Mike Judge may very well be a precog. (Either that, or he owns a DeLorean.) First, his Idiocracy movie predicted a cartoonish wrestler in The White House, and now his Silicon Valley TV series (which features the Coinbase logo on a stack of bitcoins in the season 5 intro) is starting to seem like a glimpse of the future of the Internet.
When Richard Hendricks (played by Thomas Middleditch) first created Pied Piper, Silicon Valley’s tech company, it was a music copyright service. As the seasons went on, it evolved into a file compression service, an enterprise mainframe box, a video chat app, and eventually a decentralized P2P internet. That last pivot is exactly where many analysts believe the Internet is headed.
Blockchain technology could make this fictionalized technology a reality, and it’s not as far-fetched as it seems. In fact, we’ve already seen several real-life implementations of the concept that show promise. And, like Pied Piper, it all started in the music industry.
From BitTorrent to Bitcoin
Napster was a hot commodity back in 1999, with 80 million people using the software to transfer MP3 music files between each other. At the time, most households only had dialup Internet, so broadband servers at colleges and universities around the globe were swarmed with students looking to download the latest Eminem and Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.
Because Napster had centralized servers, it wasn’t long before the Recording Industry Association of America shut the company down through a lawsuit claiming violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But the genie was out of the bottle, and two decentralized protocols rose to take Napster’s place: Gnutella and BitTorrent.
In the Gnutella protocol, people downloaded a file-sharing client like Limewire to become a node. Users search for files among these nodes, and if a user with the file has available bandwidth, the download begins. With BitTorrent, a tracker is stored on a torrent file. When a user opens the torrent file with a BitTorrent client, it downloads pieces of the file from every node holding the tracker and file.
Both Gnutella and BitTorrent kept file sharing alive through much of the 2000s. They improved upon Napster, not only by decentralizing the network, but by enabling sharing of larger files. Instead of downloading a song, you could download an artist’s entire discography. You could also download movies, TV shows, apps, games, and more.
The modern rise of video streaming and cloud computing rendered these services obsolete. Although they still exist, their usage has dwindled, and new services based on their protocols are gaining steam.
The Dawn of a New Era
In 2013, Stanford graduate Feross Aboukhadijeh developed the next generation of BitTorrent, called WebTorrent. Essentially BitTorrent running as a web extension, WebTorrent gained traction over the years, and by 2015, Netflix was heavily researching its use. There’s a good reason the streaming giant is interested in P2P streaming, because several startups are using the technology to disrupt its core business.
Businesses like Livepeer, YouNow, the STREAM project, and POP Network are utilizing both WebTorrent and blockchain technology to transform video streaming into a more P2P-focused technology. Each is preparing an ICO and they’re all gaining support from different factions around Silicon Valley.
These P2P streaming services resolve two fundamental issues with current streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu. Content creators have more control over their own economies, while viewers gain access to larger content libraries with more options than the passive, spoon-fed models presented by major studios.
And it’s not stopping there – startups like Holo, Iota, NKN, and Golem are leveraging blockchains in a whole new way to create a swarm of supercomputing power that rivals the botnets that brought the Internet to its knees over the past two years. These companies are bypassing blocks and mining to focus the blockchain on pure speed and power.
Like Richard in Silicon Valley, these startups believe they can take down giants like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon by removing our dependence on their massive server farms. The infrastructure they’re creating is like the Tor network, where the network becomes more powerful as more nodes join.
But while Pied Piper benefited from Gilfoyle embedding Pied Piper code onto Jian-Yang’s smart fridge, these startups are dependent on user adoption.
And while the creation of a new Internet based on blockchain technology may still seem very far away, remember that Mike Judge claimed “I’m no prophet… I was 490 years off…” when he set his anti-intellectual wrestling President down 500 years in the future.
He may still be unerringly accurate in foretelling the future.