‘The Jungle Outside’ On Balkanized Internets, Public Space and the Blockchain

Published April 13th, 2020 - 02:30 GMT
Prodigy login - remember the days of dialup? /Youtube
Prodigy login - remember the days of dialup? /Youtube

“You can make the walled garden very very sweet. But the jungle outside is always more appealing in the long term”  - Sir Tim Berners Lee, Wired.

In the early days of the Internet, users would dial in on a modem to a proprietary network controlled by AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe or others. An AOL user would find different content available to a Prodigy user. Advertisers would have to think carefully about which network to target. The introduction of the ‘HTTP’ and the Web changed this: suddenly the same content was available to everyone. You could browse the forest, and not just the trees.
 

 

Fast forward twenty-years, and proprietary networks have not gone away. In fact almost all of the most popular serves on the Internet today exist on ‘walled garden’ domains. Most of the content you publish is stored on the servers of privately held Big Tech companies.

“You can make the walled garden very very sweet. But the jungle outside is always more appealing in the long term” Sir Tim Berners Lee, in Wired

The architecture of these services is not open-protocol but proprietary and hidden. The terms of service can allow for data-mining, censorship, location tracking or the storing of your biometric information on a private system in a country far-away.

The spaces we occupy  on the Internet are increasingly private and controlled. There is no public space… and maybe that’s a problem? After all, the conceptual underpinnings of 'public space' emerged during the European enlightenment, as individuals became classified as ‘citizens’ instead of ‘subjects.’

The spaces we occupy  on the Internet are increasingly private and controlled. There is no public space… and maybe that’s a problem?

The public square, townhouse or promenade belonged to everyone. Some of the mass-communities in cyberspace may feel open, but their technology is proprietary. You’re a user. Not a citizen. Access can be revoked at any time.

Some of the mass-communities in cyberspace may feel open, but their technology is proprietary

According to Amy James of Alexandria Labs, the solution could be a public index on the Web, with content storage across the distributed network of the blockchain. This technology would create a more horizontal relationship between users and walled gardens, creators and platforms, privacy and data.

Either way, it's clear that the private vs. public space debate is beginning to encapsulate many of the ideas influencing the future of the Internet.


Full disclosure: Al Bawaba is exploring blockchain solutions on the Open Index Protocol.
 


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