Confirming a Fundamental Law of Online: Centralization Is Emergent

November 17, 2022

The author of “Scaling Mastodon Is Impossible” did not set out to provide evidence of this fundamental Arnold Law of Online: Centralization is emergent. The law means that when someone creates an online service, traffic flow or whatever one calls what happens online causes centralization. The idea is that centralization is cheaper and somewhat easier to maintain than the “let many flowers bloom” approach to development. (Hello, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. You have an advantage. Why not use it to your advantage?)

The article about Mastodon states:

Decentralization promotes an utopian view of the world that I belief fails to address actual real problems in practice. Yet on that decentralization wave a lot of projects are riding from crypto-currencies [1], defi or things such as Mastodon. All of these things have one thing in common: distrust. Some movements come from the distrust of governments or taxation, others come from the distrust of central services.

As the essay creeps to its conclusion, I spotted a gem of observation; to wit:

Wikipedia for all it’s faults shows quite well that a centralized thing can exist with the right model behind it. The software and the content is open, and if WikiMedia were to fuck up too much, then someone else could step into place and replace it. But the risk of that happening, keeps the organization somewhat in check.

If the author is correct, the future of online may look more like Wikipedia. Possibly? There is another Arnold Law of Online to consider:

Online services lead to monopolization.

This means there will be new Amazons and Googles in the future. Emergent does not mean good, however.

Stephen E Arnold, November 17, 2022


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