The Internet Redesigned
How blockchain could help us build an operating system for a new Internet of value
Born out of a defense project in the 60s, the Internet started to take the shape we’ve grown accustomed to in the 90s.
The Tech bubble burst around the corner of the millennium, reshuffling the sector and opening it to popularize the achieved progress and innovation. This is after all the technology cycle I have described in my previous articles.
Nevertheless, we are still in the infancy of the Internet, akin to a language learner bragging about the new curse words he has learnt.
The Internet is surely brimming with foul language, and awaits further integration into our lives and cultures.
The Internet of Information has been proclaimed dead, by
Ayton in his 2016 article. He has exuberantly written how blockchain would push the Internet to puberty.
Rather than being attached to things, it would be an Internet of Value.
NOIZAT, a self-proclaimed Internet of Value evangelist, has already welcomed us into the Internet of Value over two years ago.
I have previously presented the case for giving the Internet a design overhaul.
In here, I have pushed my contemplations for a redesigned Internet into a more detail-oriented framework. In other words, considering the Internet as an economy, how should payments be done, how does it foster productive activity, and how should this economy be handled?
I am not here to explain the technicality of blockchain. Neither am I here to introduce the different efforts going on in the tech scene, and the solutions that exist.
Instead, I am trying to envision the functionalities underlying the new Internet. Moreover, I am attempting to do so with the end-user, the human, and his context, the world we live in, in mind.
Something as ambitious as the Internet of Value could only exist at scale. However, being mostly user-centric, the article is ripe with million dollar business ideas for the transitionary age, as you would come to see.
Footing the Bill
Transforming the Internet into an Internet of Value is an exciting idea. That is until you figure out that you just like you could monetize your work, you could possibly end up paying for everything from a proof-reading subscription, to cute cat videos.
I foresee two problems with attempting to monetize the interactions that take place. First, users would find it perplexing to have to think about all those transactions.
Bills make us worry, imagine having separate ones for your reading subscription, your streaming service, your virtual education, the software you use as a service …
This is why companies have been introducing bundled subscriptions. As
Baxter argues in her article on Apple’s ONE, “Bundling makes sense when an organization is able to layer in more value with an existing subscriber that allows them to better align with the ongoing challenges and goals facing the subscriber.”
This is in contrast to current dominant models of paying their attention, or their privacy.
Bundle subscriptions do not only give users the ease of mind of having to handle less of what daunts them, but also the clarity of knowing what they’re paying upfront.
This is in contrast to current dominant models of paying their attention, or their privacy when they are the true product.
Most importantly, this would help ensure it is a force of equity in the world when we can’t assume everyone has the financial literacy to handle a multitude of online transactions. The latter requires intensive interventions.
So, who foots the bill? The user does, of course. However, we could take a look at the existing stack to see how the Internet of Value could come with a pre-defined price tag.
Medium provides a perfect pilot for this. For $50 a year, you have full access to all it has to offer, ad-free.
This could be hidden under the carpet of hardware purchases, Internet Service Provider (ISP) monthly bills, payments handled by the server, or direct transactions. Let’s start by imagining there is a $200 surcharge to your next laptop purchase.
It is unified across OEMs, and like the $50 above, it has been consensually defined to pre-pay for everything the Internet has to offer. It is then on the OEM to distribute earnings to other Internet entities (users, organizations, …) which products make the laptop of value to its owner, just like Medium pays authors of metered articles when subscribers engage them.
At a smaller scale, this has been happening for years, with operating systems, office suites, video editing software, … bundled with laptops. Google takes this further by building a whole laptop, the chromebook, on top of their services stack.
ISPs have also had their share of bundling services to increase the value of their offerings to end-users.
From Xfinity in the United States, to TerraNet in Lebanon, they have pitched in movies and series with their subscription services, as one example.
In contrast to hardware or ISP offers, server and direct transactions cannot currently offer the minimalist single price tag.
You cannot pay for YouTube’s premium service and Amazon’s books seamlessly from a single wallet. Sure, you could save your credit card information — everywhere? — you still have second thoughts with every purchase. At least, I hope.
Spending — consuming — on the Internet is currently fragmented and separated from earning — producing — on it.
Moreover, spending — consuming — on the Internet is currently fragmented and separated from earning — producing — on it.
