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Centralization / decentralization discussion roundtable AKA "resisting big tech"

GoGetter24

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There is little doubt that the internet has been a force for massive centralization, rather than decentralization.

We're now in the situation where:

One company, Google, controls 80% of video watching (YouTube), 90% of internet searches (Google search), 75% of mobile phones, 30% of global digital ads, and even 25% of emails (Gmail).

One company, Facebook, has over 2 billion active users internationally, and together with WhatsApp controls the messaging between at least 1.5 billion people, more than any other service, and if you exclude the Chinese market completely eclipses other messaging services. It also controls 20% of digital ads, which means California tech companies control half of all online global advertising.

One company, Amazon, controls half of all US e-commerce, and growing.

Paypal controls 60% of online payment processing, which is global.

Steam controls 50 to 80% of the video game distribution market.

And no signs of anti-trust on the horizon whatsoever.

These companies have then used this power to shut down voices they dislike. Alex Jones, yes that crazy guy who talks about frogs turning gay, was simultaneously banned by multiple platforms within the same week, across multiple companies. So not only do they have monopoly control over their own info tech areas, they now act in concert to suppress dissent and people who do wrongthink.

We're talking about companies, or a consortium of them, that now have greater power and control over populations than individual national governments. They even have so much power that they can control the course of elections. And yet they are covered by none of the protections we have against governments, such as in the forms of constitutions and bills of rights.

They have massive, invasive and thorough control over our lives, and can shut down anyone's business in a heartbeat at their arbitrary will.

The Matrix portended the future well, but they got one thing wrong: the machines don't control people -- a small group of people control everyone else using machines.

Root cause

I'd like to kick off this discussion (assuming anyone gives a crap and isn't just plugged in) by discussing what the root cause of this situation is.

I think the root cause is the removal of geographic effects. Previously geography was a large limiter on the reach of companies. Yellow Pages would create region-specific directories. You'd drive to retail shops based on location; mail-order was much less convenient & efficient than e-commerce. You'd socialize locally instead of on a global network. You'd pay in local cash or using cheques drawn on local banks.

Without these geographic effects, economies of scale balloon out to global scope. It's easier to just use the "global best" (e.g. Google or Facebook) rather than concern yourself with the best local option. The internet has made it easy for these companies to swallow entire markets, and nothing is showing signs of resisting their growth.

Decentralization

Primarily this is a phenomenon based on centralization pressure. The internet has allowed centralization pressure to run wild, and without any decentralization backlash, there's nothing to stop these companies gaining ever increasing control of societies worldwide.

A survey of existing/remaining decentralized tech:
  • Forums. Such as this one. There are hundreds of thousands of them, running a broad variety of software. They are the anonymous, decentralized competitor to Facebook groups.
  • Blogs & their comment sections (partly centralized by services such as disqus). 150 million blogs on the internet.
  • Other self-expression outlets, like vlogs & podcasts.
  • Direct advertising & direct ad networks.
  • Hardware. While OSs like Android have dominated control of them, the actual hardware is still very decentralized. There are many mobile phone, computer, and peripheral manufacturers.
  • Email. "Other" i.e. ISP-based, private, or other company email, is still at 10%. It's been mostly taken over by big tech, but still has some hold out. Spam has been a factor in increasing centralization. Email has also been a force for decentralization in that it allows smaller businesses to build a following, and not have to keep relying on ads, i.e. building lists & email marketing.
  • Websites. Some centralization has come from cloud services from Amazon and Google, but websites are still heavily decentralized, with the top hosting provider (GoDaddy) only hosting 5% of all websites.

Problems limiting decentralization

The first is the search issue. Life is complicated and hard. People have a natural tendency to go to the one best place to get solutions. If they want to know or find something right now, they type it into Google. If they want to socialize right now, they log into Facebook. If they want to buy something, they search on Amazon. If they want to watch something, they search on YouTube.

Everything else is usually inferior due to the economies of scale involved. You can't trust another search source to be better than Google, so you might miss the solution if you don't use Google. This is why stuff like DuckDuckGo is always going to miss the point. You can't trust another social network because it's all about popularity & numbers: going where most other people are. You can't rely on a local shop because they'll never have the range a place like Amazon will have.

