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When Walled Gardens are a good idea

Posted on: Wednesday 15th of June 2016

Guest blog by Nick Lambert, Chief Operating Officer, MaidSafe

Although we complain about our loss of privacy, daily intrusion from unwanted ads and accusations of “Big Brother” laws most consumers believe the current “Interweb” is good enough. It offers “just enough” service and convenience to offset the negatives. However, I believe the experience could be so much better. If we are to induce change, the incentives have to be motivating for all stakeholders, fostering a more inclusive experience where the benefits and rewards are more evenly distributed. The key is to enable everyone to develop their own walled garden, where they can be incentivised and rewarded for contributing to the Internet.

A key dilemma with the Internet is our current dependency on “free” services. Consumers are reluctant to pay for today’s freemium. What if they received some kind of reward for their involvement in the online world? Crypto-currencies exist and are being adopted by a growing variety of mainstream businesses, in part due to their miniscule transaction fees. If delivered with minimal effort on the part of the consumer, surely such a currency model could quickly redress some of today’s imbalance?
This approach would change, for the better, the economics of the current Internet model, because it would reduce the dependency on personal data as a source of revenue. Certainly, data will remain valuable, but what if the Worldwide Web “paid” individuals for access to their information? Naturally this raises lots of questions, but surely we have reached the point where dramatic change is necessary. The academic and journalist David Rushkoff is calling for a model he is branding “digital distributism,” which essentially allows for greater participation and wealth sharing. It sounds idealistic, but then the same could have been said for the original vision for the Worldwide Web.

Ultimately, we have to encourage vendors to return to a pull, rather a push economic model, enticing customers empowered by the rewards they received from the Worldwide Web.
My Own Personal Walled Garden

How can we ensure they would be serious about this approach? Rather than companies creating walled gardens we should allow every individual to create their own walled space. Critically, this would give the user complete control of their data and they would make decisions about their level of involvement with the online world.
The key to the success of this model is giving each user the keys to their data, so that they have complete control of who and how their data is accessed. It also relies on moving away from the centralised, server-based model of today’s Internet and archaic ineffective security approaches. The technology exists today to make this possible. Strong encryption that obfuscates data at the point of creation, algorithms that split encrypted data into chunks and distributes them randomly throughout a decentralised network, combined with authentication mechanisms that provide access to public data without anyone’s knowledge or permission.

If we are to keep the principles of the Open Web alive we need a radical solution. We need to put the Worldwide Web in its current form in a box, perhaps even re-brand it the Commercial Web. It still has a value, but it is not the inclusive Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee envisaged. If we don’t act then we will see the demise of the Open Web, its diversity and principles of inclusion. Ironically the answer lies in a form of walled gardens, but the underlining principal must be returning control to users by allowing them to create – in effect – their own personal walled gardens. If we do not consider such a solution then the Walled Gardens will win and prophesies of the likes of Evan Williams, founder of Medium, will come true:

“The individual website won’t matter. The Internet is not going to be about billions of people going to millions of websites. It will be about getting it from centralized websites.”

Evan Williams, Forbes, September 2015

About MaidSafe

Started in 2006 by Scottish engineer David Irvine, MaidSafe is a small team, comprised of thinkers, inventors, tinkerers, PHDs, engineers and designers, who share a mission to provide security and privacy for everyone. MaidSafe has developed The SAFE (Secure Access For Everyone) Network, which is made up of the unused hard drive space, processing power and data connection of its users. It offers a level of security and privacy not currently available on the existing Internet and turns the tables on companies, putting users in control of their data, rather than trusting it to organisations.

Nick started his working life in project management roles with IBM and Sanmina SCI, before a change of tack led him into senior marketing positions with a diverse range of companies. Nick is now the Chief Operating Officer of MaidSafe, a Scottish open source technology company that is attempting to decentralise the Internet and shift control of data away from large corporates giving privacy, security and freedom back to its users.