Crypto analysts are comparing the current growth of blockchain and distributed ledger technology to the last big technological advancement: the birth and development of the internet. While major differences do exist — such as underlying philosophy, the rate of growth, and original intended use — the development of the systems do share similarities.
Blockchain technology is exploding in directions the original cypherpunks never dreamed possible. From its origins as a foundation for Bitcoin — a privacy-centric digital currency, free from the constraints of regulatory standards and the whim of governing bodies — blockchain also happens to be a flexible platform, capable of limitless interactivity. Best of all, it is decentralized.
The internet revolution began in similarly unassuming ways. The World Wide Web was nothing more than a series of stationary web sites, lacking interactivity or even wide-range searchability. Connecting took, from a current perspective, eons, as it typically took place through phone lines and simplistic modems. These basic websites loaded at a snail’s pace. Videos, games, and music were simply not effectively supported.
It was also similarly open-source. Prior to Web 2.0, CERN, Tim Berners-Lee, and other early Web developers demanded that the source code remain open-source and available to everyone. With Web 2.0 and increased interactivity, transparency and security were sacrificed in favor of convenience, speed, and positive user experience.
Prior to the proliferation of the World Wide Web, now-unknown systems such as Xanadu and Gopher were developed as large-scale information sharing platforms. Xanadu was an original hypertext program upon which the Web was loosely based. However, unlike the Web, Xanadu was developed as a monetized platform.
Another failed information sharing platform was Gopher. Gopher used a slightly different menu-based model and did not support hyperlinks in the convenient format offered by HTTP and HTML.
‘I coulda been a contender…’
Unless you’re over the age of 40 and were active in the tech industry during those early years, Gopher means nothing more than a yard pest. But for those old enough to remember, it was the early favorite to become the standard of inter-connectivity.
Gopher remained a strong contender as an information sharing platform until about 1993.
In 1993, Gopher traffic grew by 997 percent. However, WWW had already begun to explode — its traffic growing by 341,634 percent that same year. Within a year, it had overtaken File Transfer Protocol (FTP), the original remote file sharing program, which had handled approximately 25 percent of information sharing services up until that time. FTP use simultaneously began to be reduced.
Gopher barely made it past 1995.
— Tuur Demeester (@TuurDemeester) December 30, 2018
What killed the Gopher?
The Gopher protocol had several fatal flaws.
First, it was centralized. The University of Minnesota, where Gopher was hosted, tried to charge licensing fees for its use.
Furthermore, it was a much more rigid structure than the World Wide Web and was party to substantial infighting and instability. This lead to decreased trust among users and a move to a more stable (and less volatile) option.
A nifty comparison
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency overall has followed a similar path. Like the World Wide Web, blockchain grew from being a simple foundation for digital currencies to what it is now an interactive platform optimized for investing, financial transactions, and a variety of interactive communication opportunities.
The main Bitcoin blockchain, directly from the Genesis Block released by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009, has remained relatively pure — despite having spawned hundreds of other digital currencies over the past ten years.
In stark comparison, however, Ethereum has had a rocky four years of existence. Characterized by hard forks that permanently alter the protocol, there is a lack of continuity and a culture of constant change and adjustments to the protocol. It has seen problems with competition, dApp use, and regulatory hits.
Now, like the World Wide Web and Gopher, Bitcoin and Ethereum are in a bit of a competition for dominance. This is a particularly important battle, as the winner could take the entire tech space to the next level.
Is Ethereum the Gopher?
Web 3.0 carries the potential to solve many of the data privacy and control issues caused by Web 2.0. It would take control out of the hands of information giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon and return it to the community. Our online lives would become our own again, not controlled by what our search history, shopping habits, and social media use reveal about us.
The fact is, the original Bitcoin, with its permissionless, distributed ledger database and decentralized application potential, holds tremendous potential to lead the internet into its next iteration. Whether or not this will come to pass remains to be seen. For now, Bitcoin appears to be the strongest contender.
Think Ethereum is the new ‘Gopher’, eventually the victim of a more elegant and stable platform? Or will it continue to survive as a counterpart to Bitcoin? Let us know in the comments below!
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