This creates a hub and spoke situation. A website like this one is a spoke, but to get here, most people come in from Google searches: the hub. If you have an e-shop, the customers come in from ads on Google or Facebook, or from Amazon searches if you sell on there.

It is primarily this hub and spoke situation that gives the hubs (big tech) power over the spokes (small businesses, small websites, private discussions, content).

Possible solution

Ring roads
. The spokes should be interconnecting with each other. Instead of relying on hubs, they should rely on their own networks, which they organically build with each other. The more online networks there are, the less power big tech has.

What is done so far in this space:
  • Some blogs list links to other blogs, calling it a "blog roll", usually at the bottom of the page or bottom of the sidebar. This very weakly links blogs together, so readers might carry on to other blogs or podcasts etc instead of going back to a hub.
  • Email marketing. Sending out newsletters to previous customers or subscribers maintains a network outside the control of big tech. It's just you, your website, your subscriber, and your email hosts, which can be made entirely private if you so wish.
  • Direct ads. Businesses contracting directly with blogs / forums / podcasts etc to show ads on their sites. This actually has an added power over centralization: it's easier to detect and block centralized ads than custom ad systems.
  • Affiliate marketing. Similar in effect to direct ads.
  • E-commerce websites. Using your own site instead of Amazon or Shopify, maintaining control instead of risking being shut down at whim at any time.
  • Private websites. Keeping your blog or business website on your own hosting, instead of using a Facebook page or hosting outside your control (e.g. wordpress.org blog).
What could be done:
  • Inlining of network content. Instead of just a link at the bottom of a page, blogs could connect directly to each other, and inline posts from each other, creating a tighter connection. E.g. for each 10 blog articles, it reciprocally inserts 2 from "friend" blogs. For a forum, it would add a widget in the sidebar, or possibly even inline threads in thread lists, that will display a small number of threads from friend forums. This would be based on a "degrees of separation" rule, e.g. a 1 in 5 chance of showing an article from a friend site, a 1 in 25 chance of showing an article from one of their friend sites, etc.
  • Network suggestion. Using machine-learning based suggestion systems, such as are used to suggest the next video to watch on YouTube, but localized to your network. If you're in the business space, and someone reads an article about bank loans, it could suggest similar articles from friend sites. People would not use search within such a network, as it's contrary to why people search (they'd just use Google). But they would take suggestions, in the same way they may click a link in a post.
  • Network based authorization. Instead of having to either sign up to every site by email (spoke) or using a narrow selection of hubs (like Facebook or Twitter login), there would be an option to use your existing login from a friend site. Your posts would then be made under your login name + the site. E.g. If TheFastLaneForum and CityData forum were friends, I could login and post there under the name GoGetter24 [FastLane]
This ring road form of connection would go a long way to weakening big tech's ever tightening grip on society and business.

Thoughts? Criticisms? Applause?
 

ChrisV

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If anyone wants to beat Google/Amazon/Steam the answer is simple: stop sucking

People use these services because they like them

Some wants competition, build a better mousetrap. So then people can throw antitrust suits against you.

Monopoly laws are dumb. I say 'Laissez Faire.'
 

GoGetter24

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People use these services because they like them
So explain the following: why the number of search services is 1, and the number of plumbing services are hundreds of thousands?

Saying it's just because everyone else who made search services "sucked", and all plumbers are equally great, would be an indicator of what?
 

GoGetter24

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TL;DR: concept is cutting out the middle-man, in this case the hub-like big tech services like Google and Facebook, by branching sideways to form networks with other websites & businesses.

ring road web idea.png
 

ApparentHorizon

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I don't see how this solves the centralization problem. Just because you change the linking/aggregation structure of the internet, doesn't mean it's not susceptible to the same consolidation of power and services.

You're also focusing on decentralization as the main selling point, without addressing what brought the services you're trying to overthrow to power.

This just looks like PBNs with extra steps.
 

GoGetter24

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what brought the services you're trying to overthrow to power
I mentioned the removal of geographic limits bit, which has overrode economies of localization. Now instead of companies advertising using local radio stations, billboards, etc, they advertise to people right next door via a server in San Francisco.

