I am a software developer, and this presentation is for activists who are interested in Decentralization. By the end of this presentation, you will understand decentralization and be able give example of decentralized systems, both in IT and in nature. You will get a method of analyzing systems to identify centralization or decentralization aspects.
The presentation will mention the centralization strategy, and the recentralization movement that is going on right now. Those who stay with me until the end of the presentation will get to know two very specific things to look for when evaluating alternatives to the systems they are using right now.
Let’s look at the email system. I have an email address, and you have an email address, and we can exchange email messages. The email system offers a service that is relaying the email messages to their recipients. Let’s see some very special characteristics of this service.
First, If I want to email you, I only need to know your email address, I do not need to know what mail server you are using, what mail client you are using, where is your email server located, where in the world you are located. I can email you by just knowing as little information about you as possible, which is in this case, your mail server, the part after the @ symbol in your email address, and then your user name on that mail server. Those two pieces of information enable me to send you messages.
Let’s say you want to change your email service provider, Now to email you I only need your new email address. I do not need to change my service provider and follow you to your new service provider so that we can communicate by email. In fact, The only thing you need to do in order to communicate with all the people you want to communicate with is to send them your new email address.
One very important feature of the email service is that anybody can have their own email server, so anybody can become their own email service provider. If you want to do that, you need to setup the service, and once you have done that, you become what we call a node in the system, and you can create an account for yourself and send it to your contacts. You can even create accounts for other people. The email service does not care who operates the a certain node, and anybody, anytime, can create a new mail server without requiring permission from anyone. This means that any email server has the same importance in the system as any other email server. There are no “central” or “main” email servers or nodes in the email system.
Another aspect of the system is that using the system does not affect other people’s ability to use it. We can exchange email as much as we want, and other people in Russia or China or Japan or anywhere in the world can exchange messages as much as they want. No node in the email system can bring the service to halt. If a certain node misbehaves. It can be blocked or quarantined, and the service remains operational for other people.
So we have seen a few important characteristics of the email service. The service requires very little information to operate, Anybody can become a node, nodes are independent and can communicate with each other, nodes have the same importance, and a change in a node or a client does not require any other changes in the other nodes.
The email service is a decentralized service, and any service that has those characteristics can be called decentralized. Any system that offers decentralized services is a good candidate to be called a decentralized system.
Let’s look at what is not a decentralized service, If for example, The service requires a proprietary format that imposes a specific client to access the service, would you call that a decentralized service? I would not. If the service requires some type of authorization to create a node, would you call it a decentralized service? I would not. If the service requires you to create an account, or authenticate, with a central server to access it, would you call it a decentralized service? I would not.
Let’s look at another service, the postal service. I need your physical address to send you a letter, and if you change your address and send me a new address I will be able to send you letters without changing my own address. If you build your own house, you can just get a new address and send it to me so that I can send you a letter. Do you think the postal service is a decentralized service? I think so.
This means that decentralized services exist in the physical world as well, but wait, did you know that decentralization is the natural evolution path for any system in the physical world? Yes, Unless somebody decides to centralize a natural system, it would evolve in a decentralized way. For examples, look at how villages and cities evolved naturally, each city was totally independent, and they were able to trade and establish services between themselves until an external actor disrupted the decentralized nature, and started a centralization initiative. That is how countries were manufactured. Centralization is the biggest risk to a decentralized system.
If you look further, you see that decentralization is everywhere in nature, Insect colonies are decentralized, forests contain millions of decentralized eco-systems, oceans contain even more. My point is: Decentralization is everywhere around us, and it is natural evolution path, but sometimes, natural evolution is hindered by human actors.
Let’s look at another example, Did you know that the banking service was originally decentralized. Until very recently, I would right you a check, and you would take it to your banking service provider, which is your bank, and request the check to be processed. Your bank did not need to know how you got the check, what for, what was the transaction, where was the check issued, or any information about me. The bank would process the check with the information on the check only. In theory, you were also able to become a banking service provider, and create your own banking nodes. Yes, you were able to do that, but not anymore, because banking as a service had been centralized, and more centralization in banking is still ongoing.
It took centuries to centralize the banking system, and the same strategy was used multiple times to introduce incremental centralization on banking services until the entire banking system became fully centralized. Centralization usually starts by an innovation, for example, some bankers innovated a new way to conduct banking transaction using a centralized system, and pitched that system as it provides “trust” and solves many other problems for traditional bankers. That system is now called “Swift” and nowadays, to become a bank, you need to register with Swift. Do you think the banking transaction processing service is still decentralized? I do not.
