More Protocols Fewer Platforms
The internet is too centralized. Luckily we have protocols like Bitcoin and nostr to reclaim ownership of our money, data, speech and information. Continue reading to find out how we get it done!
Whether you’re reading this article on my blog directly or if you engage regularly on social media. Chances are you’re on a platform mostly run by a centralized entity.
This is not because users online choose to use platforms over everything else but because the internet has become more centralized over the past 20 years. These days companies like Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft control the majority of web activity.
Most of these companies control the infrastructure or access to modern web applications, while other companies like Twitter claim to be the town square of the internet, but you run into the same issue.
It’s a centralized entity that controls everything, and you have to play according to their rules. Access to these platforms might be via things like APIs or developer tools. Which is great for improving the user experience, but you’re always linked to the company. If they decide to shut you down, you’re screwed.
There is a simple solution to this. Instead of relying on centralized institutions, we can build our ecosystems with protocols. The best part is that everyone already uses at least one protocol daily. If you sent an email or text via the messenger app, chances are you have engaged with a protocol.
Protocols vs. Platforms
Now, why talk about protocols and platforms at all? Haven’t we lost that war? Isn’t everything on a centralized platform these days, and can’t all of them overpower small protocols anyway?
At first glance, most people would say yes, because David has always lost in a public shouting match with Goliath, or even worse, these centralized platforms came in and took over the protocol. Look at what happened with email services.
Most people prefer to use a Gmail or Outlook address because it’s easy to set up. For most of them, hosting their own email server is impossible. However, this is what you used to do back in the day. Funny how times have changed.
Now, just because some people like to say something isn’t working doesn’t mean it can’t work for everybody. Bitcoin is the best example. Although it is very technical at its core, it convinced enough people in just 14 years to become an alternative to the existing financial system.
It didn’t do this by being flashy or extravagant online. It did it by being a protocol open to everyone eager enough to take the time and learn about it. There is no gatekeeper who decides who can access Bitcoin.
You can do a few things: download a wallet, look at the Bitcoin GitHub page, become a miner, or do something as simple as running a node. If you want to, you can do all of the above, but you don’t have to. It’s up to you what you want to do with it; you’re in full control of your Bitcoin journey.
Some of us took this to heart and built applications on top of Bitcoin or worked tirelessly on improving Bitcoin and making it even more accessible to everyone on Earth. This is the beauty of a protocol. It may have consensus rules you have to play along with to be able to use it, but as long as you do this, you’re free to do with it whatever you want.
Platforms, on the other hand, are completely different. A single entity exclusively controls them, and the only thing they’re interested in is maximizing the platform’s impact. This can be a monetary impact by making as much profit as possible or by outperforming the entire market and securing a monopoly. Just look at what Meta or Google have done with digital media, advertising, and online search.
Protocols operate on a different standard and don’t aim to secure monetary or monopoly power but to connect people, offer a better service, or open up the ecosystem for developers.
The best example of this is email. I can set up my email server to write with friends, or I can set one up and charge for a newsletter model. If I’m a developer, I might want to change the way users interact by building a better interface for mobile emailing. Whatever the idea is, protocols allow users and builders to fulfill them.
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The only real danger to centralization in Bitcoin is third parties. Think of exchangers or custodial services who take self-custody away from users. Most of them try to do the same thing Big Tech did with email or social media, but because Bitcoin the protocol allows for more freedom, it’s harder to do than on the internet these days.
We already see this with byproducts like nostr. The message protocol allows users to send notes to different relays. Because everyone in the world can send a note - you just have to format it correctly - and everyone can run relays, you end up with an interoperable protocol.
Granted, nostr is not built on Bitcoin but integrates into the Lightning Network ecosystem. This is another bonus point for protocols, as they allow interoperability. As long as everyone is on the same page with consensus and the tech stack. This utilizes one of the biggest benefits of protocols; the network effect!
