The internet is at the cusp of entering a new phase, one where entrenched rulers are dethroned, more power is reclaimed by individuals and value moves as freely as cat GIFs.
To understand why we need a better internet in the first place, consider this question: Isn’t it weird the internet isn’t good at money? Think about it. The applications we use every day to search, to communicate, even to shop; the companies that dominate the web are very bad at dealing with money, even if they’re very good at making it. There’s a separate checkout process, where you repeatedly enter all your information. Cards issued in some countries don’t work on local websites in other countries. Sometimes you wait for what feels like an eternity watching that tiny wheel turn, to have the transaction fail.
More complex transactions are almost unthinkable. Influencers and creators should be able to monetize their likes, retweets and views, with micropayments streamed from followers, without any platform taking a cut. Less-famous mortals should get paid if they opt in to view ads or consent to sharing their information. Transferring ownership of valuable assets, from art to real estate, shouldn’t take several intermediaries and tons of paperwork.
There’s the internet’s TCP/IP protocol. There are apps built on top of it. And, separately, there’s the financial system, which relies largely on infrastructure built before the internet was invented. SWIFT, IBAN, the rails handling most international money transfers, weren’t designed to handle actual money. They’re messaging systems where transfers can take up to five days and cost around $50. National money transfers fare a bit better, but in the U.S. they still take at least one business day to settle (money rests on weekends, apparently).
Attempts to update these systems – SEPA in Europe, the Faster Payments initiatives in the U.S., VisaNet for card payments – have resulted in a messy patchwork that doesn’t solve the core problem. Fintechs try to improve the situation, but they’re building on the same old carcass.
At a time when we have global, cheap, fast communications, we should have an equally global, cheap, fast financial system.
The second big problem with the internet today is that we access it through a handful of companies with “walled gardens.” A better analogy is kingdoms. You need a passport to enter. Once you’re in, it feels like you’re roaming free but the price to pay is the king watching your every step, collecting your information and then selling it to fill his coffers. You don’t get a cut, but you do get the incredible services the web offers today.
These kingdoms – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple – aren’t always clear on what they’re collecting. We’re also left in the dark on what our data will be used for. Is it purely market research or will it be leveraged to, say, influence the U.S. presidential election?