This is a post about decentralised systems. Bear with me.
I was reading this about an Internet primer in FHM magazine, dated 1995. The writer is about the same age as I was when the article was published. The tone of the piece is familiar. Back then, the Internet was seen as a minority interest, like drag racing or macramé. I recall having to tone down my enthusiasm for it in polite company. I had people laugh at me in public for asserting that the Internet would be bigger than TV.
Great has been my satisfaction on it becoming what it is today. But like all grand dreams, the reality hasn’t been quite what I expected.
In The Beginning
In about 1994, I logged into a bulletin board called “Fast Breeder”.
A Google search for which now only turns up a passing mention here and there, along with undated but fascinating screeds such as these, soon to disappear like tears in rain. I may have to save them for posterity.
Fast Breeder’s line was usually busy after 6:00pm (the cheap rate), but when you managed to get on, there was a message on the screen that said:
Death to the communications monopolies! May ten thousand autonomous systems bloom!
That message dropped a bomb into my 20-something self like Luke’s X-wing into the death star. The idea of ten thousand systems publishing whatever they wanted was fascinating. If I counted up the traditional media sources I had access to at the time, I doubt it would have numbered much more than 200 across maybe ten owners. So the moment I realised what Fast Breeder was – information without regulation – I was hooked.
(And yes, I did later go on to work for The Daily Mail. That was all part of the plan…)
But there was a problem. This new media was complicated. It made Caxton’s print revolution look like plain sailing. You needed not only to be able to read, you needed a modem. And a computer. And a bit later on you needed Trumpet Winsock… So I became a sort of conduit between the online world and real life. Constantly trying to explain what online was. What modems did, what baud rates were about… It was hard work. Hardly anyone understood me because I barely understood it myself.
But I knew something big – something HUGE – was happening that would affect all our lives somehow.
Gradually, as 1995 passed into 2000, which then passed into 2005, the online world had leaked into the real world sufficiently well for me to realise that I was spending hardly any effort explaining or evangelising it. The online world was doing that for me now. The Facebooks and Twitters were arriving and doing it for me.
And now I get totally confused by Snapchat. Certainly didn’t see that coming.
They Stole our Revolution, Now We’re Stealing It Back
The above title is the strapline from NTK, another part of the (later) “digital underground” as it was often called before the word “darknet” eclipsed that now rather quaint idea.
But now it’s 2016 and I’m getting the feelings. The same feelings I had in 1995 understanding baud rates, Fast Breeder, NNTP clients and Fidonet. The same feelings of frustration about not being able to explain; of barely understanding… But it’s underpinned by the same vague feeling that SOMETHING BIG is happening.
And that thing is the blockchain. The blockchain is as central to my feeling about the future as the ownership of a modem was in 1995. As important to the idea of communication as Fast Breeder was. As beyond my understanding as Trumpet Winsock was. But I know it’s important.
To explain this stuff any further is probably futile, so I’ll just leave these here for anyone who wants to get that 1995 feeling:
First, a primer (and I’d follow @leashless if I were you too):
“By the end of this article, you’re going to understand blockchains in general (and Ethereum, a next-generation blockchain platform, in particular) well enough to decide what they mean to your life.”
And Now for Some Implementations
Twister: a peer-to-peer microblogging (follow me @gilgongo)
Auger: “Imagine an Early Warning System for Everything”
IPFS: “The permanent web”
This article was originally published on webtorque.org and has been lightly edited for style.
This article is now up on hacker news, feel free to discuss there