a small part of full decentralization, but an important one. Being able to point your Facebook Messenger client at a different server would be a big step.


That's not decentralized, that's just open source.


> Being able to point your Facebook Messenger client at a different server would be a big step.

Interestingly, you used to be able to do the inverse: point your XMPP client at Facebook Messenger. I'm pretty sure they never supported federation, but you could connect clients to multiple servers and have a relatively seamless experience from a single client.


Using the terminology most commonly found in the crypto space, email is not decentralized but rather federated. This is because participation in the email ecosystem requires permission from other participants in the email ecosystem. If only 5% of the ecosystem is willing to forward your emails, most of your emails aren't going to make it to their destination.

Conversely, in the blockchain space anyone can participate in the blockchain. If a miner refuses to mine your transactions, that's profit that another miner can pick up. And if worst comes to worst, you can set up your own mining infrastructure and mine that transaction yourself - if the system is working correctly, you never need permission from someone else at all to participate. (there are some assumptions here, and if you choose to reject those assumptions as valid you can reasonably claim that blockchains aren't decentralized either)


Federation implies decentralization. Decentralization is derived from centralization...


> To me, "decentralized" doesn't mean every user has to run their own node. It means it's an open network, anyone can join, and there's no centralized control / censorship.

I'm confused, because it seems like you agree with the author. She says

>> My statement that email can be used without involving Google is technically true, but anyone they blacklist will quickly realise that they’re largely locked out of the global email network.

She is stating that the problem with email isn't that it is an open network, but that it is effectively centralized by a few big players. It might as well be a centralized service. The protocol may be open but if you aren't using a major centralized service you're going to experience a lot more difficulty, including potentially being black listed by these big players. Just getting accidentally classified as spam on one of them and you will locked out. Not to mention dealing with all the spam if you roll your own.

> If you become unhappy with them, it's easy to move.

I think this is an absurd statement and you know it or you are lying to yourself. Sure, forwarding exists but that's not exactly moving. If you've ever tried moving email addresses you'd know how difficult this is. It's significantly harder than moving phone numbers, which also isn't that easy. Just think of every account that you now need to modify. Sure, you don't need to port every account, but there's more than you probably think.


I have moved email provider multiple times without any of that pain. It is easy. I just point my domain name at new MX servers.


Do you have any advice how to best move the old emails to the new IMAP account?

My current provider started getting flaky when they were bought out by a larger one, but I've been putting it off for years trying to move. Maybe offlineimap to a local box, probably best to have your own backup anyway.


You can use offlineimap or mbsync to transfer from an IMAP server to another IMAP server


Moving gmail to my own fastmail was really easy.


I think that's the problem with 99% of articles about decentralized/federated/etc systems. Nobody can agree on what properties they want and everyone ends up talking past each other.


Someone needs to establish a terminology!


often times when debating another professional we'll start things off by laying out exactly how we're using each term, and for the extent of the debate we'll agree on some specific definitions, or sometimes even make up temporary nonsense words so that the debate can be productive.


[flagged]


There are zero standards for this terminology, aren't there?


There is one standard per distributed application research paper

https://scholar.google.fr/scholar?q=distributed+application


Exactly that is both the strength and the weakness. The strength consists in the inability of any one party to dominate the network. The weakness is the noise and ineffectiveness of communication.


I think you miss my point.

Whether or not its possible for one party to dominate the network is one of the potential properties of a "distributed" system that people cannot agree on if its required in the definition.

For example, napster, TOR and IRC are arguably "distributed" systems where there is a central party that controls the network.


there are different definitions for being distributed.

IRC is a distributed system much like a CDN is distributed, that is spread across the network.

what we are actually interested in is distributed ownership.

email is that, as is the web, but IRC is not


This is exactly what OP was referring to: that's what you are actually interested in, but not everyone.


yes of course, the article is giving examples how systems with distributed ownership are failing because not everyone cares about that. so distributed ownership is what she is interested in, and hence that is the topic of our discussion.


That may be so, although the author's own words doesn't clearly state that ("To clarify what I mean by decentralised: applications whose main purpose is fulfilled as part of a network, where that network is not reliant on any preordained nodes." - nothing about ownership there. Master<->Master db replication meets that definition, but is petty clearly not the type of thing you are referring to. Regardless in context you're probably right abouy which definition the author is using).

Nonetheless, that doesn't make it any less of a problem that the definitions are severely overloaded. The issue is not that the article is unclear in its definitions (even though it is imo), the issue is that its hard to have discussions about the topic and compare to other articles, because people talk past each other. Words having agreed meanings is important so we can connect ideas to a broader context and not just talk about individual articles in isolation.


Given the history of efnet, i actually think irc fits really nicely into the author's premise.


well not quite. since nicks and channels are replicated across all servers it should be clear that any irc op can control all nicks and channels. hence control is centralized and its merely distributed-replicated on a technical level even if governance is so trusting as to allow anyone to join.

distributed ownership, aka federation does not require trust between operators as each operator is trusted only to manage their own servers without being able to control entities that originate from other servers


It's important to be able to pick which server you use, if only servers maintained by app developers are allowed companies like Apple dictate the moderation policies.


IMO what you’re describing is usually not considered “decentralized”, but rather “open protocols” or “open standards”


I don't think so as there exist centralized, open protocols.

Email is (at the server level) a peer to peer network, only tied to DNS/BGP as the only central points, with a global namespace. That can't be said for a lot of open standards.


It's more than open standards. XMPP is open but doesn't mean google will federate with you.


I run my own server for receiving, but use the ISP's server for sending. I have had no problems.

But, yes, that doesn't mean you have to run your own node. However, it should include the possibility to do so.


do you also use your own domain for sending?

i can't see how i would host my own mail server with my domain, but then send emails from that domain via someone else.

the only way i could see that working is to use the ISP/other service as a relay to forward my mails.


The email address does have my own domain name. This way, responses are sent correctly. The ISP is used as a "smart host" to relay the outgoing messages, while incoming messages come in directly; this is provided as an option when setting up Exim using the package manager.


Basically you can be decentralized at the wholesale level but not retail. Like the internet.


She cited email as an example of a decentralized system, in her case studies.


Calling decentralised software centralised because companies built good defaults on top is a fallacy. Email, the web and torrents are definitely success story.

I don't like cryptocurrencies (those who are unbacked and resource hungry, I like the tech behind) but bringing payments in the software world and out of financial gatekeepers could exactly the missing piece of the puzzle to have even more working decentralised apps.

Recognising this doesn't help with criticising capitalism, I guess.


It isn't a fallacy, and in any case the article isn't claiming that decentralised software has become centralised because companies have built good defaults on top, so that's a complete strawman.


Agree, that's the different between decentralized (like github and gitlab) and distributed (peer-to-peer like ipfs and zeronet)


The decentralized applications don't need to "win" (in market share) to be successful. They just need to be viable alternatives for a non-insignificant number of principled people willing to use them. This is enough to ensure that big players are kept in check. It's a basic application of Taleb's "Minority Rule" [0]

I don't care that gmail has the majority of the market. I care that Google can not simply break compatibility with SMTP/IMAP and force everyone into their version of it. And no, "it's hard to self-host" is not enough of an argument. There are plenty of smaller professional hosting companies and as long as there is an option this is enough to stop Google from monopolizing the market.

Likewise, I don't care that Matrix still doesn't have a perfectly polished client. As long as it lets me talk and have video calls with my family and friends without being forced into WhatsApp or iMessage or whatever closed solution is popular, I'm willing to deal with its inconveniences and shortcomings. Bugs can be fixed, privacy violations can't.

Crypto as well. For all the talk about "investment opportunities" in crypto and the "get rich quick" schemes, there are still a good number of people working on it that understand that the important thing is to have an alternative to the existing financial system.

