One of the great things about being an old man armchair quarterback with a keyboard is I get to change my mind and not cost too many people their jobs. I wrote some initial thoughts a couple days ago.
Fred Wilson who was an early investor in Twitter and still holds shares had a much different take. Here is Fred’s thoughts:
Yes, I think it is problematic that Twitter has this much power. Not only are they silencing Trump, they are taking away his tens of millions of followers, and they are prohibiting all of his followers from seeing his tweets.
We should be careful what we wish for. This is a slippery slope we are heading down.
It is long past time that we move away from centralized applications to protocols.
If Twitter was a protocol, Twitter the app could ban the President from using its application and could block his tweets from being available in its app. But Trump could use another Twitter protocol client and his followers could as well and all of that social graph would still be available to them.
That is the way the web works. That is the way email works. That is the way social media should work as well and it is high time we start moving there.
This should be a warning sign to everyone in DC; the Senators, the Representatives, the folks leaving the White House and the folks entering it. He who kills the king becomes the king.
It is time to force the big centralized apps to open up. It is time to force the mobile app stores to open up. The longer we wait the worse this will get.
No wonder Bitcoin and Ethereum have been rallying. Many executives at the networks knew this was coming and maybe they leaked it or they themselves started buying crypto. Maybe Team Trump knew it was coming and bought crypto.
Now the news is out and talks of decentralization are all over Twitter.
I like Pomp’s take…’Decentralization is a Necessity Now‘.
We will see decentralized websites, decentralized mobile apps, decentralized social networks, and much more. The risk of a centralized organization imposing their will, regardless of the validity of that decision, has become too great to ignore now. It was previously believed that decentralization was only a fascination of those who were paranoid, but now we are seeing that it is becoming a business imperative at a breakneck speed.
This transition won’t happen overnight. It also won’t only be about decentralization. We are likely to see a significant rise in privacy technologies, along with decentralization. These renewed focuses will leverage technology to equalize power on the internet. The days of large centralized companies overseeing their dictatorships without fear of being held accountable are over. The people can’t change the status quo, but they can vote with their feet and start using new technology stacks.
These new decentralized, privacy-centric tech stacks will take time to build. It isn’t about building a new front end. We literally have to rebuild everything at this point. You can’t simply rely on Amazon’s AWS. You have to leverage Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and self-hosting in combination with each other to drastically improve the resiliency of what you’re building. You have to allow for the natural adoption of these new technologies and products, so that they can reach true decentralization.
Any shortcuts that someone takes will jeopardize the very decentralization and privacy that is going to be sought now. Developers and entrepreneurs will have to do the work. Investors will have to fund the work. And users will have to adopt the work.
This mission is too big for any one person. A global shift is underway and it is likely to impact every company, every industry, and every product. Why are people going to use communication products where companies spy on their every word if there is a product that has feature parity, dense network effect, and also happens to be privacy-centric? (Hello, Signal!)
The age of decentralization is here. The age of privacy is here.
Fred’s partner Albert has his own great take on the subject worth reading titled ‘Welcome to the Government-IT Infrastructure Complex‘. The gist:
Lots of people seem to think: what’s the harm? These are corporations enforcing their Terms of Service and they should have every right to do so. And yes, if there were lots of competitors (e.g. multiple app stores) then this line of reasoning would be perfectly fine because the Terms of Service don’t suddenly substitute for the law. We have to keep in mind that Terms of Service can and have been changed again and again and thus something that’s perfectly fine today may run afoul of a change tomorrow.
What is the worst the can happen? I believe there is a high likelihood that we are witnessing the visible emergence of the government-IT infrastructure complex. Government will be even less inclined to try and generate competition in this space. It is so much more convenient to have just a few large entities that an executive agency can influence behind the scenes rather than having to bother with the rule of law. We have already had this in the payments space for a while where instead of targeted interventions against actual abuses payment providers withdraw wholesale support for companies in certain categories (most prominently anything related to sexwork).
Where will this power be used next? One obvious place is crypto and blockchain technology, which threatens both the power of governments and the power of large corporations. A difficult set of topics that would require judicious law making and novel regulations. So much easier to just deal with it behind the scenes. Or take encryption. Why bother trying to come up with good regulation? Get Facebook to backdoor WhatsApp and then have everyone agree that Signal represents too much of a risk and needs to be banned. The big companies are inviting this approach. It will be good for them and good for executive power. But it will be bad for democracy.
Sure it is absolutely possible that none of this will happen. That Parler will be a one time emergency event. An exception and not a precedent. I would love nothing more than to be wrong with my concerns here, just as I would have loved to be wrong about Trump.
Twitter the company continues to pay the price for early ‘very bad’ strategy decisions (per Fred’s post) that led them to this point.
To undo the Trump ban would mean a new CEO. I think it is long past that time either way.
Also published on Medium.