Tag Archives: dwebsummit

Tyranny is mostly pleasant

In my life I’ve been lucky enough to visit some brutal military dictatorships. From Suharto’s Indonesia as a child to Mubarak’s Egypt more recently, they’ve been really pleasant to visit. My impression is that most citizens of these countries were fairly unencumbered by the political system they lived under. Some people had terrible time – Islamists in Egypt, Timorese and Papuans in Indonesia – were tortured and murdered, their languages and beliefs suppressed. But for most people this wasn’t an issue.

Thinking about technology we have a similar situation. Most people are happy to rely on a proprietary operating system like MacOS or Windows because even though it takes away some freedoms, for them these freedoms aren’t as important on a day-to-day basis as the convenience that the platform provides.

Even though they’ve done a terrible job of protecting women and marginalized minorities from abuse, Twitter is a really convenient conversation platform for me. Facebook too with its real names policy excludes many people from honest, safe expression, but for a white cis man like me it’s really convenient.

On the other hand I run Linux on my personal computers because software freedom is morally important to me and the practical benefits for my fringe use case (programming) are significant.

If we’re going to build and promote Free technology – both FLOSS and a decentralized web, we need to accept that the pure principle of freedom isn’t enough to kick-start change. Enough people need to suffer enough discomfort to trigger a revolution.

Decentralized Web: My Thought Experiment

I’m at the Decentralized Web Summit today and it’s all very interesting. There are some big picture ideas of how the future should be. There are all sorts of interesting disparate technologies filling all kinds of holes. But I have a thought experiment that I’ve used to understand where we need to go and what we need to build to get there.

Uber. Or Lyft or AirBnB, or even Etsy.

This new sharing economy supposedly shakes up traditional businesses by harnessing the distributed power of the internet, but when you ignore shiny apps these businesses look a lot like traditional rent-seeking middlemen.

It feels like a bug that we are making new businesses that look like such old businesses. Ride sharing shouldn’t need  middleman. Prospective passengers and drivers should be able to discover each other, agree on a transaction, go for a ride and then make payment.

We have a lot of the pieces already, but reputation is the big challenge I see in all this. Even centralized systems struggle with reputation but we don’t have a good way to know if we should trust that a driver is competent or a guest won’t trash my apartment. I don’t know how to solve this, but I sure hope someone is thinking about it.