The solution, thus, does not lie in FinTech gimmicks, but in reconsidering the ecosystem in light of our socioeconomic realities, as you would discover further within this article.
Content & Collaboration
From decentralized storage on the blockchain to the Web Application Open Platform Interface Protocol — which powers Office Online — there has been significant effort to shift the Internet activity from fostering consumption, between edutainment and doomscrolling, to fostering production.
In order to close the economic cycle in the digital realm, we need to attach value to the activity that takes place inside it.
In order to close the economic cycle in the digital realm, we need to attach value to the activity that takes place inside it. There has been multiple currencies proposed for different Internet offerings. Clicks, first appearing in the early days of ads, are one.
So are likes, reading time, … They have been explicitly and loosely attached to real-world currency, money.
Imagine if you had to pay $1 or $5 for each article you read here.
Money has no inherent value, as I have previously argued. It is instead of transactional value, making it by definition the fluid running in the veins of our socioeconomic realm.
That is, money talks as you allow it to. The answer is not in putting a price tag on everything you share. Imagine if you had to pay $1 or $5 for each article you read here.
A visit to the ivory tower inspires a solution. Academia is a curious place where you get paid to freely — or even pay yourself — to share your work.
Institutions act as mediators, securing your access to journal articles, giving you a salary, and an environment within which you could easily administer and collaborate, so that you can work.
The direct product of the work, the publications and recognition, bring in no immediate cash. In reality, however, the institution is allowing you to pursue work which timescale extends beyond that of paper writing.
It vets candidates for professorship. The position gains them the trust of government agencies looking to fund research that aligns with their long-term strategy.
It also presents you with a cushion, so that you may work several years building the spin-off from your groundbreaking research, without having to do it in your parents’ garage.
In that sense, a PhD is exchanging your commitment for academic freedom, while your life essentials are covered by the stipend.
You are not meant to get rich on the job, degree, but you are buying yourself comfort whilst you commit your time to building your long-term venture. It could be your own lab, which research is an off-shoot of your PhD’s, or a company which leverages the technology you developed.
This paradigm suits the STEM fields most. What about English lits? Not everyone is suitable for teaching, and not everyone is going to win bread publishing their work.
Even in other humanities, not everyone is a writer (or a coder). Sure, we, academics, write a lot.
However, our contributions go beyond simply writing. Outside of the platform here, very few of those who practically write for a living — recall publish or perish? — consider themselves writers.
Whoever said time is money did not do it justice. Time is life.
In a parallel universe,
Elsevier has been heavily affected by the boycott waged by University of California and others, that it completely revamped its business model. For simplicity, let us consider time as a metric. Whoever said time is money did not do it justice.
Time is life. In this parallel universe, it is now paying authors of journal articles in proportion to the time university students and academics spend reading them.
It suddenly discovers two other issues. Journal articles are suddenly becoming longer. Angry mobs are still burning its logo in protests, citing the inability of their institution to pay for the Elsevier subscription.
While the second is left for future discussion on global valuation strategy, the first could be addressed by adding a counterweight. This could be the time it has taken to write the article.
The data acquisition device reports its runtime alongside the data used in the study.
The spreadsheet reports the time spent on exploring the data to the plotting tool which imports it. Runtime for discarded experiment data is accounted for in what remains.
Could you start to see where the hype-redundancy of blockchain comes in? Do you note how we need to redesign our data formats and basic operating system operations to truly integrate blockchain?
The plotting tool then transfers all this overhead runtime to the word processor which also accounts for the time spent on writing the document. All this is known to the publisher which published the article as an interactive document.
Besides making the document available, the publisher fosters interactions. It notifies the author when he is cited, akin to a response to a Medium article.
The quality of the citation could also be measured in proportion to the time spent reading the article. A short letter to the editors with profound insight, thus scales as lucrative as a forcibly-complicated long paper, or perhaps better.
Now consider that for this to work, it needs wide network-scale adoption, Internet-scale. Runtime measurements and reporting, and automated money exchanges should be well-integrated into our operating systems of personal computers and other devices.
In any case, the time taken to produce content is not the best metric, as an innovative breakthrough well-written in seconds could have built upon years of practice and contemplation.
It also assumed utmost digitization, when sitting in the middle of the forest and mediating is also a necessary part of the process.
Any application which could be adapted to cloud computing […] could be adapted to a network-aware computing paradigm.