The worst part of the article though is not that it presents a problem that does not exist, it's the proposed solution: political intervention and regulation always works out in favor of the status quo. If you really want to kill whatever grassroots movement or attempt at breaking away from the big players, just throw the political/bureaucratic apparatus on top of it.

[0]: https://medium.com/incerto/the-most-intolerant-wins-the-dict...


> political intervention and regulation always works out in favor of the status quo.

A bold statement needs strong evidence. "Always" is already debunked with one counter-example. A look at the history of the labor movement or that of anti-trust legislation proves you wrong. Former pushed for worker-friendly legislation out of a grassroots and labor party-based movement, achieving laws that are often more demanding of larger companies. And latter may have seen a lack of enforcement since the Reagan era, but is chiefly centered on making big companies pay.


Do you mean the same "labor-friendly" laws that pushed all manufacturing and labor intensive industry out of rich countries and into China, or do you mean the laws that made it impossible for small-medium business to compete with the big crony capitalists?

Never mind, it doesn't matter because it is completely orthogonal to my point. My point is that regulation works by applying top-down, global uniform of rules. It mandates centralized executive power, which is the polar opposite of bottom-up/localist/fractal/decentralized development of new tech and its applications.

"Making big companies pay" does not contradict "favoring the status quo". All that big banks want now is to be able to regulate crypto, so that they can keep away any threat of a disruptive business coming out of it. Same applies to Big Media and it is insistence of controlling information under the pretense of "battling fake news". Big Telco pushed for a long time to regulate OTT services, and this is until today it is so difficult to decouple voice from data plans. Facebook/ Twitter welcome regulation, because it will make basically impossible for small fediverse providers to grow and compete with them.

Regulation favors the status quo, how much more evidence do you need?


All I can really say in response to this article is that I expect it to age poorly.

2021 is just a bad time to make confident pronouncements about decentralization. The vast majority of the population is living in Facebook/WhatsApp/Discord/Visa&Mastercard land, sure.

But I'm a heavy Matrix user, it works great. I torrent all the time: it works great. I'm also on urbit, and it works great. I don't use Mastodon personally but I hear few complaints from people who do. Podcasts are fine, other applications of RSS are pretty crippled by bad defaults of only including a little bit of the blog post, but Substack at least doesn't do it that way, which has me using an RSS reader again. It's nice!

The big elephant is the cybercoins, and it's just a weird time to declare them a failure. It's like no one remembers 2017, this has practically been a carbon copy, just with more institutional buy-in and bigger numbers.

No one knows if cryptocurrency is going to fulfill the promise of becoming a global store of value, let alone if it will be Bitcoin or Ethereum or some dark horse: but it pretty much has to go from worth nothing to worth everything, and the middle stages of that are going to be weird.

The one I'm really betting on is Matrix, though. They have reliable income from the French and German governments, and plenty of motive to make a really good platform. I fully expect them to be as slick and featureful as Slack and Discord within a couple of years, and start to eat those company's lunch.

"Redecentralization" is harder than the first phase of building a green-field decentralized Internet, because there are entrenched powers with a head start. But there are some compelling advantages to decentralized technology, with means, motive, and opportunity, to build them out.

Yeah. Don't think it will age well. Let's check back in around 2031 and see what actually happened.


"But I'm..."

A specific user from a niche geek website, a rounding error, an anecdote.

I'm glad for those fighting against these walled garden overlords, but let's keep in mind we're talking about a side with thousands of people VS a side with billions of people. Numbers matter, and the fall of these giants is still far away.

If anything, the battle is starting from recent anti-competition and privacy concerns in the public sphere, which is a good thing, but the public remains unaware of these niche distributed tools.


This is really tricky because of course if I point to my non technical friends and family who use my Matrix instance, it's possible to say well that's just because they want to talk to the technical people on there, except that's the entire point of the comment you're replying to: the technical few act as the opinionated minority that can sway the majority once a switching cost is low enough. I think it's possible to believe both that this is a potential mechanism for change and that as you say, any victory is far away.


Indeed, change might be ongoing, started already, and take 10+ or 20+ years

(Took Facebook 8 years to reach 1 billion monthly active users)


You are a technology influencer, according to the research of those large companies.

We are the ones who give the network effect to those services.


And those same companies have entire departments, with huge budgets, to promote their stuff, draw people into them, discourage people from using those other services, buy out influencers, etc

It's not a fair fight and it will never be.

I wouldn't say it's completely lost, but it's not far.


Signal was an impossible uphill battle on inception.

Nothing in tech is impossible — it's far too new.


Signal hasn't "won" yet. Though it's good that it's close enough to be a viable alternative.

On the other hand, isn't Signal backed by literal billionaires?


At first the internet was only used by weird geeks


And now it's used by everyone.


Hey, author here.

I hope it does age poorly. I tried to make it clear that I’m a prolific user of decentralised applications, and that I really want them to succeed. I just pointed out my feelings on why they usually don’t, in the hope we can do something about it.


> I just pointed out my feelings on why they usually don’t

I think this part of the article, instead of just being the last four paragraphs, should have been almost all of it. As it is, you make some very strong claims with no supporting argument whatsoever:

"the solution has to be political"

"The current system of profit motives, one might call it a market, was designed to optimise the process of extracting, refining, and transforming physical resources."

"some like to idealise the aforementioned market as a free and unregulated system, the truth is that it optimises rather poorly under those circumstances, and needs heavy regulation to align profit motives in the direction of efficient processing and distribution of resources."

And this in a footnote:

"I’m not convinced we should [keep these profit motives at all]"

All of this needs a lot of justification.


... Does it? The author made it pretty clear throughout the article that (in their opinion; see the "Blockchain" section) the walled-gardening comes from having to trap in your users in order to make some money from your service. The conclusion that you need to change the (larger picture) motivations for the existence of these services in order not to fall into this behaviour seems logical to me. (And, of course, if you want to change social organisation/motivation, the solution has to be political.)


> Does it?

Yes, because...

> in their opinion


> see the Blockchain section

They expand on why that is their opinion just fine.


Evidently you and I have very different standards for what counts as an explanation.


Got to love the people that think they understand Bitcoin when their arguments and reasoning show exactly the opposite. I suggest you get of your high horse and actually do some research. You just come across as the typical entitled westerner


I hope you're right about Matrix. I use it for my developer conferences [0] but their main chat client [1] is still derided by my audience. Subpar UX is the barrier to overcome.

Element has come far, but Slack and Discord have more solid product direction.

[0] https://www.handmade-seattle.com

[1] https://element.io


I'd also be interested in hearing what UX gripes your audience has, and am surprised to hear you praise Slack, which has lately become the just-good-enough-to-not-be-bad slow and bloated default.


I wouldn't dare say Slack has buttery-smooth performance. The problem with Element is all the little "what the f#ck?" bugs that add up.

An emblematic example is where the Android app sometimes glitches out and makes it seem a message you sent was sent by someone else. To be charitable I heard a fix is "on the way," but wow.

The markdown editor can also be glitchy. When I use italics or the triple backticks for code it won't always render in your client. It still feels like a hit and miss (albeit far more rare these days.)


> the Android app sometimes glitches out and makes it seem a message you sent was sent by someone else

Wow, ouch.

> When I use italics or the triple backticks for code it won't always render in your client

Infuriatingly, Slack very often does the same thing. It's super broken.


> An emblematic example is where the Android app sometimes glitches out and makes it seem a message you sent was sent by someone else. To be charitable I heard a fix is "on the way," but wow.

Hmm, interesting, do you have a link to the issue? This is the first time I hear about this bug.


Are there any specific UX pain points that frequently get raised?


See my reply to the comment above. Sometimes I feel these UX issues or bugs linger for too long, even if they're acknowledged. Could be due to the complexity of open-source + decentralization but still :(


Matrix is one team trying to build three apps. Android, iOS, and web are all distinct code bases. Plus all the server side stuff.

They’ve taken on a huge amount of work.


Not "giving them up" anytime soon. I'll continue to use Matrix at the conference.


