By Ev Bogue - November 12th 2016
Throughout the history of technology and the web how people and organizations monetize has changed radically over time. It's hard to imagine only ten years ago Google was innovative by offering a search engine service in exchange for placing advertisements in a browser window, and not long before that companies made tons of money selling CDROMs at CompUSA stores.
Now that Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are at the end of line in their earning potential, I think it's time to figure out new ways to make money on the distributed Internet.
Distributed social is a series of protocols that undermine the 'old guard' by making what they offered an open protocol that anyone can build on. Linux undermined Mac OS X and Windows, and in a similar fashion protocols such as cjdns, ssb, and ipfs undermine Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Most of the economic growth of the Internet was because of software platforms built on top of http/https and ipv4. I think it's realistic to assume the next computer revolution will be built on top of secure distributed social protocols.
The last tech boom was mostly about tricking users into sharing their personal information with 'the cloud', and then selling that information back to them via advertisements. Because privacy is a huge priority for people in the distributed age, I think it's safe to say this way of making money on the Internet is dead. You have to be a willing participant in advertising, which is why so much of the Google propaganda machine these days is about convincing people to part with their privacy and freedoms.
Apple was the one exception to this rule, because they made all of their money from hardware sales of premium computers and phones. Ten years ago Steve Jobs was able to convolute computers as a luxury item, and thus was able to make money convincing people that computers could be a status symbol. I'd argue that today having a busted old laptop or an open board strapped to a hard drive strapped to a screen is more of a status symbol than a sleek all-in-one box that was cool ten years ago -- we probably won't see the status symbol thing come around again for a long time because of Apple burnout.
In the last technology era independent entrepreneurs were able to make incomes somewhere in-between all of these companies. It wasn't weird ten years ago to meet people who were designers, programmers, IT guys and product experts who might help you troubleshoot your stack, build a website, or design a product to sell on a website. These days I'd argue many of the people who say they are doing these things don't really have clients anymore, but mostly because they are offering services for the last era instead of the next era.
Twitter probably missed the biggest opportunity of any startup when they shut down their API, transforming their service from an open protocol to a closed platform. This killed off all of the innovative services that were built on top of Twitter and made us have to go back to the drawing board in order to invent the equivalent again. Obviously Twitter wasn't meant to be a protocol, they raised a lot of money from VCs, and there was a lot of pressure on them to 'monetize' -- so I can see why they did it. However, when Twitter shut of the API they were seen as shooting themselves in the foot and undermining the reason anyone used their service to begin with.
The definitition of an entrepeneur is a person who exploits a market opportunity in order to earn a profit.
While the distributed era may not have caught on with the general population of the planet, I think it's realistic to assume that it will. We need to identify market opportunities so that the community of the distributed web can make enough income to survive. Right now that doesn't appear to be happening, but I think it's reasonable to assume that we'll all be gainfully employed in the future -- sooner if Google/Apple/Facebook/Twitter collapse and or become the next AOL <-- a company that everyone thought would never die, but now no one cares about.
I'll speculate that in ten years a large number of new technology companies will be built on distributed social technologies. Some will be big, others will be smaller. Hopefully having an open protocol will allow for many opportunities for many people in many ways, instead of what we have right now where it seems that all of the value in the tech world is conglomerated in just a few companies -- if you don't work at them then you are shit out of luck if you want to make a living in the technology world.
I imagine that I'll get a little flack and minorly trolled for talking about how to make a living on distributed social. However, my fear is that if we don't learn how to make a living off the technologies that we've built and popularized then it's only a matter of time before another wave of people jump on the network who are willing to monetize, and those people will make all of the money off our hard work.
In 1997 Alan Kay said 'The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet'. If it is the case that we are starting the computer revolution, for real this time, then I think it's safe to assume that we will all be successful and wealthy at some point in the future, as long as we are willing to monetize when given the right circumstances.