There’s a new technological wave coming, a new revolution, I can feel it…
I was around in the mid-late 90’s when the internet was just jacking up, I see similarities between that period and now. Just like then in the early days of the ’95 internet, there is this new wave coming.
From what I can tell… there’s still time to catch this early wave, the Distributed wave.
Thanks to Benjamin Horn for this fabulous photo of someone holding a flare.
Essentially we’ve done a great job so far and over the thousands of years, humanity has kept evolving technologically. From way back when, in ancient times… where we huddled together caves, rubbing two sticks together to make fire.
Moving ever faster along through the Industrial Revolution to today, where we have information at our fingertips (anywhere in the world), to space rockets that will take us to Mars and all sorts of wonderful inventions that make our lives better.
But there is a problem and we need an upgrade the times of now. The issue is centralization.
What’s all this business of centralization about? Why do I think it’s an issue?
Right now, when you want to share a video or pay for something or write a blog/article/comment – you need to go through a central party.
For payments – it’s a bank
For a video it’s YouTube
For blog/content/comment this can be central platforms like WordPress, Facebook, etc.
You get the point, you’re always having go use a central place.
Here’s a quick on a napkin diagram. When you want to share a photo. You have to upload this to a centralized entity like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr. The other person has to go to that central place to download the photo.
So far so good, and it all works. And not only that, it seems wonderful, for example Googling for something – the search results show up and you get what you need. Again, if you want to share a photo on Instagram, friends or family can see this instantly. Wonderful, isn’t it? Well… almost.
Think about it, it’s always going through one central place… everything!
Your images get sent up to a central cloud, your banking and payment transactions are held in a central database, your comments and content all in a central website, blog or feed.
What happens if these central places decide to not allow you to use, their central service? What happens if you cannot access this central place or better still what happens if you really need to and cannot?
To hit this question home concretely… What happens if this central place goes bust? What happens to your photos, ideas, emails, content – YOUR INFORMATION? It simply gets deleted.
Do you have control of your information “property”? Do you have a say? Obviously, No.
A real world problem of centralization
I was cycling through Europe from Berlin to Britain. And all along the way I used a bank card to pay for things and draw cash when I needed it. Crossing the English channel and making it to England, I was largely successful, apart from one place Canterbury – just outside my final destination London, the last final leg of my cycling journey.
What’s the most important thing on a cycling adventure? I can tell you from first hand experience – Water!
So leaving Dover on a hot and sunny day I budgeted the amount of water I needed to reach the next village. Cycling far enough, I’ve learned empirically how much water is required and needed for various distances.
Reaching the next village I parked my bicycle and walked into a little corner shop and headed straight to the mini water section. Damn thirsty I was, I plonked my water on the counter and owner asked me how I wanted to pay, and my trusty card was withdrawn.
Only one little problem… DECLINED.
Me: “Declined? What the hell?”
Cashier: “No problem, try again”
Cashier and Me: “DECLINED!?”
No money, no fun – no card, no water. Period.
I literally hopped off a boat the previous day from a place that just takes Euros – not Pounds, that’s Pound Sterling.
What to do? Nothing. Move on.
It must be a little village I thought. So a little last bit of hardship, that’s the personal guarantee provided by adventure. On my bike! I remember it still – hot, bloody thirsty and mad as hell. My mind thinking “Why in the hell!? Did this happen”.
After a long ordeal, I reached Canterbury and my spirits were up, I was elated. Made it!
Popped my card into the ATM machine and guess what… DECLINED.
There are OMG moments where things go wrong, yes we transverse mad, angry and upset and we deal with it. But I’ve already had that, what do you call this? OMG+ and as you can imagine, with OMG+ you get OMG+ emotions.
Adding to that, I’m in a country where my cellphone does not work, the cellular/mobile phone networks have changed (yip, this is centralized too). I have no money, no phone to call – but I’m thirsty as hell!
The bank at the time, was N26 based out of Berlin. An internet bank for the future! Nonsense! The premium black metal card, suddenly stopped working. Walking around looking like the lion king, holding up my phone searching, searching for free WIFI. Got it!
I logged onto the N26 banking mobile app and initiated a chat to speak to a “dedicated” customer service support “person”. Guess what it took a few minutes. Anyway got through and started to describe my issue.
Now, reading this, let’s put our Sherlock homes hats on. We need to know a few facts. One, there was money in the bank account. Two, the card had been used in multiple countries (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France). Three, the card could pay online, be used via credit card machine and used to draw cash from ATM machines. So you and I, we can use our “powers of deduction” and ascertain that there must be some sort of problem on either with little Britain or something is wrong with the card.
The interesting fact is that the “agent” on the other side of the chat, didn’t know. And guess what else? They were a skeleton staff they said. Was it a weekend – no. Turns out, it was a bank/public holiday in Germany. Nice.
By this point OMG+ had already been enough, I don’t think there is OMG++ and I don’t feel like getting there. They advised two “superb” options.
Option 1: Block the card and send a new one in the post.
Option 2: “Reset” the card, which only takes one hour.
Yip, Germans – they do love their rules (common sense is not always obvious with them, a rule is a rule) and whilst I would be happy to roll with them, posting a new card back to a address in Berlin… Well, it’s as useful as a screen-door on a submarine.
“I’ll take option number 2… please”
Standing around waiting for the minutes to pass by, is worse than watching grass grow. But I’ll spare you an hour, the time passed, I confirmed with them from my new favourite spot in town, that it was indeed OK, to try again.