Oh cool -- what do you use urbit for? Internet chat?

I bought a star ages back but haven't done anything with it, I curiously read their update emails but remain tickled/skeptical by the oddball Hoon semantics and design language. Don't get me wrong, all with a layer of hopeful bemusement at the spectacle of it.

I'm very curious as to your thoughts.


Right now the main urbit application is Landscape, which is written by Tlon. Anyone can start a group, invite-only or public, and inside a group you can have as many channels as you want, which come in three flavors: chat, 'collection' which is basically a linkdump, and a notebook, which is blogging, with or without comments. Landscape also offer direct messages, and a cute little weather app and sunrise/sunset clock.

It... works. It feels like running Matrix, or any other chat application, so it's easy to forget that everyone you interact with is a peer. Everyone is the admin of their own group, if they have one, and if they don't, they can start one by clicking a button.

Tlon is doing hosting now, or if someone is capable of setting up a droplet or whatever it's pretty straightforward to do yourself. Right now the hard part is getting a planet, because of the gas fees, but there's some kind of rollup solution coming along to make that cheaper. A comet remains free, and always will be; probably not the right answer if you want to run a group, but to get your feet wet, it works just fine.

There's some neat stuff coming down the pipeline, but right now urbit is stable, performs well enough, and it's cozy and calm. No one really advertises their groups, but if you find some urbit people on Twitter (which is easy) they can point you in some good directions to get started.


> The one I'm really betting on is Matrix, though. They have reliable income from the French and German governments, and plenty of motive to make a really good platform. I fully expect them to be as slick and featureful as Slack and Discord within a couple of years, and start to eat those company's lunch.

I don't think it even needs to be that. Most people (in the west) are tired of all of these apps, and their data collection, they just don't have an application that just works. If Element had better branding (maybe focusing on the Matrix bridges), then people would jump on board immediately.


> they just don't have an application that just works. If Element had better branding, then people would jump on board immediately.

Granted it's been a year since I last tried Matrix/Element, but back then it didn't "just work" despite many on HN claiming it did. My experience was far worse than Signal, which honestly I haven't had many problems with and many here claim it doesn't "just work."[0] I hit plenty of bugs in WA too. I think the difference is that I notice the centralized apps fix their bugs faster and that speed is proportional to the size of the parent company. Thing is if it is resolved quickly people just forget the bugs exist (and we also remember bugs more for apps which we haven't been using for long). There's a strong cult like mentality for Matrix, on HN, and I just don't get it (I don't get the cult mentality of Signal either, but HN is fairly anti-Signal so I'm not sure that needs to be addressed but we can). I love the idea of decentralization, but I just haven't seen it pan out and it still looks like it has a long way to go. I hope you all are right, but I'm not going to hold my breath and I don't think "just better marketing" is what's needed. There's a lot more.

[0] Disclaimer, I am still a Signal user because I want to support encryption and privacy and I don't see Matrix there yet and moving ecosystems is difficult. I'll take whatever encrypted and private service I can get friends to use that also doesn't require any tech literacy (this is an extreme must because most of my friends and family don't know a monitor from a desktop).


That was my experience eighteen months ago as well.

Four months ago, when we put in the work server, it works great. Not perfectly, some bugs with key management across multiple devices, but smooth enough to be the grand central station of our all-remote company.


> If Element had better branding (maybe focusing on the Matrix bridges)

The folks at https://www.beeper.com/ are pursuing exactly that angle, all based on Matrix.


> "The big elephant is the cybercoins, and it's just a weird time to declare them a failure. It's like no one remembers 2017, this has practically been a carbon copy"

Exactly. This has been a re-run of 2017, and that is plenty enough reason to declare them a failure.

What happened to all the 2017 projects that raised billions during the last hype cycle based on breathless promises of decentralized wonderlands? They delivered absolutely nothing that anyone is using in the real world. "DeFi" is bullshit leverage products for speculators. NFTs are cryptokitties but somehow more stupid.

The whole scene is just a Ponzi Construction Kit for the gullible and greedy.


> "DeFi" is bullshit leverage products for speculators

No. With Compound, Aave and dydx you have DeFi-Dapps that allow you to borrow Dollars (I.e. stable coins pegged to the dollar) and earn interest between 2-15% APR (there are no savings accounts out there that will get you that rate, at least in Europe with negative interest rates). All apps are integrated in the Coinbase wallet. In contrast to speculation on rising Bitcoin or Ether this is a rather safe investment. It’s only still hampered by the Ethereum transaction fees which are currently really high (but not all of the time).

Furthermore, there are decentralized exchange Dapps that seem to have been going on well so far even through the current dump.

If I were you, I would invest a little bit of your savings in Ether and just wait what happens. It’s got a huge potential to disrupt the banking business and change finance forever.


"apps that allow you to borrow Dollars (I.e. stable coins pegged to the dollar) and earn interest between 2-15% APR"

The very definition of "bullshit leverage products for speculators". This is a rather safe investment in the same sense that subprime mortgage-backed securities were in 2007.


This is a really myopic view on uses of crypto and the BitTorrent protocol. There's so much more going on than criminal applications.

BitTorrent is used in a lot of settings for data distribution and for software distribution. Saying it's just for pirating reveals the author's laziness. Several of these use-cases are listed in the wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitTorrent

As for crypto, I recommend people read about Bitcoin being used for the purposes of sending remittances to start.


Also the author laments that bittorrent is not used for 1:1 transfers. Bittorrent's strength is in distributing bandwidth for popular files. Direct file transfers between people who know each other isn't really its target. So i feel that's a pretty unfair criticism.

You don't always need to take over the world to be succesful. Its fine to have a niche and just do that really well.


I think Bittorrent could be made usable for 1:1 transfers. The building blocks are there. But you'd have to streamline the process and build a client optimized for that case instead of the more common usage. The main missing piece would be a standardized encryption format. That doesn't really need protocol changes, just a storage-level convention how the data is encrypted before turning it into a torrent.


I'm not sure I see the point though?

For 1-to-1 transfers, Magic Wormhole is the system to beat, and I struggle to imagine how it could be improved.

https://github.com/magic-wormhole/magic-wormhole


I really wish magic wormhole worked conveniently on windows without obliging me to install python and pip and such. It's my go-to when sftp isn't an option, but for sftp not to be an option almost always means that one of the computers I'm trying to transfer between is a windows box.


Magic Wormhole has a good implementation in Go. It has windows binary.

https://github.com/psanford/wormhole-william

Windows binary: https://github.com/psanford/wormhole-william/releases/downlo...

There's GUI: https://github.com/Jacalz/wormhole-gui

Android app too: https://github.com/psanford/wormhole-william-mobile

The author is on HN as psanford


oh fantastic! thanks


That's reasonable, it's a great candidate for a rewrite in Go.



Wormhole requirement: "the URL of a publicly-available Rendezvous Server"

This means its not a self-sovereign system, like Bittorrent, GIT, and Bitcoin. Its no different then a central Napster server, the one that got dragged into court on November 1999. Scientists are still working on creating self-sovereign peer-to-peer systems. Its hard, but we're going to solve it in coming years.

Scientific community: "International Workshop series on Distributed Infrastructure for Common Good", https://dicg2020.github.io/ (disclaimer: involved scientist)


First time I hear about Magic Whatever™. Any modern download tool needs to be embedded into browsers and mobile OSes for it to have any chance these days.

I haven't seen any regular user use a separate download tool or a download manager for a decade or more.

Except for BitTorrent clients, but those aren't targeted at 1:1, of course :-)


What do you mean, could be? https://instant.io/ is just one of many webtorrent sites that do this. It's a wonderful use of bittorrent.


Webtorrent is not fully decentralized since webrtc needs signalling servers for each session (you can't even store credentials in a cache and reuse them later) and it doesn't have a DHT since UDP isn't available in browsers.

It's not the same as bittorrent proper.


