Reading Response E -- Locality

The internet was once a highly decentralized system. In the earliest days, there were no large corporations or service providers like Ashley Madison or Facebook or Twitter, or behemoth databases to house your information. If you wanted to join up, you plugged in a computer and found a connection through a service provider, and that was basically it. You were online. Your computer was a “peer” of the other computers. It was a computocracy.

When the web came along, it was the same. You wanted to say something, so you ran a web server on a computer. You put some web pages in a folder. Your web server waited, night and day, for other computers to ask it for pages and files, and then sent those files back over the network. The servers were still off on their own, but now they could talk to each other.


Freed from the need to build and manage their own web sites, people could do more social things with their computers. They could talk to each other, start conversations, argue endlessly. They could leave private messages. Many found a community. And the companies that hosted the databases found a business model. Make the messages short, and adapt the database to manage millions of “friends” and “followers” (Friendster, then Twitter). Make a blogging engine that allows you to post short updates and keep track of your friends (MySpace, then Facebook). The computocracy was now something else—a Googlopoly.

The technology that let people make web sites never went away. You can still set up a site as if it were 1995. But culture changes, as do expectations. It takes a certain set of skills to create your own web site, populate it with cool stuff, set up a web server, and publish your own cool-stuff web pages. I would argue that those skills should be a basic part of living in a transparent and open culture where individuals are able to communicate on an equal field of play. Some fellow nerds would argue the same. But most everyone else, statistically, just uses Facebook and plays along.

The idea of a decentralized internet is clearly an idealistic view; with everyone wanting to partake in information equally, decentralization removes any sort of bureaucracy and essentially makes everyone have the same standing. Everyone is equal in gathering information. Everyone is equal in creating information. It might take time to access another user’s webpages by going through several links but at least no one owns anyone else’s data.

However, I do think there is a lot of merit for various companies to manage how we access information via the web. A decentralized network containing the magnitude of nodes we have today would translate into a prolonged duration for retrieving information. Search engines like Google make it possible to retrieve relevant information and typically information from credible sources due to a complex linear algebra computation. Furthermore templates and companies that make it easier to set up personal websites increases accessibility for spreading information, rather than just leaving it to the “nerds.” It seems unreasonable to assume that programming one’s own website should be “a basic part of living” because not only it is complicated and time-consuming but also it alienates the web-based community to a significantly smaller subset of the global population. Furthermore, the skill set in making an attractive website (by today’s standards) in order to increase credibility and viewership of one’s page is immense. Instead of the controversy between a centralized and decentralized network, it would make more sense to create an avenue by which one could have complete ownership of one’s page if one so desires and easily connect to the broader, more structured web.