Walking over to that ATM machine, card in hand, your steps are somewhat lighter, the felling of joy reenters you life and as to step up to the front of that money box, pop the card in, hit those magic buttons and… DECLINED.
You’re left with nothing, no money, no OMG or OMG+ emotions. Nothing…
Back to my favourite town spot and long story short, they couldn’t help me. “We’re skeleton staff, don’t know and cannot pass your query on, until tomorrow”. Lovely, click the end.
In the end I did try another way and attempted to use Apple Pay at the local Tesco and viola… it worked and I was on my way again. The card could only be used at certain ATM machines like Barclays to draw cash, this I figured out with trial and error with different machines in London. So there was a compatibility issue between some terminals, ATM machines and the card. Still to this day, they don’t know because I found another way.
The point is, this effected me and effected me when I really needed money, dare I say – to survive. All because I rely on a central place to get money. The central place is not the machines, but the bank – that wonderful new internet bank N26.
Bonus point question, do you think I still bank with N26? Rhetorical question.
This is where you do NOT rely on a central party, institution or individual. What’s more it differs from decentralised. A subtle difference, to understand take look at the diagram below.
Thanks Amber Case for this diagram.
It’s a network or even simpler, the first centralised figure shows for example, you and me banking with a bank or sending our photos to the central cloud. The second would be like trucks that travel to hubs to drop of their cargo and other trucks collecting from those hubs. But it’s the third one, that is of interest – this is distributed.
Technically the diagram has a little forgiving flaw in the distributed (C) diagram, because other nodes could connect to other nodes, however it is forgivable because for simplicity sake… there would be lines all over the place, so the simplicity is representing the idea (the point is, again… each one of those dots could connect to any one of the other dots).
Now on this napkin diagram, we see that when you want to share a photo on a distributed environment. Your photo is copied to all the nodes (the little dots on diagram (C) – the diagram before this hand drawn one). So someone else can “download” the photo from anyone of these – not one central place.
OK, so some bright spark on the internet will tell you that there is something called a CDN (Content Delivery Network) essentially a sub-set of servers on the internet, that have copies of your photo. But this would be like the truck delivery to a hub example diagram (B). What’s more is, the “central” entity still controls this or more specifically these hubs.
With a distributed way of doing things, you control your data. That’s where privacy comes in. But before we move onto that, just understand that in a distributed system, your data can be accessed by you or someone else on any of the nodes. It’s better because and we control what we want to share.
Let’s presume you have some photos you do not want to share, intimate photos, pictures of your cat, pictures of your family – who cares. The point is you should be able to decide who can see these photos. It’s the same with any of your information “property” – you own it and it’s yours.
“I share my photos on Instagram or Facebook or Flickr, they’re mine”. I hear you say.
No, they are not.
If Facebook or Instagram or Flickr suddenly went bust or if they decided to change a setting to make everything public – do you have a say? More importantly, do you actually have control? Obviously, not.
There’s a fundamental change happening right now
I’m not having a go at these “centralized” companies, they are trying to solve issues and make our lives better.
It’s just there is a new way of doing things and its coming. Not only that, it’s going to change everything, just… like the internet did, in the 90’s.
Blockchain technology that provides the technological “fabric” to allow Bitcoin to exist, is just one application.
Everyone hears about how “so and so” made money with Bitcoin or some other “dude” who trades Bitcoin or Crypto currencies for a living. This is not the point. You are hearing only about speculation – you’re not looking or seeing the technology “fabric”, that makes all this possible – not only that, how more of this will change things for all of us.
What else can we do with this distributed fabric?
Are there examples?
I’ll contrast central and distributed examples below.
Central = I don’t want to single one out, you know your own banks’ website 😉
Distributed = Bitcoin
This list will go on and there will be an explosion of innovation that will occur. Why?
Explosion of innovation
There is an explosion of innovation and invention waiting to happen.
A central entity (especially, right now) hordes cash. Cash especially in the “West” is so cheap to borrow right now and favours these big well established entities. These “central” entities decide what they should allocate their horded cash to. Most money borrowed is traded, not deployed.
In the old world, founders would take their companies public on stock exchanges (called an IPOs). Here only certain people can invest in an entity (public company) shares.
Contrast this to a world where anyone, anywhere can buy anything, sell anything, invest anywhere or create. We’ve already heard about ICO’s (Initial Coin Offering), this is a process where anyone from anywhere can by tokens of an entity.
Think about opening a bank account, how long it takes, all the documents you need, how to prove your identity, the security questions, pins and passwords you need. This is the old way. On the new wave, you generate a wallet (account) in seconds.
Then there is the operations, ways of working these things. Take the transfer of money from one country bank account to another. Here in the west we need to know the full name of the person, their address, the account number and branch code. In Russia, you can transfer between one card to another – just with the card number! The new wave, you just have a wallet address – that’s just a string of numbers and digits. Boom, you are done!
Time to upgrade
So thinking about my situation to purchase water using a “central” operating bank model, I obviously had issues. In the new world where shops accept Bitcoin, Ether or any other Cryptocurrency I could have used my wallet and the store (any size small or big) could verify that I had the crypto funds – from anyone the network.
Going further if I wanted to open another bank account, I would need all sort of information. Whereas on the new wave, I could open a new account instantly… today.
Personally I can’t wait, I’m starting already to gain know how and knowledge, to ride this new wave… and so should you.