I enjoyed the article, Why Decentralization Matters, that discusses how Internet communities would wrestle control back from dominant platforms. As I read through it though, I felt that the platform stories being told should be nuanced a little more. For context, I link the article at the end of this post.
The current dominant group of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, is often referred to as GAFA. The tech press seems to also like acronyms, the way geeks do. This group of companies indeed dominate the Internet, but lumping them together in a single platform story maybe downplaying some important aspects. I think Microsoft, a powerful and dominant player, should be cited in this group as well. It may then be hard to come up with a catchy acronym, GAFAM, MAGAF, FAGAM? 😉
Apple and Amazon, belong to a different platform play group, they sell products and services, they created powerful platforms in the process. Apple makes things and sells them, Amazon sells anything and everything, and are building an ever expanding tech platform stack. Apple has consistently advocated superior user experience as the motive for aggressively curating its platforms. Google is also curating Android more and more. App curation has nothing to do with an attempt to controll Internet protocols. Amazon is churning out new services at breakneck pace, they tend to adopt nearly any technology that seem appealing and popular with developers. That again doesn’t strike me as attempting to control Internet protocols either.
On the other hand, Google, Facebook and Twitter are ad companies, they offer free services as bait to gain access to user data – this fuels their platforms. And indeed, these three have often used their powers to twart developers or influence important protocols. These three may have more interest in trying to control Internet protocols, their game is to monetise access to user attention. The fight to control Internet protocols is more relevant in this context than it would be with the former group. Microsoft’s past attempts to strangle-hold Internet protocols is well documented. It seems though, for the time being, that they have changed tact and will keep embracing the open Internet.
Blockchain based crypto networks are likely to impact Apple and Amazon very differently than they would the other three, Google, Twitter and Facebook. Crypto networks might actually blossom on platforms provided by Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. Whereas, Google, Facebook, Twitter would have another run at their playbooks tailored to crypto networks.
Crypto networks represent a new kind of open platform. It is great that they are and likely to remain public. But they cannot be consumed in their raw form, some companies have to deliver compelling products and services on top of the platform. Crypto networks may actually make it easier to create your own platform playbook, if your business come to dominate then you won’t care if the protocols are open. What matters is that you can build enough moat around what you provide, forking won’t stop that as long as the fork doesn’t gain controlling momentum.
The Internet was initially thought to be beyond the control of a single entity. We’ve now seen the limits of that design. A similar thing is likely to happen with crypto networks, some kind of central entity is eventually going to emerge as dominant and try to exert control. We just can’t fathom that for the time being, too early to tell.