Reflection on recent global internet outage

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If you are a frequent user of the New York Times online, CNN, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitch, Spotify or many others, you may have been unable to access these services for hours on June 8, 2021. If this is the first time you are hearing this and are curious about what happened, google “fastly internet outage” and you’ll find plenty of coverage.

The point of relevance to Lido Nation is to underscore one of the premises of blockchain technology. If you live in many parts of Asia, Europe, the US or Canada, Australia, or some parts of South America, you might have a mistaken idea about the internet. People in these areas wake up and go to sleep with the internet powering just about every aspect of their lives: interfacing with governments, entertainment, work, relationships, and health care, to name a few. Because of this ubiquity, many of us see the internet as this resilient, global, always-on thing that no one controls. The June 8 outage is a reminder that not only is the internet not very resilient, but it is also highly centralized and controlled by a select few.

A brief definition of the internet
The internet is a collection of computer hardware and network services. These services are managed and controlled by different bodies, often for-profit companies, all incentivised to work together with the goal of making money. Some of these services include: Network Access Points (NAP), Point of Presence (POP), Routers, Switches, Domain Name Service (DNS), actual physical cables, Open Source Software Repositories, and Content Delivery Networks (CDN). You do not have to know what these things are or what they do, only that each thing is controlled by a relatively small group of people. A small failure of any of these systems can cause a chain reaction leading to failures in other systems, resulting in something like June 8. Furthermore, according to data from spglobal.com, significant parts of the global internet was disrupted over 350 times, just in January and February of this year.

One premise of blockchain technology
One of the selling points of blockchain technology is the idea of permisionless decentralization. This idea is basically saying hey, lets do away with having a few top companies hold the right to provide a particular service for the entire world. Instead lets do this:

  1. Lets think of all the rules beforehand
  2. Put all those rules into computer code
  3. Make the code public so anyone can read it
  4. Let anyone, whether you are a company or college student, install it on a computer system.
  5. Connect their system to other systems around the world to provide the global service
  6. Get paid

The benefit is that we’ll get an internet that IS truely resilient, making June 8 a rare event. In this new permisionless, decentralized world, when things do go awry, it’ll affect hundreds or thousands of people instead of millions.

This is an oversimplification and we skipped a lot of details. For example, it’s not possible to change the code and connect it to the network; the other computers on the network would know and refuse to work with computers with different code. Another skipped part is how the code is updated. Blockchain technologies will often provide a way for every computer on the network to vote and accept changes to the code or rules, so if we forget to put something in the rules ahead of time, we can go back and change it. However, we have to tell everyone, and a super majority must agree to the change.

This is not to say the internet is bad and blockchain is good. Rather, the internet is good; lets use the blockchain to make it better. Lets use the blockchain to make its operation decentralized so failure will be almost non-existent, or very localized and limited. In many ways it’s good that the internet keeps failing; hopefully this will lead to the rapid spread and eventual ubiquity of blockchain technologies, making everything we care about more secure and actually decentralized.

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Did you experience the outage? What do you think about the idea of everyone helping to run the internet instead only governments and big businesses?

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