This is perhaps most easily implemented for text-based formats. Nevertheless, this is mere hysteresis, a pattern of development carried over from the chronological history of computing, and the Internet of Information.
Any application which could be adapted to cloud computing, say 3D modelling, design and simulation, as
Onshape and SimScale have done, could be adapted to a network-aware computing paradigm. This is demonstrated in Microsoft’s integration of the collaborative environment of Office Online and the desktop suite.
This also wouldn’t jeopardize privacy. A single-nod blockchain, is still a blockchain, meaning the format could accommodate unshared local data, as well as distribute online storage of encrypted user data to de-risk current cloud storage model.
This follows metaphorically from a hard-drive pre-defining the amount of blockchain in circulation with its block size. Retrieving the data is another story, which requires a discussion of (computational) identity left for another article.
We perhaps have delved well into considering content, and only swiftly considered collaboration. While it has been sufficiently entertained to clarify the concept, further dimensions of its monetization are pointed out in the next section.
Goods & Services
We shall start with warning that there is a price to putting a price tag on everything in an attempt of building a more equitable ecosystem. This is perfectly illustrated in
Brosio’s “4 Difficult Lessons I Learned Making 5 Figures Online”. With legal notices in place, let us consider the hassle in implementing what we have proposed above.
Practically, file version control should be built into all operating systems. Git everything! A protocol should exist to allow applications to communicate through the version metadata.
In text, this is the simplest. What you change is what is changed.
Similarly, in coding where how a code works is explicitly, well, coded. Considering other metrics, say the complexity of an algorithm, or runtime, however, is not directly there. The code has to possibly be compiled, and ran, to get the runtime, for example.
Such an issue is exacerbated in other fields. In mechanical engineering, the 3D model is the materialization of hours of calculation, design considerations, etc … You can possibly arrive at numerical performance measures, the maximum pressure inside a combustion chamber, and the concentration of pollutants emitted through simulation.
However, that is not always the case. This is to say the added-value is not always explicitly described in the digital format. File attributes do not summarize the extent of human knowledge.
The model has been hiding in plain sight, within open-source code and freemium products.
Apart from the challenges value-add tracking carries, it promotes a desirable business model.
The model has been hiding in plain sight, within open-source code and freemium products. Just like the devil is in the details, the model is in the terms and conditions, differentiating between community, personal, educational and commercial use.
One example of community use licensing is
SimScale’s free offering for non-profit projects where the results of their software use would remain publicly available. Personal is more obvious, where you are using something, not intending to charge someone for the end-result or derivatives.
Educational use falls in the gray area, where you intend to learn, rather than start a business, but you would eventually put the skills you picked up by using the free offering to commercial use.
Commercial use is when you straight out intend to make money out of what you use the software for.
These distinctions put in extra hassle for the user, and could actually hinder the adoption and growth of a company and its products. Recall from my nexus article that taxation is penalization, and WhatsApp imposed its $1 annual fee to slow down growth.
This is an adequate point to delve into file version control as it applies within the network, the Internet. Assume that the entity who created the file, or the one which edits it is able to track subsequent users.
We have already discussed that the entity should get paid for users consuming its products, above, with Medium and the reimagined journal publication business as examples.
Ev, if you end up going into the journal publication business, I want my fair share for the idea. Now, we go a step further.
The permeable paywall ensures equitable access.
The permeable paywall ensures equitable access. Once more, this platform on which you are reading this article is an example. Users can access articles put behind the paywall, albeit with limitations.
Instead of limiting the material a user can access, the term and conditions ask them to pay royalties if they end up using it for commercial purposes.
Again, this is easy within the ivory tower, where we could use the time spent reading an article and citations as a measure. Let us say references take 2.5% of the returns, and this is distributed according to the time the author spent with each article.
Machine learning algorithms that verify inspiration are easier to build than ones that generate ideas.
However, not all fields have as clear cut “citations”. Verifying a solution could be simpler than finding one.
In a similar manner, we ambitiously propose that machine learning algorithms that verify inspiration are easier to build than ones that generate ideas that end up working out. This is a hypothesis, and deserves separate, more thorough treatment.
For now, assume we have a heuristic fit for measuring “standing on the shoulder of giants”. If the algorithm inadequately distributes royalties from the product, the results could be contested in court. Whether the court is automated is another matter.
