Counter-Anti-Disintermediation

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Origin of the term

According to Kleiner and Gottlieb[1], the term "Counterantidisintermediation" was coined by Lief Ryge (@wiretapped). This implies "no servers, no admins!"

Discussion

Dmytri Kleiner:

"On her blog, Wendy M. Grossman writes:

"Disintermediation” was one of the buzzwords of the early 1990s. The Net was going to eliminate middlemen by allowing us all to deal with each other directly…. Today, the landscape is dominated by many fewer, much larger ISPs whose fixed connections are far more trackable and controllable. We thought a lot about encryption as a protector of privacy and, I now think, not enough about the unprecedented potential for endemic wiretapping that would be enabled by an increasingly centralized Internet.

The idea of disintermediation was central to the emancipatory visions of the Internet, yet the landscape today is more mediated than ever before. If we are to understand the consequences of an increasingly centralized Internet, we need to start by addressing the root cause of this concentration. Centralization is required to capture profit. Disintermediating platforms were ultimately reintermediated by way of capitalist investors dictating that communications systems be designed to capture profit.

The flaw was, to some degree, a result of the architecture of the early Internet. The systems that people used in the early Internet where mainly cooperative and decentralized, but they where not End-to-End services. Users of e-mail and Usenet, the two most common platforms, did not generally operate their own servers on their own local computers, but were dependent on servers run by others. But servers require upkeep. Operators need to finance hosting and administration. As the Internet grew beyond its relatively small early base, Internet service came to be provided by capitalist corporations, rather than public institutions, small businesses, or universities. Open, decentralized services came to be replaced by private, centralized platforms. The profit interests of the platform financiers drove anti-disintermediation.

Just as Systematic Colonization was developed to establish the capitalist mode of production in the colonies, anti-disintermediation was developer to colonize cyberspace. The basic strategy of anti-disintermediation was formulated by economists like Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian. Their influential book Information Rules encourages platform owners to pursue "lock-in." As Varian explains, "Since information technology products work in systems, switching any single product can cost users dearly. The lock-in that results from such switching costs confers a huge competitive advantage to firms that manage their installed base of customers effectively."

Their advice was well received. Varian is currently the chief economist of Google, while Shapiro is the Transamerica Professor of Business Strategy at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Economics of the Antitrust division in the U.S. Department of Justice.

Going back to an early Internet architecture of cooperative, decentralized servers, as projects such as Diaspora, GNU Social, and others are attempting to do, will not work. This is precisely the sort of architecture that anti-disintermediation was designed to defeat. Decentralized systems need to be designed to be counter-anti-disintermediationist.

Central to the counter-anti-disintermediationist design is the End-to-End principle: platforms must not depend on servers and admins, even when cooperatively run, but must, to the greatest degree possible, run on the computers of the platform’s users. The computational capacity and network access of the users’ own computers must collectively make up the resources of the platform, such that, on average, each new user adds net resources to the platform. By keeping the computational capacity in the hands of the users, we prevent the communication platform from becoming capital, and we prevent the users from being instrumentalized as an audience commodity.

Thus, we leave Mr. Peel just as unhappy in cyberspace as he was in Swan River — and resist the colonization of our communication platforms by Venture Capital and pave the way for Venture Communism." (http://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Exploitation_and_Rent-Seeking_Models_in_Social_Media_and_P2P_Exchange_Platforms)

More Information

  • Moneylab2 presentation by Dmytri Kleiner & Baruch Gottlieb