If you are like me, web services still feel pretty new. I can remember, for example, when EBay, YouTube, and Apple Music first came out. Each offered something that seemed revolutionary at the time. Except that in one way, they were just the opposite. They each make money by being gatekeepers. In other words, you have to go to them and through them in order to do what you want to do. You cannot go elsewhere.
Over the last few years, I have been getting used to the new idea that web gatekeeper services are archaic. Any time I have to go to a web location to do something I ask myself, “why can’t I do this on my own? Other than being a gatekeeper, what value added does this service give me?” The reason I am getting so bold is that blockchain technology enables us to get the same or better services without gatekeepers.
You might ask, why is that better? The reason is that each time that I have to go to a gatekeeper, I have to reward the gatekeeper for accessing its service. That reward might be in the form of a transaction fee, or just handing over my data so that the gatekeeper can use it for its own purposes (like Google, using my data to get advertising revenue). I get less value out of the transactions that I do. The gatekeepers get a slice of the value added without doing anything for it other than opening the door to it. Think of it like a balance of power. When we all give a little power to a gatekeeper for access, the gatekeeper becomes huge and rich — like Google — and we do not.
Let’s take EBay as an example. It is nice to be able to buy and sell stuff online. But why should I have to go to EBay and submit to EBay’s rules to do this? Why can’t I list what I want to sell everywhere? Answer – up until now, it would be difficult to stop double and triple and quadruple sales. EBay can do this. But Blockchain can do it without the gatekeeping aspect of the service.
This link tells that story. It tells a parallel story with respect to YouTube and Apple Music. And there are many more web services that are primarily gatekeepers. In a few years these will look pretty silly.
Here is a historical analogy. There was a time when the single most valuable thing in the world was almost totally controlled by gatekeepers. Those gatekeepers managed access to, and value added from this incredibly valuable thing. They were incredibly rich and powerful. The rest of us were less so.
That incredibly valuable thing was land and the gatekeepers to land were the kings, barons and dukes, etc.. Land was incredibly valuable because all value came from it. Food, clothing, building materials, shelter, etc. That was the way things were before the industrial revolution. But the power of the aristocracy was broken when land fell in relative value compared to factory produced goods. Folks could make do without being tied to the land. “Making do” got a lot better when universal education provided a path to white collar jobs! Suddenly, millions of folks could bypass the gatekeepers, and they did. Now, most of us can pursue our lives without having to go through an aristocrat to access and use land.
Are we better off? We are certainly better off in financial terms. The relative share of wealth controlled by the aristocracy diminished compared to the share the rest of us have. The balance of power shifted. And we can use our added wealth to invest in other wealth generating activities — if we choose to do so. The result is not perfect. But would we want to go back? I don’t think so … errrr … unless we could be guaranteed to be placed at the top of the heap (and definitely not a serf or slave).
The argument goes that decentralization of web services will bring about a similar type of power and wealth shift from web gatekeepers to the rest of us. Will it be as big? No one knows yet. And that is the fun part.
But the folks trying to make this happen are saying things like this
(Our mission) is to create simplified and automated decentralized applications (dApps) to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions and exchanges.
Translation: We get rid of gatekeepers! Errr … of course, if you have to go to an individual firm to get rid of a gatekeeper, you are dealing with a new type of gatekeeper — at least on a one off basis. It would be cool if we could develop that stuff on our own!
How would that look? Imagine a time when each and everything you do could be rewarded via the web by micro-payments (like getting paid for blogging without having to blog). And those things that you put on offer would become part of a distributed ledger (a living data base) that could be accessed by anyone and everyone over time as well as updated with new value added (thread building). So learning from you, and your learning from others who use what you offer becomes mutually rewarding and seamless. If you could do this, your relative power to add value and gain from the value added of others would be multiplied. You would need fewer corporate giants to empower you. You could empower yourself and your community on your own on an ongoing basis. Very cool!
As you read that, you might say “But we do that now by exchanging information on the web. You are doing that now by blogging!” True. And the ability to do this offers a major improvement in our lives. But the exchange opportunities are not seamless, the activity is not mutually rewarding, and it does not enable us to build learning threads — yet.