I’d like to suggest “ecosystem” rather than “decentralized network”. The latter is a computer science term; the former is a community of individuals thriving through interaction with each other.

It’s not just that you have to start with people (although you certainly do): you have to understand the problems they face and create something that markedly improves peoples’ lives. A network doesn’t deserve to exist for the sake of it.

  • Facebook made it easier to stay in touch with your friends.
  • Instagram and Flickr made sharing great photos a cinch.
  • LinkedIn made it easier to find and curate business relationships that could help you progress in your career.
  • Medium makes it easy to find an audience — and new content to read. (That’s how I found this piece, after all.)

Any new network ecosystem has to, first and foremost, solve a human problem in a new way. In the end, software is always just a tool, and the best tools provide simpler ways to perform work that already needs to be done. User-centered design is key.

Notably, Signal has succeeded by providing a better way to chat privately (and a platform that other providers can use to facilitate the same). They’ve done far better than other, more technically-centered variations on the idea.

One terrible trend in decentralization is the desire to compete with existing networks: to find a decentralized Facebook, etc. That will never work; most people don’t care enough about decentralization for it to be a differentiating factor. But when you go back to first principles and look for real problems that people have, start paving deer paths and simplifying their existing tasks, you’re able to create entirely new products designed to be ecosystems at their core.

Just as the web redefined what information technology means, the next generation of ecosystem products will be something that we haven’t seen before.

I’m convinced the pendulum is swinging in this direction. It’s just a question of when, who, and for whom.

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.

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