I don't see how this solves the centralization problem. Just because you change the linking/aggregation structure of the internet, doesn't mean it's not susceptible to the same consolidation of power and services.
Subject-matter decentralization.

The internet has partially removed geographic decentralization (language-based decentralization still has some power), but it has amplified people's ability to participate in subject-matter grouping. People don't have to just watch TV, they can watch specifically what they're interested in.

This idea is addressing the issue of: why is subject matter grouping being centrally controlled (e.g. via a single site and its ads and its suggestion algorithms). I submit it's because there are no mechanisms, or only weak mechanisms, for lateral movement.

When someone is spending time on a site like this, it means they're interested in entrepreneurship. The more this site were to suggest other entrepreneurial-themed sites / resources, the less a user has to go back out to a hub. The better and more specific (specificity is decentralizing) the aggregation networks, the less people will drop back a hub (e.g. facebook newsfeed [passive] or a google search [active]).

This form of lateral interlinking would offer the following advantages:
  • Better targeted ads & higher conversion rates (due to higher quality control)
  • Keeping people within the same space longer, increasing their engagement and purchases (increased customer lifetime value)
  • Reduced monotony / uniformity / groupthink that pervades centralization, so more exiting and a better sense of community with less isolation feeling
  • Invigoration of smaller sites that can't rank on SERPs, allowing increased variety & specialization in the internet landscape
Let's take a case in point: Loot Crate - Monthly Geek and Gamer Subscription Box.

Here it's just a single site selling "loot crates" (something to do with gaming). It maintains its own blog. I found it by a google search for "loot crate". Hub & spoke.

However you've just found it (I assume) via a link I've posted. That's lateral. Imagine if they had content inlining agreements with other gaming themed blogs, gaming themed forums, gaming themed podcasts. They'd both be delivering and receiving ultra-targeted traffic, direct to each other, without the middleman gatekeepers. If instead of siloing into their little website fiefs, they formed networks, they'd only strengthen and make more vibrant their communities.

Or this site, for example. If it had inlining / suggestion agreements with other business-themed forums and blogs, it'd all be win win. And the bigger the networks, the more the division of labor, and the more effective they'd be for direct ads.
 

ApparentHorizon

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This idea is addressing the issue of: why is subject matter grouping being centrally controlled (e.g. via a single site and its ads and its suggestion algorithms). I submit it's because there are no mechanisms, or only weak mechanisms, for lateral movement.
Convenience, and the entire basis of Google's algorithm is lateral linking.

Inline lateral movement as you're describing it, requires substantial overhead. Aka higher barrier to entries. So now you're leaving out people who just want to set up a blog on a weekend, and making them seek out a network to join. To make connections, and to prove to some committee that their info will benefit the network, instead of the free market. Essentially making the problem of information filtering worse. Then it just end up as an oligopoly and you're right back where you started with the concentration of information.

Certainly @MJ DeMarco won't just let anyone with an entrepreneur forum attach their posts to his site, without vetting and proving their value. Then one day, one of these networks goes rogue and injects malware into their posts, and has a reach 10x what they would have built themselves.

When someone is spending time on a site like this, it means they're interested in entrepreneurship. The more this site were to suggest other entrepreneurial-themed sites / resources, the less a user has to go back out to a hub. The better and more specific (specificity is decentralizing) the aggregation networks, the less people will drop back a hub (e.g. facebook newsfeed [passive] or a google search [active]).
....so an echo chamber....like you're trying to avoid.

Google has this problem currently. When you search, you're largely presented with a profile of what people in this space are linking between.

If you want decentralization of ideas, find a way to connect 2 seemingly unrelated ideas, and present multiple solutions. Not the same conclusions reworded.
 

GoGetter24

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So now you're leaving out people who just want to set up a blog on a weekend, and making them seek out a network to join.
It would be supplementary. They can have their blog. Then they can install an extension that allows inter-website sharing with friend / partner / associate websites.

