The Digital Archipelago: How to Build an Internet Where Communities Thrive

The Digital Archipelago: How to Build an Internet Where Communities Thrive

Fijian archipeligo
(NASA, modified by CoinDesk)

The internet of today isn’t the independent territory it was originally . For ordinary people “the internet” is just a bunch of apps made by giant companies. These companies do whatever they want with your data, disappear when the journey is over, spy on you and show you ads. I’m honestly not sure why people even bother trying to come up with dystopian futures for the web – it’s already here.

So how will the web evolve in the next 10 years? Things could continue to get worse for a little while. But soon we’ll start playing . We’ll build new protocols that give people control over how they connect and build communities. Slowly at first, then incredibly quickly, we’ll return control of the internet to the communities that depend on it. 

The technology that will return the web to the individual is just emerging. You can see it on the horizon just like last time around. Instagram is CompuServe, Facebook is AOL, Twitter is Prodigy and the next internet is just barely getting started.

I can’t render the future in HD, but I can see the broad outlines. To lay these out, let’s start with an overview of how our technology is changing, then we can talk about how new protocols will change how our digital communities function and feel.

The internet of apps that we live in is amazing. We can stream gigabytes of data to one another as chat messages, videos, location data, biometrica data, livestreams and so on. This plethora of ways to connect, above all, lets us build new kinds of communities. Communities are how we make sense of the world and generate a sense of progress. Under an ominous , in the midst of a pandemic, our communities are incredibly important. They may be the only way we’ll figure out a path forward from the strange world we’re in. 

The problem is, the communities we build are all stuck inside the apps we use. This means our communities are fragile, they can disappear when the app disappears. They’re limited and depend on the app developer to decide what functionality makes sense. They’re controlled by someone else: App developers decide the rules about content, membership and so on.

Every app we depend on today has to run some server somewhere to provide identity, data storage and computation. Every app has its own stack and none of them work together. 

The future is the exact opposite of this. We’ll unbundle everything about the current app model. Identity, data storage and computation will become universal protocols just like TCP/IP or HTTP. When this happens we’ll log in once, compute and communicate freely and trust that our data lives forever.

That sounds way too good to be true because it is. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be just like the transition from the mainframe to the PC or the “online service” to the internet. Most important, our tools for building communities will improve dramatically. 

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