Agreed, but I don't think there's a lot of motivation to do so. At that point, BitTorrent is just DCC in a new fur coat. As stated earlier, BT is most appropriately used in a setting where you want to download a single file from multiple sources, distributing the workload between them and your network. This results in faster downloads, and does so in a way that is decentralized (for the most part) and scalable by design.

So while it could be done, the question is really "should it be done"? I'd love to be able to send a file over the internet easily without using some centralized service, but if there's only 2 people that are meant to have the file, does the overhead of BitTorrent make any sense?


Isn't this basically Resilio's Sync ? I've been using it for years on smartphone backups that otherwise wouldn't be able to hold a sustained transfer.


Yes, me too. It also have 1:1 functions for sending a file easily or sync a folder between all your oomputers and phones.


We already have SFTP for this.


sftp doesn't do nat hole punching, does it?


> As for crypto, I recommend people read about Bitcoin being used for the purposes of sending remittances to start.

I followed your recommendation and this is what I found: bitcoin might, in theory, work for the purpose of sending remittances, but in practice it doesn't.

So, returning to the original question, can cryptocurrencies offer an innovative solution for migrant remittances to developing countries? Yes and no. In theory, cryptocurrencies can really provide an effective and economical channel for money transfers to help alleviate poverty through remittances. However, there are two principle problems. Firstly, coins such as Bitcoin remain too volatile, in fact ten times more volatile than major currencies (Baur & Dimpfl 2021). This means that if migrants were to use such channel they would be exposing themselves to extreme risks. But, more importantly users of bitcoin may find themselves victims of speculative attacks, as the cryptocurrencies’ value remains completely speculatively constructed. Secondly, as with international bank transfers, cryptocurrencies need a bank account to buy and sell it. As explained above, having a bank account is not a given and represents a high barrier to entry for many of the poorest migrants.

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/humanrights/2021/04/29/cryptocurrenc...


Go learn what Strike just achieved in El Salvador for example. It works in practice and in theory. A big issue is people barely understand Bitcoin and then they try to crtitize it and always seem to fail spectacularly


I can't find any statistics or independent account of what Strike supposedly achieved in El Salvador, but if you have one I'll look at it.


Blizzard uses BitTorrent to distribute their games and patches https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Blizzard_Downloader


"was" is an important word in the first sentence there. They finished moving away from BitTorrent in 2013, and they'd phased out actual p2p transfers in favor of just using the BT client to download from a web seed a while before that.


If bittorent is used by hundreds of millions of people, if thsts not mainstream then nothing is.

How it's being used is a different problem, but it's certainly effective and popular.


Aside from association with piracy and not being a dropbox alternative because you have to keep the seeder online, it's more expensive for network operators than CDNs, connections often have much more downstream bandwidth, and connections are still sometimes capped. If you're Netflix or an ISP, you're better off getting ISPs to put your hardware in their facilities than having users seed content. The most interesting, viable application I've seen for Bittorrent-like technology is Microsoft seeding updates on a LAN.


If BitTorrent is so great why isn’t it used more today for file transfers vs hosted storage? Also it is mostly used for piracy because authorities cannot shut down a decentralized system.


It is.

Blizzard has been using it for years: https://wowpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Blizzard_Downloader

This company is new and is using it as a CDN: https://www.peer5.com/

Bittorrent is everywhere, just like Linux, and you mostly don't notice it.


Blizzard was been using it for few years, and does not for 8 years now.


Because browsers (except only Opera, it's Norwegian) don't want to turn on built-in torrent downloader, only because they know they'd got troubles from RIAA folks. There are some websites that offer downloads through torrents, like linux distros.


Doesn't the Windows update system use some form of torrents for faster downloads?


I think Windows 10 Delivery Optimization tech is a great example of (nearly) decentralized tech:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/deployment/update/w...


if I recall correctly, Blizzard's updater uses Bittorrent to distribute updates for WoW and other applications. So I'm confused by the fact people still focus on the piracy aspect of Bittorrent when there's been many commercial uses of the platform.


This article is laughably bad. I'm not even sure it's worth the time to give a counter response. The BitTorrent comment he made is objectively false and can be proven as such. Tons of game installers use torrents under the hood to distribute their massive game payloads.


Which game installers use torrents?


Blizzard and Star Citizen use torrents under the hood. Many others do as well, it's just hard to find documented confirmation.


she*


Don't judge the author too harshly. Ingrid presents an overall perspective of the entire field. Yes, some definitions are somewhat skewed, but I'm sure many people see things the same way. In a way, the fact the author wrote the article and we're all reading all these comments, is because we all care about this and we want to see a truly distributed web succeed. So it's ok to try to reason how we get there.

In all honestly, I've had very similar thoughts. As someone who started with BITNET before the Internet, I always believed "the Net" was supposed to level the field, and we no longer have to be "consumers" but rather willing participants capable of innovation, on our own right. I know, how naive.

Where I disagree is in the solution. It's not political. Whenever you think about the Internet, you MUST think global. I've had the chance to visit around 35 countries, and I've seen first hand how governments don't work for people, for the most part.

It comes down to this: we (geeks and nerds) need to get out of our comfort zone and think in terms of user experience. We CAN create amazing things. But we must think about the people using these solutions. People use Dropbox because it's easy, not because it's good. Same for Gmail and other services. If we are not creating solutions that can be used by anyone, in an easy and straightforward fashion, we're not doing our job. If companies don't see value in what we are creating when it could help them tremendously (i.e. IPFS) then WE are doing something wrong.

I think it all comes down to UX.


I largely nodded along with the post, I think it raised a lot of valid issues about the state of non-profit software

Yet, I think one big reason why non-profit solutions are so unpopular is not primarily about marking, but about the terrible, truly terrible UX that most non-profit projects have.

As far is I can tell this has (mostly) nothing to do with constrained resources and just with the extremely technical perspectives of the maintainers.

Element is a laggy Discord clone. Signal is years behind other messengers in terms of features and general UI quality, Thunderbird is stock in the early 2000s, same as VLC, and I don't know a lot of serious artists that are using GIMP.

So, even though this is surely not the only reason why open source projects are not widely used, I think it's a huge contributing factor.

There are shining example s though, like Blender, Godot or Mastodon, that are truly open source and have a great set of features paired with nice UX and I don't think they're doing too badly :)


> As far is I can tell this has (mostly) nothing to do with constrained resources and just with the extremely technical perspectives of the maintainers.

Discord, for example, has 450 full-time employees and is valued at $7 billion. I simply don't see how small non-profit teams, many of which are run primarily by volunteer labor, can compete with that in terms of UX. How many full-time designers or UX folks are working on GIMP or VLC?


What's wrong with VLC or Thunderbird? Nothing, they got replaced by online services which provide storage/content and not just the UI (usually the UI feature set of online services is actually inferior).


Which UX is good can be a matter of opinion, some people may prefer different programs. I use a IRC client which doesn't do a lot more than display raw IRC protocol messages with syntax highlighting and a few other things (such as shortcuts, macros, filters, auto-pong, etc), and I think it is better than any web chat that I have seen (profit or not), but I am strange, anyways. But, I am the kind of guy who use Heirloom-mailx for email (one thing it has is the ability to write an attachment to a pipe; most modern programs only support files and not pipes; a lot my own software is designed to import from and export to pipes instead of files, since I think that is more useful), who want to read the RFC before using the internet, and who learned Magic: the Gathering by reading the entire Comprehensive Rules before starting the game, and disliking USB, and preferring Plain TeX instead of LaTeX; which I think are the kind of things that most people hate. So, it is a matter of opinion, I suppose.

It seems to be a lot of more modern programs seem to have worse UX, in my opinion (part of the problem is lack of documentation, too); not whether or not it is profit. At least in my experience, profit makes many things worse because they try to be mass-marketing and more trying to earn money, rather than being first the quality of the product. And also, they put too many fancy animations and stuff.


All of the mentioned things work just fine.