If more and more protocols combine their powers and allow users to build custom interfaces and journeys, they will inevitably get everyone in their social circle on. The more layers every user brings with him and the bigger the possibilities, the quicker the protocol grows. One of the weaknesses of this model is that all of these protocols rely on users to spread the word and often lack a discovery tool, which is the biggest benefit to centralized platforms, which can control this.
However, this is not a reason for me to stay in these closed systems because I want the ability to find my path, whether that be with a Twitter alternative or something as powerful as nostr, which capitalizes on the monetization abilities of the Lightning Network and which allows me to build an entire reward model just with content.
Protocols will fix the internet again
I’m well aware that I’m part of a niche group, we’re still very early, that discovered this flaw. Most people are still happy with centralized platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever is left.
I’m also not saying that you should immediately abandon all your centralized services and move over to protocols. There has to be a grace period where we still engage in both places and get as many people onto these new protocols as possible.
What I’m saying is that the trend is going towards protocols again. Look at what’s going on with nostr. Suddenly we see new products that capitalize on the ability of nostr. Whether to exchange Sats, stream content or do something as mundane as publishing a long-form content piece in a nice format. People have caught the protocol bug and are eager to build their own experiences.
We also see this in Silicon Valley and the typical tech scene. While he was still at Twitter, Jack Dorsey was interested in building a Twitter protocol. The AT Protocol was born and is the backbone of Bluesky. The idea behind it is to one day open up the entire ecosystem and allow people to interact in a federated way.
So far, I’m still skeptical because the protocol is available, but how you interact has to go through a centralized hybrid. The idea behind protocols is to interact directly, if possible, with as little trust in third parties. Who says Bluesky, registered as Bluesky PBLLC, will not cave with shareholders or investors? This happened at Twitter, and it could also happen with Bluesky.
For now, I remain optimistic that the AT Protocol may need a bit more time, but the right way to go is the nostr approach. Instead of having dedicated teams who work on one product, allow multiple people to get on and build whatever they want. The free market will decide where it wants to go.
If we manage to rebuild the internet on protocols completely, we might be able to claim our digital ownership back from Big Tech. Bitcoin is the key to all of this. For the first time in a while, we can claim ownership over the main layer and use the power of protocols to connect everything to it.
Nostr is the perfect example. You’re able to move your audiences over - which is a hard task, I know - and get monetized instantly. No more barriers or third parties in between. Once you establish a brand there, you can expand by using different services or ways to interact with the protocol.
Here’s the kicker; if enough people do this and build an alternative to the current system with closed platforms, you can pressure other protocols to get on board and build bridges between them, which is a big advantage of all of these protocols. They can become interoperable and allow a new user experience online.
I bet on Bitcoin because it’s the perfect fit for money online. There is no second best, and the way you can expand the protocol with layer solutions, it can also transform itself into a communications protocol.
Other giants, such as Meta, have noticed this trend as well. They’re currently working on opening up their AI projects. Bluesky is also plugging along, and Google is supposedly looking into offering protocol services for their AI Bard. Not that they’ll allow full custody or ownership, but there is definitely a trend there.
The demand for more decentralization, ownership over your data, and control over the information stream has never been higher. Although every one of us is a David and Goliath is one giant monster, we’ve never been closer to getting more people onto these protocols.
On that note, don’t be arrogant! It took me a few months to understand why protocols are so important and that we need to move as many people as possible. Yes, don’t ignore those still on Twitter or other places, but use protocols to see where they need improvement.
We were born just in time to fix the money with Bitcoin, and it shows us that you can go further than that. We can fix the way people gather, share and interact with information. After all, this is what the internet was built for.
With that in mind, go out and try these protocols. Nostr is a great way to interact with a truly open protocol. Head to nostr.how to learn how to get started. If you’re lucky enough to get an invite code to Bluesky, sign up as well.
Lastly, it’s never too late to get on board the Bitcoin train. Study Bitcoin and learn how to break free with a peer-to-peer electronic cash system.