We will be remembered as the first people to connect to the Internet. We are the first generation to live part of their lives online.Mikko Hypponen, author of «If It’s Smartm It’s Vulnerable
The real world is not artificially designed. It is governed by rules that no one has written, and they are sacred. The laws of nature. Nobody questions them. We just live by them.
The online world is another story. It is governed by forces. These forces are individuals, companies, even entire countries. Everyone is bidding for the lion’s share of the pie. Controlling the Internet today is pretty much the equivalent of controlling the world.
We live in a world that tends towards concentrations of power. This is something that anyone can easily realize, and the digital world is no stranger to concentrations of power. Power in general tends more to be concentrated in fewer hands and in greater quantity.
And this is also true, despite the fact that we all use the same Internet, which in turn operates under the same sort of protocols, which, in turn, most of them happen to be open protocols.
If we analyze them one by one, even without going too much into technical detail, none of the protocols that govern the Internet that we use today (or, at least, the most core part of it) seems suspicious of favoring, in itself, a natural centralization of power.
The fact that we, as a society, tend to favor factors such as convenience or comfort, over privacy and control of our information, has been decisive in achieving the centralized Internet that we have today, in which a few companies they act as true unifying centers of power, becoming more and more omnipresent in a growing number of aspects in our lives.
The good news is that there are also other forces that are taking the Internet to another destination.
The first force is Free Software. It has been with us for many years, and its importance and significance in today’s Internet, has been absolutely crucial.
Free Software benefits everyone. All large companies and countries are sustained thanks to Free Software (to a greater or lesser extent). Also, and much more important, all core protocols on which today’s Internet is sustained are free, in the sense of Free Software, and it’s absolutely crucial that this continues to be that way.
In that sense, it’s specially true this quote of Eric S. Raymond:
lf present trends continue, the central challenge of software technology and product management in the next century will be knowing when to let go — when to allow closed code to pass into the open-source infrastructure in order to exploit the peer-review effect and capture higher returns in service and other secondary markets.Eric S. Raymond, author of «The cathedral and the bazaar»
Eventually software projects will have to turn into open source to benefit from the open world and stop being isolated. The question is not an if, but when.
Linux is probably the most notable example. It was born free and open source, and represents probably one of the greatest inventions of the century. Its presence goes far beyond personal computers and smartphones. We are talking about routers, refrigerators, washing machines, cars, watches, drones, robots. We are also talking about servers. A vast part of today’s web runs on top of Linux.
Its significance is so massive and extensive that is impossible to quantify. But the truth is that Linux would never have become such a global success story if it had been subjected to license terms, or if its innovations had been protected by patents.
In 2003, Wired magazine named Linus Torvalds as the leader of the world. Free software runs the world, but it does it so quietly and humbly that rarely takes any credit for that. It’s so accessible that every private individual or entity can benefit from it for private purposes. Its greatness lies mainly in this fact.
At the same time, the big weakness of Free Software is based on the little or no ability to capture back the great value it generates to the world. We see free open source projects that great a massive of value to other projects struggling to get funds.
Is that possible to change that? I feel that at this present moment no one has a clear answer to that. Fortunately, we could see that in the next decade.
The other great force is decentralization. It is the element that was missing to build a free Internet and, ultimately, live a free life. A limited Internet brings a limited life.
Although it may seem more like an idea than a tangible thing, the truth is that decentralized and distributed networks seem to be the key element to allow creators themselves to capture back the value they generate.
That is also specially important in the context of Free Software. So when we are able to coordinate Free Software with decentralization, some magical things may happen.
Decentralization means inclusion, rather than privilege. It’s a tool for self sovereignty. Just like Free Software, decentralization is here for the benefit of the many.
The Internet We Want
What is clear is that the Internet wants to be free, and for that to be true, it needs to be open and decentralized. It is written in the story of its birth.
Good protocols will surely allow all forces to compete and, ultimately, coexist in a natural way. It is our job and responsability to bet on those forces that direct us to an open and free Internet, because that is how we want our lives to be.
Internet is us. The Internet is the infrastructure of our lives.