The strategy that centralized the banking service is a well known predatory strategy, it has many names, but the most common is “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish”. Little by little, small extension after small extension, The entire banking system became fully centralized, and a few people now control the banking system in the entire world and are able to extinguish any banking service when they decide that.
The Embrace, Extend, Extinguish strategy is widely used nowadays, you can see it in action in my instances, for example, Google is trying to extinguish email by forcing android users to use a gmail account, and by extending their gmail service with many extra services. Also Microsoft now controls and is extending the largest hub for decentralized open source development. Google, Microsoft, and others have used the EEE strategy in the past to extinguish decentralized services, but you won’t find stories about that in history books, I am sure you can go back in memory and find other examples for that.
Let’s get specific, By now you know how to tell whether a certain system is decentralized, so let’s look at the major systems used by activists in our current time. I will discuss YouTube, Wordpress, and the blockchain.
Can you create your own YouTube node? As far as I know, no one can. Can you create your own WordPress node, Yes I guess so, but can somebody who has a WordPress account on some WordPress site engage you without an account on your site? That would be possible if you know how to configure it. Unfortunately I do not know many people who would do it. I think WordPress, Drupal, and many other leading Content Management Systems can be decentralized to a high extent if configured properly.
Is the block chain decentralized? I think that depends on the block chain itself, and the people who manage it. Many block chains are decentralized and many are not. But here we need be careful because many block chain systems are under a heavy EEE attack. Those attacks focus on block chains that power crypto currencies, however, some attacks target other aspects of internet services as well. Many very powerful actors have embraced block chain systems and they are extending them, and now I think the leading block chain systems face a real centralization threat. Mining is becoming centralized, exchanges have become fully centralized, and new block chain systems that do not support peer-to-peer transactions are emerging. All those are risk factors in my opinions. We have an essential takeaway here: Block chains are under heavy attacks, and those attacks usually start as innovation. Centralization starts with an innovation.
During the past 4 years, YouTube terminated a huge number of accounts, possibly more than 250000 accounts. Most of them were normal people commenting on content in a way that offended YouTube’s censorship team. many highly active opinion leaders and activists were purged from YouTube as well. When YouTube.com terminates your account, you can not move to another YouTube service provider. You can not do that because YouTube is a very centralized service by design.
So what did those activists do when they lost their accounts on YouTube? The created accounts on other systems and started inviting their audience to follow them. Are you on a decentralized system if you need your audience to join the same service provider you are using? We know the answer is no. But Wait, most of those activists realize that centralization is bad, so naturally one would think they would prefer to reboot their communities on a decentralized system. That’s not what I saw. Unfortunately. Most (not all) of the people I follow moved to other centralized systems, and lead their audience to the same centralization trap they fell in on YouTube. I called this exodus “Recentralization”. So, Recentralization is moving and dragging other people from a centralized system to another centralized system, instead of a decentralized system.
Among the people I follow, most activists direct their audience to these 3 services. Odysee, BitChute, and Rokfin. I know that there are other recentralization services, and those 3 are listed for example only. Unfortunately, most of the recentralization services rank way lower that YouTube on any decentralization scale, because most of them do not support many standards, and do not allow you to copy all your content from the service. Besides, I can see traces for the EEE strategy in the pitches of many of these services.
I would like to ask any activist who promotes any service to consider the following questions: Does the service require anything other than a virtual address for you to join? Does the service support multiple service providers? Can anybody create a node and become a service provider? And most importantly, what would you do if the service closes your account?
Now if you are looking for a decentralized service to use in your activism, I would recommend looking for two keywords in the service description those are: ActivityPub and RSS. ActivityPub is one of the leading decentralization protocols on the internet, and it deserves its own presentation. RSS is an old protocol for decentralization, It was extinguished by Google, but it is still alive, and it can be used to implement decentralization and combat censorship. That also deserves its own presentation.
By listening, discussing, and sharing this presentation with your audience, you show your interest in decentralization. Now you know how to identify decentralization in a service, and detect EEE attacks against decentralization. I would like to leave you with this message : There are many decentralized solutions, those solutions are built by developers like myself, and work best when used by activists like yourself. Those solutions are free and cost nothing, and do not make you their product. I hope you will start asking questions about real decentralized solutions.