In life, nothing is perfect. For example, I can't use a CPU based on an open ISA as my daily driver. Does that mean that CPUs "don't work"? Of course not.

The fact that something is used for illegal purposes means that it doesn't work? Does LSD "not work"?

The fact that something is hard to set up or maintain mean that it doesn't work? Does Linux not work? Do airplanes not work?

Does the fact that something is an environmental disaster mean that it doesn't work? Do cars not work? Do highways not work?


I think the idea of 'work' is not in a technical sense but in a business and social sense: does it see success at a large scale? As things get larger, they get harder to judge, so asking that about Linux and all airplanes and open source ISAs is kind of irrelevantly difficult, whereas it's pretty easy to talk about Matrix 'not working': I don't use it, my school doesn't use it, etc. It hasn't seen widespread adoption and success. To restate the OP with this definition, decentralized applications that do 'work' (see widespread success) are all 'owned' by some unknowably large corporation (Google for email, GitHub for Git, etc) in a way that emulates centralized applications (the restriction of traditional decentralized freedoms talked about in the article). Out of this, the post makes the point that if we see decentralized systems as 'good', then we have to face this as a failure of the 'free market' and try to think of or move to something better.


I think the author's underlying point is that all of the decentralised applications she's talking about rely on their having a large number of users communicating with one another in order to do what they're supposed to do, and that decentralised systems often perform poorly in terms of getting enough users for them to achieve that goal.

Imagine you came up with a technically superior version of email, and it functioned technically perfectly, but you were unable to convince anyone else to use it. Sure, it would "work" technically in a narrow functional sense, but it wouldn't "work" in terms of doing what it was actually designed to do. My taking LSD isn't really affected by other people doing so or not: it's a private thing. But my sending an email is: it's a network interaction.

The author's claim is correct in the sense that, if you hold a party and no-one comes, the party didn't really work.


Each of those perspectives is in fact taken by many people. From the government's perspective, if something is used for illegal purposes, that's a severe defect and the thing isn't working. From Greenpeace's perspective, cars do not work.

None of that is relevant to the people who use drug marketplaces or cars, but those are different people.


I agree with your sentiment. The style you chose to express it makes it hard to read. It seems unnecessarily defensive, sort of like someone poking me in the chest to make a point about something that I don’t feel emotional about.


This defensive tone is one of the few ways I have found to make myself understood clearly without overthinking my prose.

When I write in more "narrative" tone, it's hard for me to make sure that my grammar is right, and that I'm making myself understood.

In fact, I always try to write my comments in narrative form first, but many times the grammar comes out awkward, so I scrap that and write in a more dialogical form.

If you have any recommendations on how to improve this, they're welcome.


Great article! I have been meaning to write an article like this and the author raises a lot of points that I would make. But my assessment of why we don't have more centralization is pretty simple:

"Consumers don't care"

The concept in the real world is simple: "If I want something I go to store x and buy it". Translating that concept in the digital world is super easy with centralization:

- Want to watch a video: go to YouTube - Want to buy something: go on Amazon - Want to host large amounts of files, buy S3 space

Even podcast, a technology I love and have been using for is in danger of becoming more proprietary. If you look at promotional material podcasts you'll often find statements like "listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts" as if they are the providers of podcast. But Apple doesn't even host podcasts (yet)

We could have all of these things without centralization but just imagine the sales pitch for a RSS/BitTorrent backed video service with an open API and multiple competing frontends.

And in the example of YouTube centralizing everything (hosting, distribution and presentation) has great benefits for them (YouTube) so why would they not do it?


This is the important part that gets missed. The decentralized service (or open service, etc) needs to be significantly better than the alternatives to get traction.


While I think this is broadly true, there are hidden costs that normal consumers undervalue.

Like having the video and music and ebook (and VR headset!) you've paid for (and therefore think it belongs to you) arbitrarily removed or rendered inoperable with no recourse. If that happened with a DVD it'd be considered theft. Most normal people just don't think that can happen, or assume that if it did the legal system would be on their side, but it has and it does.

Ultimately, while I'd like to see more use of decentralized systems and API standard systems and federated systems, it's more likely that the biggest problems with centralized systems will be addressed ultimately through regulation, once the legal system catches up.


I guess the question is how to make profit on the backend. I'm not sure this is fairly obvious. I mean YouTubers can still do their sponsorships, but what about the people that run nodes? Use whatever interface you want, but how does the infrastructure hosts make money? I think this is something bitcoin (partially) solved by mining but there's still a non-obvious solution here.


This doesn't really go back in time much. What about Usenet? And why did it die?

Last mile was always in the hands of oligopolies, if not monopolies. In New York, Andrew Cuomo (currently governor) strong-armed the last mile carriers into blocking Usenet for "think of the children" reasons. So how was the peer to peer Usenet killed off? Monopoly big business and big government.

These things don't exist in a vacuum - big business and the government work together to kill off decentralization and work towards centralization. Cuomo is a Democrat, but someone like Mitch McConnell is no different.

> My statement that email can be used without involving Google

I run my own mail server, and have kept compliant with what they want in terms of SPF and whatnot. They have an influence, but if they made Gmail a complete walled garden it would be self-defeating at this point.

Linux ran for years via e-mail and patch - huge Linux companies were IPO'ing in the 1990s and Linus was still using e-mails and patches to keep the system together.

I also still communicate via IRC. I'm sure a decentralized Slack-like IRC could be done if anyone cared to do so.

Git is a good example - it's a thing that is decentralized newer than other things mentioned.

Decentralization works just fine for me. Guess what decentralized in 2019? IT being centered in San Francisco.

IBM (and the seven dwarves) dominated centralized computing until the MOS microcomputers started selling like hotcakes in the 1970s. I have an Android phone in my pocket, and have futzed around with LineageOS (although did not put it on my phone yet). Who knew in 1974 that people could walk around with phones/computers in their pocket that was many times more powerful that an IBM S/360, that the people would have the source code to and could modify at will? That's a decentralization you aren't even aware was a decentralization if you're too young to have heard of white shirted IBM technicians shuffling punch cards.


Tech decentralizing from San Francisco isn't proven yet, it's still novel and like other implementations of decentralized systems could fail. It'll take years to see how it plays out and by then it might just re-centralize.


The author and those of you who find true decentralized applications interesting, may want to check out ClarionOS [0] by Dan Larimer, esteemed creator of BitShares, Steemit, and EOS blockchain projects, as well as the author of "More Equal Animals" [1] a free-for-everyone book about rebuilding our political system using fractal democracy.

Clarion is NOT A BLOCKCHAIN BASED project, so hopefully you won't have a tendency to dismiss it outright.

From the Introduction: "Clarion aims to give everyone in the world the tools to broadcast their message to everyone who wants to hear their message without creating dependencies on centralized infrastructure. It will achieve this with a censorship resistant "friend to friend" network which will leverage the unused resources of your friends and family to distribute your content.

The ultimate goal is to provide the performance and reliability of a "centralized service" with the freedom and independence of a logically decentralized network. With the help of the Clarion community we can free our friends and family from the tyranny of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Apple and Google and produce a social network free from manipulation and 3rd party dependence."

[0] https://github.com/Clarionos/clarion [1] https://moreequalanimals.com/posts/book-launch


> Most people

Most people don't matter and yeah, they 'll always prefer the prepackaged, "curated", high sugar content. The role of the decentralized web is to provide an infinite-frontier alternative so that ideas can grow outside the pettiness and the boxes of the mainstream. And yes, they do work for that


these ideas only matter if they eventually reach "most people" though right? what's the point if things remain in decentralized land?


> Wrangling with domain registration, DNS configuration, hosting, building the actual damn site, and deployment, that is a lot. Not to mention that for much of the world’s population, the costs of hosting and domain registration are prohibitive.