Once people have set up their blog, they run into 2 problems: they have to have enough content to keep people on their site, and they have to actually get people to their site. This is partly why almost all blogs are unknown and fizzle out (even some well known ones fizzle out). Networking with other bloggers in a similar situation would help alleviate both problems.

Certainly @MJ DeMarco won't just let anyone with an entrepreneur forum attach their posts to his site, without vetting and proving their value. Then one day, one of these networks goes rogue and injects malware into their posts, and has a reach 10x what they would have built themselves.
It would involve reciprocal agreements. E.g. a website of similar size to this one would agree to inline at 1 to 20 ratio, in both directions. If the owner of a website set up such an agreement with rogues then it's on him.

You could also envision consortiums forming for bargaining power purposes. E.g. 1 mega blog wouldn't agree to inline at 1/20 with a tiny blog. But it might agree to with a consortium of 50 tiny blogs.

....so an echo chamber....like you're trying to avoid.
Lateral freedom is the opposite of an echo chamber. Where are the walls?

One issue though is something people forget: private forums are usually run by the worst thought police imaginable. Facebook & co have nothing on Reddit moderators or forum admins when it comes to silencing people who say things you disagree with.

I suspect however that the lateral movement would reduce their power to do so. If people are kept aware of alternatives due to these networks, it would be harder for bad actors to get away with silencing people.

Google has this problem currently. When you search, you're largely presented with a profile of what people in this space are linking between.
You're presented first with ads, and you then click on the first link in the SERP. Search and suggestion are on opposite ends of a spectrum. The concept is that by the time someone had gone back to a hub like Google to do a search, it's too late. Suggestion would increase the amount of lateral movement, and would reduce the winner-take-all effect of ranking 1st in Google. Direct ads also would reduce the power of the Google ads.

The fact Google crawls existing cross-site linking to build its result pages isn't counter-indicating of this concept, it's proving where the base power lies.
 

ApparentHorizon

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One issue though is something people forget: private forums are usually run by the worst thought police imaginable. Facebook & co have nothing on Reddit moderators or forum admins when it comes to silencing people who say things you disagree with.
Reddit. I was thinking the exact same thing. I just don't see how it wouldn't devolve into that.

Everything you described can be done with current tech. WordPress pretty much has everything covered in that sense....but then you have the centralization of content management systems lol.

If you can find a way to simplify, both in explanation and implementation the walls of text you wrote earlier, you may have something.

Maybe start with a financial incentive instead of decentralization.
 

Andreas Thiel

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Not a popular opinion here, I know, but I think the geographic situation did not cause the issue, it just lifted a veil in that area.

I think the root cause are incentives. We get what we incentivize, and nothing makes sense unless it makes financial sense. We pretty much incentivize fights over the control of sales channels. The one thing inherent to the free market economy that aligns a democratic vision with the financial viability of an idea are value attributes, and platform effects make sure that monopolies are the ideal in that respect. Whenever I hear that "the worlds biggest problems are the worlds biggest business opportunities" I just sigh and want proof that there is any correlation at all.

I suppose there might be ways to create a company that provides central leadership for decentralized technology that any entrepreneur can plug into - by getting the value attributes of its products right.
The simplest way would probably be going for a hybrid between a free market economy and an incentive economy that has the central banks print money for people who make democratic visions a reality.
That way we would both
  • incentivize / reward progress on things that people agree would make sense
  • allow people who are ahead of their time to prove that their idea has value even if people "voted" otherwise
 

GoGetter24

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If you can find a way to simplify, both in explanation and implementation the walls of text you wrote earlier, you may have something.
Just in the brainstorming stage at the moment. Proper infographics & videos would be the easiest way once a clear idea forms.

Everything you described can be done with current tech. WordPress pretty much has everything covered in that sense....but then you have the centralization of content management systems lol.
Wordpress is open source though, so it's technical decentralized in the same way languages are decentralized. It also isn't designed with inter-blog friendship in mind. Likely it would be based on a software extension. Like how paypal can be plugged into anything. This would be a protocol, with extensions made for any system (some similarities to Zapier I guess).

