The roots of blockchain and decentralization

Note: This is the first part of a series of many parts. See at the bottom of the article the links to all the other parts.

The year 2021 is an exciting time for blockchain technology.

The past two years, and the beginning of this year, have seen significant progress within the context of the 10-year-long journey toward decentralization I have embraced. It has started with the creation of ZooBC, which, after two years of hard work by a team of excellent developers, is finally being delivered. The journey is now entering, with a new team, in the second of its five phases — codename DecBC — needed for the full implementation of this amazing decentralization technology.

The picture looks good for this second phase of the project as finally, more and more people are adopting blockchain for more than just cryptocurrencies. And this is what the journey toward decentralization is all about.

With increasing awareness comes a load of new opportunities. Thanks to blockchain, for instance, people can now sell their digital creations while retaining the originality of the creations so buyers can show them off and if they want, resell these contents.

Furthermore, what could previously be copied and pasted hundreds of times in identical copies (in other words: being ripped off of the net) can now be offered in its singularity, with all its uniqueness, wrapped and protected in an NFT.

In layman’s terms, the NFT refers to “a digital collectible item that is stamped with a unique bit of code which serves as a permanent record of its authenticity and is stored in the blockchain”. Thanks to the nature of NFT, these items can neither be faked nor deleted or ripped off.

This is why, according to a New York Times article by Kevin Roose, lots of musicians (such as Kings of Leon) and visual artists (through prestigious auction houses like Christie’s) have been selling their items in digital tokens over the blockchain as well. Roose himself has offered his column for sale over the blockchain.

[Amazingly, the digital NFT article was sold for US$563,000!]

The blockchain system can offer a fair share of intellectual property protection to content creators and creative workers, more than what the social media platforms currently controlled by powerful middlemen can. And this is just one of the many new opportunities offered by blockchain.

Decentralization, achieved with new technologies such as the blockchain, does not signify only a world of new opportunities; it also signifies the natural evolution of the information age. It is the necessary next step of the information age progress that cannot be avoided; it is also very much needed.

Having spent the past two years building an innovative decentralization platform, and seeing how everyone is now getting so excited about DeFi (decentralized finance) and NFTs, it feels to me as if I had spent the past two years building roads, and now I am seeing everyone jumping into cars and on motorcycles. The timing couldn’t be better.

Decentralization started with cryptocurrencies, before moving to Decentralised Finance and eventually expanding out of the finance world into art, supply chain, documents management, and workflows — you name it.

But I won’t go too far into that so as not to lose focus, you can keep tabs on these subject matters on the company’s blog, where we consistently publish articles on the functions of decentralization in all aspects of life.

With this story, I’d like to look back at where and when my introduction to the whole decentralization idea began, just to chronicle the development of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks from my perspective. This is how we can try to trace the origins and milestones of the evolution of technologies for decentralization, to also be able to see what the future will look like.

Humble beginnings

“Rome wasn’t built in one day,” an adage says. The evolution of the decentralized P2P system also follows this principle.

Many digital natives born in the late 1980s onward (the two batches of new generation whom we call the millennial and the Gen Z) might also not be familiar with the humble origins of the P2P system, which dated back to the early 1990s. I am a living witness to it, so let me share it with you here for the sake of keeping strings connected with those who don’t know the story.

My “love affair” with decentralization began in Italy, 30+ years ago, when I got involved with a local geek community.

It was started in the late ’80s, and the community members were communicating with each other through Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), and long-distance messages were sent via Fidonet: a network of BBS where each acted as a node, forming what we could see as the “ancestor” of a real-time P2P network.

As there was no internet as we know it today, each BBS connected via dial-up periodically with a few others. Messages could take days to reach their destination as connections between nodes used a landline telephone-powered data connection. To the digital natives of today’s era, the dialing sound of tut, tut, tut that these telephones used to make upon attempting to connect might be an artifact from an archaic era, yet it would be fascinating to remember that this was just about 30 years ago!

In the early 1990s, when we finally had the Internet, the community moved to useNET. UseNET was a federated network of servers that used the mail protocol to let users interact and discuss together in what were called “newsgroups”. UseNET has today become an alternative to Torrent to download pirated material, and the newsgroups have been taken over by Google, creating GoogleGroups

But I digress. Now, let us get back to the point.

The Italian geek community, of which I was part, played a significant role in my development as a decentralization expert as it was through these years that I became very interested in P2P networks.

In particular, my fascination for Peer to Peer networks shot to the roof when, after Napster, a pseudo “P2P” sharing platform, got shut down after being sued by Metallica over copyright infringement showing that Napster was not really decentralized. The rise of the Torrent protocol, a real P2P system, has shown how a P2P network cannot be taken down. Torrent P2P network has deep significance in the blockchain technology development realm.

Content-sharing aside, peer-to-peer networks (P2P) have set the stage for the first version of bitcoin which was launched in 2008. My interest in P2P and involvement in some useNET groups on that subject was also how I got involved in bitcoin as part of what blockchain technology could offer.

So, in a sense, beyond its personal significance to me as a person, the experiences I’ve done with my geek buddies in the late 1980s and early 1990s have played a big role in setting the foundation for P2P technology as we know it today.

Taking a wild time-travel back again to 2021, thus circling back to the story’s introduction: I’m not telling you something without any significance.

From its humble beginnings, the origins of the P2P technology which we now use in the blockchain, with its decentralized nature, has never been simply about money. It is about decentralizing. It is important that we remember this history because nowadays, with all the hype surrounding bitcoins and cryptocurrency, most people associate blockchain with cryptocurrencies only.

Yet, the moneymaking aspects of blockchain technology merely represent the ramifications of the technology, not its core. The core of blockchain technology is decentralization. And this is what I am working on. It is my journey, started years ago, and planned for the next 8 years.

Follow me for more posts on this topic. We are in the making of the second volume of a series of 5 books. Get the first book in PDF format for free here: https://bcz.bz/vol1 or buy it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/ZooBC-Roberto-Capodieci-Barton-Johnston/dp/1734917903

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