There is an entry cost to building decentralized tech, and it’s way too high and confusing IMO for mass adoption. The “cloud” is the easiest way to get up and running for both consumers and developers. But I don’t think it means dApps don’t work.

The beautiful thing about decentralization is that it doesn’t have to be profit aligned - it should be significantly cheaper to compute on your machine. We just need a better user experience to cross that barrier. I don’t think a decentralized platform that can overthrow the cloud experience exists yet. But that’s the hot opportunity and why it’s still emerging tech.

It always blows my mind that 1mb is 500 pages worth of information. Why do we pay $10/mo to store information that can fit on a thumb drive?

[0]Amna -https://www.getamna.com/blog/think-local-first/


I got to the end of the article still unsure of what the author means by “work”. All his examples work just fine; most work brilliantly for their intended purpose. Does he mean that they are not effective for generating profit for some sleazy corporation? I don’t see why I should care.


I think the point the author is making is that none of these systems are a distributed panacea free from corporate overlords. All of them are either dying/obscure (irc, matrix, rss) or have been infested with powerful actors who have become de-facto centralized nodes (email, WWW, RSS, git). I'm not sure how that relates with the authors stated thesis of profit motives being misaligned. I guess they're arguing that for a system to be succesful it needs corporate investment, people make money out of controlling a centralized node, you cant make money out of the anarchism of a true decentralized system, hence decentralized systems will either fail or be subverted by centralized actors (maybe im reading in my own beliefs?).

Which may be true, but i didn't find the evidence presented particularly compelling, and the structure of the argument was confusing.


The article doesn’t make any proper arguments or present any logical flow.

All I can gather is the author once worked in blockchain and is now burnt out by the monetary side.

Everything they describe such as Git and email work fine. A strong technology will have SaS offerings but also still be usable from a CLI perspective.

Article title is click bait.


Counterthesis: decentralised applications are losing popularity because XMPP was so awful that it poisoned the view of decentralisation. Pre-XMPP everything was decentralised and federated. Post-XMPP decentralisation became synonymous with less-good clones of centralised systems, and both new systems and existing decentralised systems started moving towards centralisation. Decentralisation will come back again when the best systems are decentralised.


Just a coincidence. Most people have no idea what XMPP was, never even cared, and joined the change.


Most ordinary users have no idea. But there's a cultural generation of developers who tried to use Jabber in their high school / college years, found out how much it sucked, and carried that experience consciously or unconsciously into their programming careers.


There's no "cultural generation," nobody I knew in college ever attempted to use Jabber because we were all just fine with using AIM. Shrug

Even if there was it would be a minority opinion among a company's developers, and developers have very little to no say in business decisions anyway.


Sure, but that isn't important in any way. Programmers have much less influence on business decisions that that, and practically none on the society at large. If it was so good we'd be using it now.


XMPP was created to provide an open alternative to the proprietary instant messaging systems that popped up in the mid 1990s, but wasn't usable until several years after several of those had gained significant popularity. I suspect the number of people who tried XMPP and rejected it in favor of something proprietary is tiny in comparison to those who never heard of it.

IM may be the first category where an internet application first appeared in a modern, user-friendly, full-featured form in a proprietary implementation before there was a standardized implementation.


If anyone wanna try out XMPP, Conversations is a good client for android, available on fdroid. Dino is a good Linux client. IMO dismail and trashserver seem to be good public servers, if you don't wanna host yourself [1][2].

[1] https://dismail.de/

[2] https://trashserver.net/en/

You're gonna hear some saying it's all oh so secure. But be aware of tradeoffs [3].

[3] https://infosec-handbook.eu/blog/xmpp-aitm/


This is… an interesting take. You mean that everything before the 1999 XMPP PoC was decentralized, and XMPP killed it? (despite the actual situation at the time being split between closed and centralized networks, like MSN, ICQ, etc). And XMPP is to blame for the failure of all the other decentralized systems (that have nothing in common) that came between then and now?

Additionally, considering several hundred million people use XMPP on a daily basis (and even more use something that started out based on XMPP, e.g. whatsapp), saying that XMPP is so terrible that it killed everything is so weird that it would need some facts to back it up.


> This is… an interesting take. You mean that everything before the 1999 XMPP PoC was decentralized, and XMPP killed it? (despite the actual situation at the time being split between closed and centralized networks, like MSN, ICQ, etc). And XMPP is to blame for the failure of all the other decentralized systems (that have nothing in common) that came between then and now?

I mean that instant messaging was the first time (on the internet, at least) that centralized networks beat decentralised networks (whereas centralised competitors to email, the web, etc. had lost), and the legacy of that is why many subsequent network systems (that indeed have very little in common) have been built as centralised rather than decentralised. And I've gradually reached the conclusion that the reason the centralised networks won that one was not because they were uniquely good, but that XMPP was uniquely bad.

> Additionally, considering several hundred million people use XMPP on a daily basis (and even more use something that started out based on XMPP, e.g. whatsapp), saying that XMPP is so terrible that it killed everything is so weird that it would need some facts to back it up.

Actually I see the fact that modified forks of XMPP have been so much more successful than mainline XMPP as a demonstration that XMPP's design makes a lot of unforced errors.


Regulation is presented as one possible solution, with a footnote expressing some uncertainty about that path. I just wanted to add that I think the economics plans laid out by Richard Wolff can do a lot to better align the motives of firms to the motives of the people. Wolff is prolific online so I will not try to argue his case, but I do believe that essentially “make a sizable portion of the economy comprised of worker managed cooperatives” actually would tend to solve some of the problems related to centralization in an open market. Wolff does not generally advocate for government based solutions except for possible legislation that would make it easier for cooperatives to thrive.


This post is very lazy. Nothing is defined strictly, I can't surmise a concise argument. I guess the author is an expert though since they worked on a blockchain project?


Economies of scale, which are huge in computing, lend an almost irresistible force to centralization. The only countervailing force is communication costs. The most successful decentralization effort in computing, the replacement of mainframes with personal computers, occurred because networking infrastructure was immature and lagged behind advances in miniaturization.

The notion that the internet would decentralize information is completely wrong. The internet restored the client-server relationship from the mainframe era, with the real power being with the databases. The internet recentralized computing after the PC era.


Does it need to be centralized vs decentralized?

The human organism is (IMO) an awesome demonstration of both centralization and decentralization. As is the little blue speck we call our home biome.

What I might accept is that proponents of both arguments ("we need more centralization so we can provide a better service" vs "we need more decentralization so we have the freedom to evolve better services") ideally come to realize that there's a yen and a yang to the whole thing. That there's a lack of healthy balance/harmony between the two is a pretty easy argument to make now days.


In my reading, the article was arguing not decentralized v centralized one-or-the-other, but just that decentralized is failing.


I read it as more of decentralization failing to stay decentralized. Which is important if decentralization is a goal in and of itself. And relatively uninteresting otherwise.


Is there even a single decentralized app that is mainstream?

BitTorrent is great but I wouldn’t exactly call it mainstream. I do wish more sites used it for downloads though.

I haven’t sat down and researched this, but an argument could be made that inherently a centralized app, who is trusted, available and resilient, will always be superior. Any thoughts?


Email definitely counts as a decentralized protocol. Sure, in practice, it's fairly centralized. Most people use Gmail. But you don't have to. That's the key.

If for some reason you don't want to use Google's platform, you're 100% free of creating your own mail server. The crazy thing is that it will probably work out just fine. The mail client/server model is really popular. You can go ahead and DIY your email and use all the popular clients without issue (maybe except Gmail? idk).

And sure, if you somehow become famous in a way Google doesn't like, they can effectively cut you off from lots of other people by not federating with your email server. In practice, though, this is probably pretty uncommon.


> Is there even a single decentralized app that is mainstream?

People have mentioned email and the Web as examples; I'd also throw in podcasts. (None of these are "apps," per se, but they're all examples from the article, so.)

> An argument could be made that inherently a centralized app, who is trusted, available and resilient, will always be superior. Any thoughts?

