A project to decentralize the internet that you’ve never heard of has more capacity than all other blockchain projects put together: 5-10X more, according to its founder.
The project is called ThreeFold, and it’s not your typical blockchain startup.
Just one reason? They don’t talk much.
That seems almost heretical for blockchain projects, which typically talk more than they code, but this isn’t your typical pump-and-dump crypto play. Instead, it’s a long-term project to rewire the internet in the image of its first incarnation: decentralized, unowned, accessible, free.
“We have 18,000 CPU cores and 90 million gigabytes, which is a lot of capacity,” founder Kristof de Spiegeleer told me recently on the TechFirst podcast. “It’s probably between five and ten times more than all of the capacity of all the blockchain projects together.”
Before you get too excited about those numbers, which are impressive, six years ago Amazon had 1.4 million servers. Five years ago, every single day, Amazon added the capacity of a $7 billion corporation. Safe to say the giants like Amazon and Google have many hundreds of times more capacity, which de Spiegeleer knows very well.
Still, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, right?
“Less than 20 companies actually own more than 80% of the internet capacity, which is the storage and the compute,” de Spiegeleer told me. “It really needs to be something like electricity. It needs to be everywhere and everyone needs to have access to it. It needs to be cost effective, it needs to be reliable, it needs to be independent.”
Here’s a simple example.
You use the internet to send a message on a messaging service to a family member across town. As you click Send, the message will most likely travel across your continent and perhaps across an ocean, hit a number of companies’ servers along the way, then ping back, likely on a different route, hitting multiple other companies’ servers as well before arriving at a relatively local switch, ISP, wires, WiFi, and then making it down to your mom’s phone.
That’s a journey of a few city blocks that can easily turn into a global circumnavigation.
And while “I love you mom” might not be relevant to national security, unless it’s encrypted — and even if it is, in some cases — it’s readable all the way.
The alternative? In a mesh distributed internet, your message to mom might make a couple of hops over local computers, maybe a local ISP, and ping right down to her having traveled not much more than the straight-line distance between you and your favorite parent.
“It’s a movement,” de Spiegeleer says about ThreeFold. “It’s where we invite a lot of people to … basically help us to build a new internet. Now it sounds a little bit weird building a new internet. We’re not trying to replace the cables … what we need help with is that we get more compute and storage capacity close to us.”
That would be a fundamentally different kind of internet: one we all collectively own rather than just one we all just use.
It requires a lot of different technology for backups and storage, for which ThreeFold is building a variety of related technologies: peer-to-peer technology to create the grid in the first place; storage, compute, and network technologies to enable distributed applications; and a self-healing layer bridging people and applications.
Oh, and yes. There is a blockchain component: smart contracts for utilizing the grid and keeping a record of activities.
“Farmers” (read: all of us) provide capacity and get micropayments for usage.
So instead of a Bitcoin scenario where some of the fastest computers in the world waste country-scale amounts of electricity doing arcane math to create an imaginary currency with dubious value (apologies, are my biases showing?) you have people providing actual tangible services for others in exchange for some degree of cryptocurrency reward. Which, in my (very) humble opinion, offers a lot more social utility.
It’s a big vision.
A very big vision.
When I asked what de Spiegeleer thought about his chances of actually pulling it off — blockchain projects have a very dismal record of success, or lack thereof — he seemed almost offended.
“We’re doing it … it’s only now that we start talking, you know, but I’m literally working on this all my life,” he told me. “And actually when the Corona thing started, it was really this moment for me, like, okay, now is the time. Now is the time that we have to go out and start talking about this and show people that actually it exists, because it’s not a dream of something in the future.”
ThreeFold and partners have invested more than $40 million in make it happen, de Spiegeleer says, and there are more than 30 partners working on the project or onboarding shortly.
“So it’s happening,” he says.
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