Maybe start with a financial incentive instead of decentralization.
Key as always. But I think this is quite a blaring gap, and at the very least could be monetized on a small scale to begin with (contacting a few website owners instead of just logging into adwords). I also think it's fundamentally aligned with @MJ DeMarco's message. Being free allies with free equals instead of under the control of bosses.
 

ChrisV

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So explain the following: why the number of search services is 1, and the number of plumbing services are hundreds of thousands?

Saying it's just because everyone else who made search services "sucked", and all plumbers are equally great, would be an indicator of what?
Because of scalability. 1 plumber can’t service billions and billions of clients. One Google can.

If 1 plumber could service billions and billions of people, then yes, the best one would be the one with almost all of the market share.
 

GoGetter24

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I think the root cause are incentives. We get what we incentivize, and nothing makes sense unless it makes financial sense. We pretty much incentivize fights over the control of sales channels. The one thing inherent to the free market economy that aligns a democratic vision with the financial viability of an idea are value attributes, and platform effects make sure that monopolies are the ideal in that respect. Whenever I hear that "the worlds biggest problems are the worlds biggest business opportunities" I just sigh and want proof that there is any correlation at all.

I suppose there might be ways to create a company that provides central leadership for decentralized technology that any entrepreneur can plug into - by getting the value attributes of its products right.
The simplest way would probably be going for a hybrid between a free market economy and an incentive economy that has the central banks print money for people who make democratic visions a reality.
That way we would both
  • incentivize / reward progress on things that people agree would make sense
  • allow people who are ahead of their time to prove that their idea has value even if people "voted" otherwise
This is a fictional we. There is no we.
 

ChrisV

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Why do people use Google/Facebook/etc?
life-before-google-500x496.jpg

There is no conspiracy. We use Google because it’s useful.

Alex Jones, yes that crazy guy who talks about frogs turning gay, was simultaneously banned by multiple platforms within the same week, across multiple companies. So not only do they have monopoly control over their own info tech areas, they now act in concert to suppress dissent and people who do wrongthink.
Good... that guy is a total wackjob. And I think he was promoting hatespeech. There’s no evidence that Google/FB is using this power for evil, and trust me... if they started to people would rally against them OR start using other services.
 

ChrisV

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To an extent you are right, but again, there’s no evidence Google is using this power for evil.

I’ll give you an example where you’re right. Google penalizes sites that violate copywrites. If they post copywriter material. they’re penalized, if not outright blocked. Yes there’s nome governing over the content, but otherwise it’s just a free-for-all. I don’t think it’s problematic that Google blocks/penalizes certain content. Should you be able to find rape porn on Google? How about pirated copies of @MJ DeMarco ’s books? Terrorist content?

The argument against monopolies is ‘without competitions, people are stuck with only one option and competition drives products becoming better’ which is a load of baloney. Unless companies are actively trying to suppress competition, these companies are a net gain for the people.

People purchase things because it makes their lives better.

Say it again.

People purchase things because it makes their lives better.

Googles is doing a fine job of improving on it’s own. They’re constantly adding new features. Whether that’s due to the threat of competition, who knows.

I don’t know.. i wouldn’t worry about this. If Google or Amazon starts messing up, it opens a void in the market and someone else will step in.
 

Andreas Thiel

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This is a fictional we. There is no we.
I think I understand, but not sure ... you think that what I wrote is too stupid to be relevant for the questions raised in the original post. Right? Or do you actually think that there is no common ground that the industrialized world shares? I think I know the answer ... nevermind.
 

GoGetter24

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Or do you actually think that there is no common ground that the industrialized world shares?
They're common in their humanity. Everyone else will industrialize too and would have done the same were they to get there first. There is no "we" should do x. The "we" willing give away their power every day and at every election.

All power at the top is given not inflicted. Every guy who works for 25 years for a company and then gets shafted did that situation to themselves. Everyone who has their mind made up for them by "the group" inflicted that on themselves.

For the individual, the "we" is a fiction and a concept of self-disempowerment. You can't control any fictional "we", you can only control yourself. Changing the world for the better comes from self-outwards leverage, not group-inwards wishes.
 
