The Internet and the World Wide Web remain the biggest decentralized communication system humanity has ever seen. This was very much a part of the design: the inventors of the Web wished for all people to be able to create and access information.
But the benefits of a decentralized Internet are eroding. When we concentrate our online activity on just a few social networks and messaging apps – as billions of us do – it narrows our experience of the Web to one where we are pointed only at content that appeals to our likes in search results and social media streams. Here, we are consumers rather than creators.
The Internet remains decentralized, but the things we do on it every day are controlled by just a handful of global technology giants. These companies are starting to look more and more like monopolies of the past. Given the importance of the Internet in our lives, this is not healthy.
At the governance level, it’s worth noting that the US government gave up control of the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) in 2016. They officially handed this oversight role to the non-profit, ICANN, which convenes stakeholders from private, public and non-profit sectors around the world. The handover was mostly a formality, but it represents a global commitment to a decentralized Web.
Today, we don’t expect one kind of video chat software to intercooperate with another. This would only be possible if all the software in this category adhered to the same open standards. There could be rules or best practices to govern standards that would support more diverse markets. New innovators would be able to write software that works with what everyone already has.