Luckily, businesses (and business concerns) are basically completely irrelevant.

If your startup is decentralized then your startup is making a poor business decision, but calling it a startup is a good indicator of that too: “startup” is a term for “small business” used exclusively by people who think VC funding is a good idea.

If your open source project uses decentralization, on the other hand, then it’s the product of sensible design. After all, an open source project cannot necessarily rely upon the persistence of any particular hardware, nor can it rely upon having a team actively update it to adapt to changes in infrastructure: a flexible peer to peer system is the only way to make sure such a project (if it depends on networking with other nodes) survives the inevitable expiration of whatever companies provide it with early support.

Now, yes, blockchain tech is overused. It’s overused because capitalism rewards con artists who jump on misunderstood buzzwords. (When money isn’t involved, there’s no net benefit to maximizing the number of users running your code, so marketing becomes a non-issue and these incentives toward trendy but ill-fitting tools go away.)

IPFS is a good example of a useful technology that has incentives at odds with capitalism. IPFS provides content addressing, which is great: it means permanent static addresses (something the web fails to provide, leading to the necessity of hacks like the wayback machine, and leading to anti-patterns like domain sitting & malicious redirects of formerly-popular sites). IPFS also does some caching and routing, which is also great: it means that even if your original host goes away, popular content remains accessible from the same address indefinitely. But IPFS runs counter to capitalism, since the bait-and-switch and the ability to centrally control distribution are necessary parts of extracting money from information flows. IPFS presents something similar to ‘free energy’: a system for hard-to-meter and hard-to-interrupt data sharing that’s about as straightforward as the web; if I worked for Facebook I’d probably be opposed to it, and if I worked for the MPAA it would terrify me. As someone who uses computers, though, it presents a set of very useful tools for solving everyday problems.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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