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While Google was founded on the motto “Don’t be evil,” the company and its big tech brethren (e.g., Apple, Amazon, Facebook) have been getting a bad rap lately for everything from privacy issues to unfair working conditions. The underlying reason why big tech is so powerful is their centralized platforms, which allow them to 1) capture most of the value created by the content they aggregate and 2) modify the playing field on these platforms for their own benefit.
Earlier this month CCN announced it was forced to shut down due to Google’s new core update, which caused CCN’s traffic to drop on mobile by 71% overnight. As a result, CCN’s daily revenue, which it used to pay its writers, plummeted by a whopping 90%.
In addition to CCN, other top-tier crypto publications experienced significant decreases in web traffic that same day. Coindesk experienced a 34.6% drop. Cointelegraph experienced a 21.1% drop. Conspiracy theories have been building – Is Google intentionally targeting the cryptocurrency community?
While searching for these answers is important, I want to make sure that we don’t lose focus on the bigger issue that pushed many of us to get interested in cryptocurrency and blockchain in the first place: No matter what type of content creator you are – crypto or non-crypto, big or small – centralized services will always act in their own best interest.
Not of the consumer. Not of the journalist. Not of the musician. Not of the wage-earner. They will do what serves their corporation or, when compelled, jurisdictional government.
Unlike many decentralized services, Google is not permissionless or private. They make the rules, and its users are forced to play by them. While CCN’s sudden shutdown is upsetting, we’ve known for a long time that big tech and centralized services have the power to change their platforms at will and for their own benefit.
For over a year, Facebook has been changing its policies around crypto advertising as it readies for its own cryptocurrency launch. Apple has censored pro-democracy Chinese musicians over the last few months so they can continue to conduct business in China.
The unfortunate situation is this – big tech can, at their discretion, make choices that negatively impact the livelihood of all of those who depend on their services. Smaller companies, content creators and even consumers are subject to the whims of Google, Youtube, Soundcloud, or whichever platforms they use, and risk being deplatformed, demonetized, or otherwise taken for granted.
Instead of focusing on theories that Google is intentionally targeting the cryptocurrency community, let’s continue to look for ways that we can bring decentralized services into the mainstream. What we need now more than ever is legitimacy, and that comes with creating top-notch services and products that mainstream consumers can easily use and understand.
Decentralized apps today require a lot of technical knowledge to use them. The complexity of their user interfaces, annoying pop-ups, and pesky browser extensions, are major hindrances to mainstream adoption of DApps. As members of this community, we should be building products that maintain all the guarantees of decentralization – sovereignty over your own data and communal ownership of the means of distribution – that don’t come at the cost of a decent user experience.
Big tech won’t stop until the cryptocurrency community can viably compete with it, offering a comparable user experience that is scalable and affordable. We must take their unilateral decisions to task by giving people decentralized tools to express themselves and interact directly with one another on their own terms. Now, it’s up to blockchain companies to build a decentralized future.
Roneil Rumburg is co-founder and CEO, Audius. His interest in crypto and blockchain stems from his strong conviction that technology should enable freedom from centralized authority. He is passionate about the need for censorship-resistant technology. That’s why he founded Audius, a decentralized music streaming service, to help artists regain control and ownership of their content.
Prior to Audius, Roneil was a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, founded Backslash, a mobile-friendly, online cryptocurrency wallet, and mined Bitcoin as a student at Stanford.