While quite contradictory to its original purpose, the digital economy is now controlled by a subset of elitist companies. “Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77 percent of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74 percent share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies,” writes Jonathan Taplin in the New York Times.
Many critics are wondering if it’s time to break up these massive conglomerates. Having a select set of companies in extreme positions of power is generally troublesome because it enables oligarchs to operate opaquely, without restriction and in a top-down manner.
“Google and Facebook manage this because they are platform monopolists,” writes Ryan Cooper in The Week. “They can exert tremendous influence through their control of how people use the internet—and crush productive businesses in the process. Like any monopoly, it is long since time that the government regulated them to serve the public interest.”
The biggest challenge for today’s industry giants, however, is having to adapt to rapidly changing market developments.
Blockchain technologies are poised to displace slow-moving incumbents and restore power to the individual. Perhaps the most compelling and exciting application of these decentralized systems is the next iteration of the internet, which many are calling Web 3.0.
In IEEE Spectrum, Robert E. Lucky notes that “distributed architectures have an engineering appeal. They offer organic growth and resilience and are a cradle for democratic usage and control. We technologists have some powerful tools to create distributed systems, including mesh networks, peer-to-peer protocols, cryptography, and blockchains.”
Blockchains promise to bring fairness and security to the internet economy. They are moving us closer to having truly decentralized internet search.
CoinTelegraph details the allure of this technological breakthrough, showing how “using Blockchain gives you more privacy when it comes to searching online. Instead of major search platforms deciding what is, what is not relevant to you, you decide what information you want to share. In return, you receive targeted ads that are of specific interested to you.”
Unlike today’s options, decentralized engines would give the end user control over their information. They give control to users in deciding how and when their information is shared (and with whom it is shared with). Data generated in these distributed blockchain systems are automatically cryptographically encrypted so that a user’s information remains anonymized.
Companies like Presearch, an emerging blockchain startup, are accelerating this notion of a truly distributed search engine. As they describe in their whitepaper, “Presearch is an open, decentralized search engine that rewards community members with Presearch Tokens for their usage, contribution to, and promotion of the platform.” Built by a team of serial technologists, Presearch has the potential to steal market share from incumbents.
The team behind Ethereum, one of the most talked about projects in the blockchain community, is optimistic about the reality of a decentralized web.
Taylor Gerring, one of the team members, writes that “while cryptography first allowed us to secure our messages, it is increasingly being used in more abstract ways... If PGP was the first major iteration of applied crypto, then I anticipate that the integration of crypto into the fabric of a decentralized web will be the refined third implementation.”
It will be interesting to see how and when this decentralized reality comes to fruition. As the technology improves, the discussion is becoming less about whether we can build the right features and more about when and how they should be implemented.
Ben Hortman of cloud mining company BET Capital LLC pointed out that, “The next generation of startups will leverage core blockchain technology to build a new decentralized economy that will affect a whole range of industries. Cryptocurrencies are really just the start of a much broader technological breakthrough.”
While pessimists see this movement as a mere pipe dream, many technologists are confident that we are well on our way to a more distributed future. Inevitably, decentralized applications will make their way into every industry imaginable - ranging from distributed marketplaces to automated exchanges.