On the Cusp: Decentralization

One of my sporadic posts where I guess about near-future technology trends.

The term decentralized is intended to stand in contrast to the centralized nature of modern social networks and SaaS solutions.

The centralized model has led to immensely valuable services. Twitter, Facebook, and many enterprise-facing services are highly evolved organisms, well adapted to the technological ecosystem in which they thrive.

Yet, modern tools like the block chain, BitTorrent, DHTs, PubSubHubbub, and even oldies like RSS, present us with the opportunity to build curious new creatures with characteristics wildly different than the services we’ve seen before.

I’m explicitly not interested in repeating the past. Decentralized systems meant to mimic centralized systems (for example, Diaspora) ignore the tradeoffs and opportunities inherent in our modern tools; they will fail as a result.

Likewise, I’m not interested in replacing centralized services. Decentralized systems will always have unique strengths and weaknesses and will always satisfy radically different user needs than their centralized counterparts. The first decentralized service to gain real traction will succeed precisely because it embraces its technological nature.

As an aside, I wish there were a better word for this trend. Most client/server architectures built on the TCP/IP stack are at some fundamental level already decentralized. The web is decentralized; Facebook, a specific site on the web, is not. This said, P2P is not nearly a broad enough term, and distributed has specific engineering connotations (think: CAP theorem) that don’t necessarily apply. No wonder the community has decided to adopt decentralize for now.