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​The decentralized internet is coming

​The decentralized internet is coming

Good morning! This Sunday, here's your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from would-be VC bubbles and big IPOs to the history of Wikipedia and the future of the internet.

Quick programming note: We're off tomorrow, back on Tuesday. Have a great long weekend!

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The Best of Protocol

Is this a VC bubble, or just the new normal? by Tomio Geron

  • There's either way too much money pouring into startups, or this is the most exciting time ever. Or both, maybe? Tomio discovered a VC industry that's working faster, harder and with more FOMO than ever — and that, at least for now, keeps being rewarded for it. But is there another shoe about to drop?

Trump wants to strike back at Big Tech. There's not much he can do, by Emily Birnbaum

  • A lot of folks spent the week tensely waiting to see how President Trump would react to his deplatforming in the wake of the riots at the Capitol. Well, he didn't do much. And as Emily discovered, that's because there's not much he could do.

Affirm CEO Max Levchin: 'I see an ocean of opportunities' by Benjamin Pimentel

  • Affirm had a huge IPO this week, and Ben talked to Levchin right in the middle of the first day of trading. His comment about what makes Affirm different was particularly interesting, and a mantra for any company trying to build a big business out of taking care of customers. (Also read our story on why some investors think Affirm's a risky bet, however big its pop was.)

For VMware, replacing CEO Pat Gelsinger will be hard. Navigating the relationship with Dell will be harder, by Joe Williams

  • Intel's got a new CEO, in the shape of former CTO and decades-long Intel employee Gelsinger. Its recent turmoil is well known, but what's going on at VMware? Joe dug into what happens without Gelsinger, and how the company is learning to work with Dell.

What TV remotes tell us about power struggles in streaming, by Janko Roettgers

  • My TV remote has four app shortcut buttons, one of which goes to a streaming service that no longer exists. What can you learn about the state of the streaming business, and the tensions between the players, from those buttons? More than you think.



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The Best of Everything Else

How Indian is an Indian phone? — Rest of World

  • Xiaomi's very deliberate rebranding holds a lot of lessons here for anyone trying to build a business in India, as the world's second most populous country continues to come online and reshape the tech industry. Lesson No. 1: Don't pretend you're from India when you're not actually from India.

They can't leave the Bay Area fast enough — The New York Times

  • From Clubhouse to Twitter to the streets of Miami, the future of San Francisco is one of the biggest conversations in tech right now. This is a good look at why people are leaving, where they're going and what happens when you get out.

How union-busting firms compile dossiers on employees — Vice

  • The unionization of tech workers is beginning to pick up pace, and with it the corporate efforts to keep unions down. If you're an employee, this is a useful look at the playbook being used against you. If you're an executive, it's a heck of a cautionary tale about what happens when you go down this road.

The Wikipedia story – OneZero

  • Wikipedia is 20 years old! That's nuts. This is a really fun oral history of the project, which has all the hallmarks of a great startup: the pivots, the "everyone thought we were crazy," the reckoning with newfound power and (in Wikipedia's case) the settling into an all-important place in the world. You get the sense nobody ever thought it would get this far.

The Bitcoin dream is dead — Marker

  • I love this story because it'll either turn out to be perfectly prescient or completely wrong. Which, to be fair, is true of basically everything people say about Bitcoin and crypto. But the question of Bitcoin-as-currency versus Bitcoin-as-security is a useful one, and one this story addresses well.

Crash Course

The decentralized internet is coming

This week's Source Code Podcast guest was Dominic Williams, the founder and chief scientist of Dfinity. He thinks the future of the internet is blockchain-enabled, decentralized and not run or overseen by big tech companies. Jack Dorsey, who runs one of those big tech companies, happens to agree.

The decentralized internet is real. Not next week, probably not next year, but it's increasingly likely that we're about to undergo a huge shift in the way the internet works at its lowest levels. For anyone who wants to get up to speed on how that works and what it means, I asked Williams and the Dfinity team to provide some materials, and asked the same of Hiro CEO and Stacks co-founder Muneeb Ali. Here's what they came back with:

  • A declaration of the independence of cyberspace, by John Perry Barlow. This is a foundational text of the space.
  • On distributed communications, by Paul Baran. Baran was a RAND researcher, and in this long 1964 memo based on research sponsored by the Air Force, he sketched out a communication system that nothing — not even a nuclear attack — could wipe out. It sounds an awful lot like the blockchain, and even Baran knew how difficult it would be to explain.
  • A programmable web: An unfinished work, by Aaron Swartz. The late Swartz went deep on what we got wrong in the architecture of the web, and what it might mean if you could build software that ran directly on the network itself. Much of what Swartz wrote about is baked into Dfinity's thinking.
  • Muneeb Ali on the Pomp Podcast. This is a good intro to the differences between the internet and the blockchain — and a refreshingly open take on the possible downsides, too.
  • B-money, by Wei Dai. Dai was one of the earliest people in touch with Satoshi Nakamoto during the development of Bitcoin (some people actually think Dai is Satoshi), because he wrote this paper in 1998 detailing a system of money transfers and contracts that "can be provided to and by untraceable entities." Sound familiar?
  • Dr. Xiao Feng's speech at the 2020 Global Blockchain Summit. "The distributed ledger," he said, "can be taken as a watershed between the age of internet and the age of blockchain."
  • Fat protocols, by Joel Monegro. One way to think about the internet is to ask where in the stack does value get created, and who makes money from it? This gets into how the blockchain changes that equation.
  • Who will control the software that powers the internet?Written by a16z general partner Chris Dixon, this is, in some ways, the internet's biggest question: Who's in charge? Dixon makes the case that in the best-case scenario, the community should govern itself, and the technology should make it impossible for anything else to happen.



Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day; see you Tuesday.

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