Yes. :)

The article makes the point, in so many words, that a lot of decentralized services end up dominated by a small number of major players. I think this is hard to argue with; yes, there are other service providers competing with the big ones, but that doesn't disprove the point. The most recent figures I can find suggest that Gmail had 43% of the email "market" in 2020; that's not more than everyone else combined, but number two is Yahoo (!) at 26%, with third place Outlook (i.e., the email service Microsoft keeps changing the name of, not the client application) trailing at 6%. Many people who might have been bloggers a bit over a decade ago use Medium or, more likely, just Twitter. (I think Twitter did far more to kill the blog than the death of Google Reader, but that's a different topic.) We can go on.

Where I think the article gets it wrong isn't in its description of the problem, it's in its diagnosis. Partially. I think the author is right in saying that better tooling isn't the problem, but wrong in saying that the profit motive is in "ensuring decentrialized systems fail." The profit motive is, to borrow your apt phrase, in making centralized systems trusted, available, and resilient. GitHub, Google Workspace, and Slack took over as much of the business world as they did because they're not only easier to set up than doing it yourself, they gain the benefits of a tremendous userbase: they're highly available and resilient, they're well-understood, they have lots of integration plugins.

I'd love to see more decentralized/federated systems succeed, but many of them aren't just fiddly and quirky, they're proudly fiddly and quirky. If they're going to take off, we may need to focus less on where we think companies behind centralized services are deviously undermining their decentralized relatives, and focus more on why those services succeeded in the first place.


The internet? (In the sense you can start/listen to a tcp/ip connection pretty arbitraily. Routing is very distributed).

The world wide web (the author complains DNS is too hard...well you dont technically need a domain name)

Usenet (was mainstream back in the day)

IRC is semi-federated, kind of obscure now, but was a bigger deal back in the day.

The author dismisses email, but that seems like an obvious answer.

DNS (hierarchical distribution. Depends how you define distributed i suppose) - what's more mainstream than that?


Email is a great example, despite what the article says. You can certainly have email without Google. If fact, Microsoft may actually be bigger in the business world.

A lot of large companies also run their own servers, consumers can use icloud, protonmail, yahoo,... or the one from their ISP.

The argument in the article is that GMail controls email. It is definitely not true. Email is still how people do business, and business email is not owned by Google.


Blizzard's game launcher (use to?) downloads the games via Torrent. E.g. starcraft II, world of war craft, etc. That's pretty damn mainstream.

A lot of older networked games were, probably some modern ones too. One player hosts the game (either picked automatically by the match making system, or by running a game server listed by a index server), and everyone else connects to them. Call of duty, counter strike, starcraft, etc.

As other people mentioned the internet, also texting and telephones, but the peers in this example are really big. I think some of the bank transfer stuff is also a "distributed" system with big peers.

FireChat (distributed chat over wifi) was reasonably mainstream in Hong Kong for awhile: https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/firechat-off-the-grid-messag...


HK resident here ... FireChat wasn't mainstream.


> ... an argument could be made that inherently a centralized app, who is trusted, available and resilient, will always be superior. Any thoughts?

Not necessarily. They will still need an open protocol, good documentation, etc. And even then, it may not be suitable for what you are doing (and yet, they try to use it anyways). Furthermore, it won't necessarily always be available; you cannot predict some things that will go wrong with it. And, you cannot really trust them for sure either, necessarily.


> Is there even a single decentralized app that is mainstream?

www


> What GitHub does though, is rather more sinister. They tweak the actual development workflow away from email with features like pull requests, and and they lock project data in with features like their issue system.

1) when my project gets PRs, how do I hear about this most of the time? Yep, email

2) Nothing is forcing anyone to use github as their canonical repo. For my project, our canonical repo is self-hosted, and we use hooks to mirror to github. This lets people familiar with github use their tools and workflow, but avoids us being particularly tied into the github way.


> avoids us being particularly tied into the github way.

Github and git are very different things, which is often forgotten. Github centralizes ever more functionality that is in any way related to the entirety of the software development process.

Want to set up a popular open source project hosted on your own code forge? Good luck, without the network effects of github your task is way harder.

Luckily there are movements towards decentralization and breaking of this domination with https://forgefed.peers.community and https://fedeproxy.eu


It sounds like the author really should be saying open source fails because of profit motives. Clearly there have been many open source successes, so it just doesn't check out. And the author muses that "regulations" might be the solution. What regulations? Regulations aren't just a magic beauracracy that fixes things, you need a framework. Without suggesting specifics about what regulations might be helpful, I don't think it can really be said that the author suggested any solution at all.


> Proprietary centralised services like Slack, Discord, WhatsApp, etc. dominate, most likely because they have the marketing budget for it.

They dominate because they're better for end users who don't mind giving up compatibility/freedom to implement their own client, which the vast majority of people don't want to do. Slack/Discord/WhatsApp are far better instant messaging/voice or video conferencing software than IRC.


Exactly. IRC is old, perhaps not as old as DNS, but old. Slack et al took off because the UX of IRC is shite. If someone had built a slack-like IRC client and worked on getting people to use it, maybe IRC would be the common protocol. Heck, it could still happen - people really have no loyalty to slack or teams; it’s just what they currently use.

I think we’re only a few years out before Google uses it’s gmail monopoly to forcefully change email.


Are they far better than Matrix?

I use all of them for different groups and conversations, and my experience so far is that none of these is obviously or significantly better than another for most text/image-based group or one-on-one messaging unless you have specific niche needs.


Why do you guys signal boost this stuff to where I end up seeing it? It's just some guy complaining, zero merit.


Hacker News crowd is biased towards being anti-blockchain and knock on effect occurs with decentralization.


Indeed. I suffered numerous occasions of pointless, perhaps malicious downvoting on blockchain threads. Okay, we get it.


The blog is called "Ingrid’s Space"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingrid_(given_name)


Its a worthwhile read, if nothing else it highlights the enormous talent, energy and conviction that went into so many projects that adopt some sort of federated / distributed architecture. Ergo, the "solution" is not technical, it is primarily political, at least as a catalyst. The main reason (imho) none of those (evidently workable) ideas has ever evolved to reach mainstream is the US political system malfunction (which is fairly evident in general...) but more specifically visible in relation to updating and enforcing anti-trust laws. In simple terms in recent decades the political class did not see a monopoly they didn't like. The result is that you can summarize recent tech history in a single sentence "The rise and fall of the Microsoft monopoly in the hands of the successor Google monopoly".

Cutting "big tech" to size (big "tech" being a business sector misnomer that reveals the fake reality we all agree to swim in) will instantly propel decentralized protocols to mainstream: Smaller commercial operators will be forced to interoperate; Any usability issues or missing functionality will be developed in no-time.

The tentative link to the "physical" economy and externalities towards the end of the post is quite aposite and solutions to its own problems will be increasingly entangled with "solving" the digital economy. Just take the pandemic as an example: it is not hard to imagine digital infrastructure playing a key role in quickly identifying and limiting the spread of pandemics yet there was huge and justified mistrust that the monopolies will abuse their role...

Markets and virtual constructs such as corporates receive their legitimacy and license to operate from institutions serving the collective. When those institutions fail -> markets fail -> the collective suffers.


As someone who’s made and used a few dapps that “worked” and made a (small) profit, I would recommend passing on this article.


I certainly found it simpler to hard-code my own website than make either Wordpress or Hugo do what I wanted it to do. My host provides metrics and all the technical things with DNS, and search engines and my own network deliver me visitors. Browsers in 2021 are very powerful at turning simple HTML into something pretty. If one search engine blacklisted my site, people who are in to what I am in to would switch to another which does not.

I think that the "abusive relationship with platforms like Medium, Twitter, and Instagram" is mostly psychological.


> No, the solution has to be political. That’s uncomfortable for me, as it probably is for you too. Software I can do, politics though? That’s hard.