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LittleWolfie

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WordPress pretty much has everything covered in that sense....but then you have the centralization of content management systems .
If you want to decentralise, you can deploy and host the site on your own local box. A simple blog can run as a static file or you can run LAMP or some other boring tech. Pop a reverse DNS or two up so people can find you, or run end servers on a couple of vps or Colo from a static ip. Run your own mail server too.

Or you can just provide it as headless content and let the user decide how they want to use it and where.

No WordPress needed. Of course this is all hard work and requires doing the work yourself or paying sysops people to do it for you. For most people the gains are not worth paying the price.
 

GoGetter24

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Continuing with this concept, I've done some surveys about what the internet is used for, and which parts of it are fundamentally decentralized (or close to it).

Internet primary forms of use (& examples):
[C] for centrally dominated, [D] for strong decentralization
Content consumption
Reading: blogs [D], forum threads [D], news articles [C], wikipedia (encylopedic) articles [C], pdfs [D], ebooks/courses [C/D]
Listening: podcasts [D], music [C], audiobooks [C], internet radio [D]
Viewing: video [C], images, movies / TV [C]

Interaction
Public

Forum posts [D]
Q/A sites [C]
Comments on: blogs [D], youtube [C], podcasts [C/D], facebook [C], news articles [C], etc (pretty much any form of site can have comments)
Facebook / Google groups [C], Twitter [C], Usenet [D]
Private
Audio or video chat (skype etc) [C]
Team chat (e.g. discord) [C]
Messaging systems [C]
DMs / PMs [C/D]
Email [D]
Slack-type systems [C]
Online dating [C]
In-game chat [D]

Commerce
Physical products [C/D]
Ebooks & courses [C/D]
Online consulting [D]
Booking/ordering offline products/services [D]
Money transfer and management [C]
Gambling [D]
Charity [D]

Marketing
Search ads [C]
Social ads [C]
Content-over ads (e.g. YouTube video ad) [C]
Content-inline ads (e.g. an endorsement in the actual video content) [C]
Classifieds (e.g. craigslist) [C]
Direct-to-customer (e.g. email marketing, cold calls, SMS) [D]
Quasi-article ads / infomercials
In-app ads [C]

Applications
Maps [C], Calendar [C], Translation [C], File storage [C], Games [C/D], Calculation [C], Song recognition [C], notifications [C], office apps (e.g. google docs) [C], encryption [D], databases (e.g. contact lists / CRM) [C]
 

GoGetter24

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I also surveyed what forms of info tech are the strongest existing forms or potential forms of decentralization:
  • The foundation of the internet (TCP/IP) & IP addresses
  • Email
  • RSS (the near-universal protocol for content distribution)
  • Websites & domains
  • HTTPS
  • Phone numbers
  • PCs
  • Credit cards, cryptocurrency, internet banking (all mildly)
  • P2P/torrents
  • Bookmarks
This is in contrast with platforms, messaging systems, webmail, global search, VOIP, paypal/alipay etc, and video.

The fundamentals of decentralization vs centralization appear to be:
  • Age of the tech. The earlier the tech was created, the more decentralized it tends to be. E.g. phone numbers / email vs whatsapp; bookmarks vs search; mailed cheques vs credit card vs paypal; PC apps vs platform apps; websites vs facebook pages; RSS vs platform / browser news feeds (which are mostly mainstream media articles); bulletin boards vs disqus
  • Volume of data. Large volumes of data encourage centralization, e.g. YouTube. While torrents do exist, they're normally used for one-off downloads. There's also a tendency to use CDNs to carry content for private sites, to boost geographic distribution and download speed, which encourages centralization via large cloud providers (e.g. AWS). For this reason it's much easier to decentralize text-based content like email or blogs, than video-based content.
  • Network effects. The more people wish to conform and do things "like everyone else does" and get lots of attention, the greater the chance of something being dominated by a central actor (e.g. Facebook). The more people wish to be independent and do things in a variety of ways or be anonymous, the more decentralization occurs (e.g. blogs).
Existing discussions about decentralization have revolved around clever stuff like blockchain. From my research I submit this is misguided. Decentralization must clearly come from using existing earlier forms of technology, focusing foremost on low-volume data and systems based on that (such as blogs), and supporting non-mainstream / independent / small sites.
 

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