The point is that it is the giants that would be competing over it, not the user who has made a novel contribution because the latter is paying out 2.5% regardless.
Such a formulation has several advantages. First, we are more likely to share valuable products and services if we are getting paid for them. The absence of this has traditionally enforced an oligopoly on the open-source software scene.
Think about how Google provides open-source tools and platforms, i.e. Android, allowing for wider adoption of its products, as well as reclaiming the innovation that builds upon the code.
What if every StackExchange contributor receives a paycheck from the value of his contributions?
Tech giants have gradually become proponents of open-source software — recall the Microsoft acquisition of GitHub, and contribution to the Linux foundation — because they are uniquely positioned to capture the value that comes out of endeavor.
What if every StackExchange contributor receives a paycheck from the value his contributions have added, footed by the success of the resulting software? What if every Unsplash image yields returns for the lucrative articles that use it to engage the user?
We are essentially proposing the closure of the economic cycle, so that wealth circulates as it is meant to be. This in line with the current trend of holding giants accountable for benefiting off free lunch — see the Guardian’s article on making Facebook and Google pay for the news they use for one.
We have already assumed that the entity which created the file — the comment, the picture, the software, the design, … — is able to track subsequent edits and resulting “inspirations”, not to say citations.
This allows for a unique way of defining business models, as well as copy and intellectual rights.
The enforcement of such contracts would then depend on coding operating systems to collaborate.
If the process is automated, where the profitable use pays back, through smart contracts set up when the file is created or edited, right infringements become redundant except if the payback allocation is challenged in court, as described above.
The enforcement of such contracts would then depend on coding operating systems to collaborate.
This would definitely start a long conflict on personal rights and ownership, if your laptop automatically deleted pirated content. Do remember that the products are already “freely” available and you are only paying a portion of the profits you generate — if any.
Consider each value-add process as a branching on a tree, with subsequent ones stemming from it, and possibly from others at the same time.
I am now using Medium, inside my browser, on top of my operating system, on my laptop, to write an article which is inspired by many others, with an alphabet I have learnt as a child …
Each node on the tree is a value-add process, and each link is the added-value.
Instead of the “parent” and “child” labels typical in graph theory, let us call them “source” and “destination” to account for the fact that destination nodes could merge several “unrelated” branches. An open-source node is then one which the value-add process is explicit for the user.
The blockchain is implicitly aware of the links.
We have assumed that each node is aware of its destinations and sub-destinations … This does not need to be the case. The blockchain is implicitly aware of the links. Prescribing what connections the nodes are aware of is up to the platform, and the sovereignty, however.
In academia, you would want to be open-source. The scientific experiment has to be reproducible. This means that each node is open-source as well as its source nodes.
It is preferable that you keep all your source nodes open if you are open-source. Ideally, this also automates literature reviews as graph analysis.
However, your paper might be written on a certain word processor, which is a commercial closed-source product. While a chunk of your returns would go to the word processor company, the reproducibility of the process is not affected.
For commercial use, you might want to keep your sources secret. However, if an open-source node yields a closed-source node, you might be required to declare utilizing this open-source node, as is the case now with adapting open-source software for closed-source commercial ones.
Talking about commercial use here might seem confusing. Aren’t we paying royalties on all our commercial use inside this system? You can always waive those rights if you wish, of course.
There will arise situations where you would need to track your sources or destinations. For one, this might be required in holding companies accountable for getting involved in what the public considers unethical, as Google have been forced to discontinue it military AI contract, as the
MIT Technology Review reports. For security or other reasons, sovereignties might require the government, and even constituents, to track their sources, as the US cracked down on Huawei.
New Socioeconomic Paradigm
Our physical and digital operating systems converge.
Instead of leaving technology to shape our socioeconomic realities, we have presented a strategy guide meant to couple the development of both.
Our physical and digital operating systems converge, as depicted in the feature image, where hardware and urbanscapes seem to stem from the same art.
The network-aware computing paradigm introduced allows for reshaping a more tolerant Internet sovereignty, as professed possible by
This is the workhorse of the “Need” economy I have developed over my previous articles. It closes the economic cycle, so that wealth can be circulated rather accumulated at Internet poles. The idea, nevertheless, laments further discussion of a global valuation strategy.
I am an engineer based in Beirut. I write on multiscale, and I write with metaphors.