I've been noodling this point from the political end for academic reasons of late.

Conclusion: society is an 80/20 problem.

- 80% geared toward stability (why I want actual companies with heft doing things like bridges and hardware &c). Socialized things.

- 20% geared toward innovation. Risk taking. Capitalism. Experimentation of the "Hold my beer" variety.

The tension between these two cannot and should not be resolved; rather, graciously supported.

I submit that TFA makes the point that the 80% bullies the 20% a bit too much. Government's role is arguably to be an honest referee, except that the 80% tends to have the loot in addition to the numbers.

I'd like to rally more around the FSF to do more to preserve and protect open culture. Takes leadership, business chops, and patience.


The 80 per cent also includes the large rent seeking corporations. It is in their interest to stifle innovation as well, or if not, then be in a privileged position to aquire it once it has been de-risked.


Indeed.


After posting I realized you had effectively said the same thing. To your point about government acting as a referee to ensure the free market is operating effectively, I don't see that happening unless the electorate demands an end to all activities that could lead to regulatory capture. I'm not sure if this is ever possible..


Not in the sense of an end state.

This is something that requires eternal vigilance from voters.

Yeah. Right. Maybe.


Whats the biggest downside to having all the data? You are responsible for it.

Google, Twitter and Facebook, store and link to data and are therefor responsible for all kinds of things, like keeping porn away from kids, securing data, dealing with privacy, verifying age, dealing with local laws, managing the needs of rights holders, moderating discussions, deciding if Donald trump should be banned or not and so on, all while paying big $ to store all this crap. They are put in an impossible position that is taking a big tole on all of them, and may even give them so many political enemies that they get broken up.

A smart designer of a Decentralized application could see not storing data in a centralized storage, as an advantage because it lets them side step all of these problems.


>A smart designer of a Decentralized application could see not storing data in a centralized storage, as an advantage because it lets them side step all of these problems.

This doesn't sidestep the core problem of curation, though. It depends on the nature of the application, but just looking at ones that involve displaying user-submitted publicly: if you don't have a frontend with some manner of filtering and moderation, the app will quickly be overwhelmed with a flood of spam and illicit activity (ranging from copyright infringement to child abuse).

Things like IPFS work great for decentralized content storage if you don't need to provide any sort of curation or frontend. But if you do, you'll quickly find yourself running what reduces to a centralized platform. Or if you're providing a federated service of some kind, then your users will be the ones who find themselves in that situation.


> A smart designer of a Decentralized application could see not storing data in a centralized storage, as an advantage because it lets them side step all of these problems.

I agree, and I'd love to see Our Decentralized Future happen -- though I worry that 'smart designer' might end up implying one of the following in practice:

(a) smart enough to stick to a design so limited, in terms of P2P communication, that it'll not be a threat to current Killer Apps.

(b) smart, to the point of omniscience, regarding what a judge may decide is the designer's problem.


Regarding (b), I often wonder whether Satoshi of Bitcoin fame is deliberately anonymous for this reason.


Internet was made for people but without google it would be unusable for most. People don't care about technology or freedom they want free (of charge) email and dumb-proof websites.

Also getting politics into this is the exact opposite of decentralization.


To centralize is to share rules and information. Without shared information, humans cannot work with and communicate with one other. The goal of decentralization should be to fix the power imbalance embedded in our current central structures, whether it's Google with email or Github with git.

People should instead be incentivized to centralize in their own local communities, i.e. their family, friends, coworkers, local businesses, community centers, etc... Accomplishing this will likely require effort on multiple fronts, from increased regulation over the tech sector, to creating products that empower communities to run these services themselves.


Same thing is true of markets. A market is a space where buyers and sellers find each other. It has to be centralised, otherwise how are they gonna find each other?


Is it only me who thinks his/her case study for blockchain is too vague and does not deliver any valuable message?


You're right. The content to length ratio is extremely low for this blog post. I didn't see clear structure or fully fleshed out arguments.


Mostly a great article, and makes a strong case that you need a profit motive for an application to succeed, and cannot be both decentralized and capture profits.

But the final proposal would destroy all that is good about the internet:

>>What we’re dealing with here is far removed from physical resources, however, and the system has not been adapted at all. Although some like to idealise the aforementioned market as a free and unregulated system, the truth is that it optimises rather poorly under those circumstances, and needs heavy regulation to align profit motives in the direction of efficient processing and distribution of resources. If we are to keep these profit motives at all,7 we need new regulation to align them toward creating software that better serves our society.

What is needed is heavy government involvement in another way: subsidizing the development of open-source and decentralized applications. If they are better than the products produced by for-profit firms, then consumers will adopt them voluntarily, and if they're not, we wouldn't want consumers to.

Leaving the market free and having publicly funded projects compete with what the market produces on its own instills accountability for those allocating the public funds, by forcing them to get results better than what the private sector is producing on its own in order to validate their judgment on what should get funded.


> The decentralised web does still work, but I feel it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t how most people use the web.

This is what many people, author included, get wrong.

'Success' needs another defenition with decentralization, (and OpenSource, but that's not what this article is about) than with proprietary apps.

The absolute amount of users of Bitcoin, matrix, email, IPFS, mastodon and so on, is growing. In a staggering rate. The relative amounts are poor, but that really does not make it a failure.

But even if numbers dwindle, they hardly matter for making it a success. IRC is a massive success, because it allowed thousands of people to communicate for decades. And it paved the way for how we all work today. It's not an accident that Slack i see often called 'IRC done right', or so.

Decentralized apps are free by their nature, hard to monetize, the author made this central to her piece. But that means you need another defenition of success!

Bitcoin is a success the moment one single unbanked person can use it to store wealth or pay a friend. XMPP is a success the moment just two people can use it to communicate. Email is a success as long as one person runs it's own server that can deliver mail. Matrix is a success the moment one surpressed idea can be spread to one other person. And so on.


Talking about getting it wrong, it's "definition".


I think its a mistake to assume any broad set of users see decentralization as a feature. Decentralization and discovery are opposition forces. It is important to recognize that "discovery" is what people want. Businesses want to be found. Content producers want to be found. We all want to learn more about what each other wants so we can be better at providing that. Individual consumers might not want to be found, until you start talking about dating apps or other clout-driven activity like job hunting or social interaction. Then its all about discovery again.

My thinking was about as anti-platform or anti-monopoly as it can be since, well, forever. But learning how to build business over the last decade has really opened my eyes to the harder parts of being a human and the hurdles to bringing value to market. So, here I sit with the skills to build just about anything I can imagine, a fairly deep understanding of broad business topics, and a bankroll... I'm working for someone else because honestly, the LoE to build something is dwarfed by the LoE required to identify and understand customers, and bring anything to market WITH centralized platforms. Going "decentralized" would increase that cost dramatically.

People are out here paying a third of the cost-to-customer right into the pockets of app stores because the stores create a safe market for consumers. The decentralized version looks like millions of people downloading and installing random .exe files from the internet. Then self-centralizing on a few sites with cringy names like download.com. Nobody wants that. Humans copy-pasta like crazy and naturally centralize.

I'd expect any decentralized system that fails to provide some unified discovery experience will fail. And if that system is centralized then the whole thing may as well be centralized.


The title doesn't really represent the article. The thesis of the article is that

> there’s someone who stands to make a large profit (or avoid losing their large profit) from ensuring decentralised systems fail.

But you can't actually make decentralized systems fail. Email's still around despite Google's abuse of spam filtering. RSS is still around despite Google's manhandling. Git is still around despite Github. IRC is still around despite Discord.

None of the truly decentralized options are as popular as the centralized-ish alternatives, but that seems entirely inevitable in an internet where most users have near-zero technical proficiency and want someone to hold their hand, which is just not viable without commercialization.

I think just like the world needs both a Linux and a Mac OS, it also needs centralized and decentralized options and while the decentralized options will drive actual progress, lots of people will get rich profiting from centralized bastardizations.


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