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Facebook Outage Highlights Need for Blockchain-Based Decentralized Internet

Despite the thousands of critics and digital activists who’ve urged us to #DeleteFacebook in recent years, it seems the likeliest outcome is that Facebook will eventually delete itself. It did at least erase itself for several hours on October 4, when it went offline as the result of “configuration changes,” leaving its 2.89 billion users at a loss with what to do with their thumbs and forefingers.

Joke as we might, Facebook going down is a serious problem, given that its mass of users rely on it as the essential infrastructure enabling their digital lives.

Without the social network and its wider ecosystem (Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp) individual users were likely to have lost touch with friends and relatives, while businesses may have lost thousands in sales and revenues. However, as damaging as the outage may have been for users (and for Facebook itself), history will show it as a real turning point in the wider growth of cryptocurrency and blockchain platforms.

Facebook's cryptocurrency has failed

Yes, because what the Facebook outage is about, above all else, is the need for a wider move away from centralized points of failure, a move which decentralized cryptocurrencies and blockchain platforms such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Solana, Avalanche and many others can facilitate. However, they can save us from Facebook-esque outages not so much for technological reasons, as for social and organizational ones.

Facebook Outage Makes the Case for Cryptocurrency and Blockchain

There really isn’t much more to say about the Facebook outage, if only because the social media company remains tight lipped about what exactly happened.

“Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt,” wrote Santosh Janardhan, Facebook’s VP of engineering and infrastructure.

Reporting suggests that the aforementioned “configuration changes” resulted in Facebook no longer providing necessary data to the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which connects the firm’s servers with the Web. Regardless of what exactly happened, the upshot was that Facebook was dead to the world for around six hours, denying its billions of users the services many of them now need to effectively function and exist.

Source: Twitter

Needless to say, many within the cryptocurrency community (and Crypto Twitter) were quick to highlight how Facebook’s woes reflect positively on the decentralization inherent to many blockchain-based networks. More than a few people took the opportunity to tweet that Bitcoin has never been down.

Source: Twitter

Likewise, numerous people pointed out the need for a decentralized alternative to Facebook, one with fewer central points of failure.

Source: Twitter

A decentralized version of Facebook is certainly something that blockchain platforms such as Ethereum, Cardano, Solana, Avalanche, Polkadot and others could achieve.

However, the main reason why many blockchains would be more robust against outages doesn’t relate so much to the actual technology involved as to the social formations underpinning most blockchains.

That’s right, decentralization is at least as much a social/organizational property as a technological one, and a blockchain on its own isn’t necessarily enough to prevent a network from going down.

For example, a social network running on, say, Ethereum could still be vulnerable to the kind of outage which affected Facebook, in the sense that a buggy change to its code may prevent it from working properly or connecting to the web. And if you want proof, just remind yourself of the recent Solana outage, which saw the platform failing to produce new blocks for around seventeen hours.

What makes many blockchain platforms more resilient to outages is the fact, not that they run on decentralized nodes, but that their development and operation is the function of a decentralized community of users/developers.

Just contrast this with Facebook, which handles all of its technical operations internally, thereby making it a single point-of-failure in the fullest sense of the term. Because blockchain platforms are open to contributors and developers from around the world, they can crowdsource solutions to problems in a way that other, more self-contained platforms can’t. This is the main reason why a blockchain-based alternative to Facebook would be more secure against damaging outages than Facebook itself.

Technological Decentralization and Internet Computer

However, there is at least one blockchain-based platform that promises to provide a greater degree of technological decentralization. This is the Internet Computer, which is aiming to develop a decentralized version of the internet, running off a distributed network of servers spread across the globe.

With many other platforms, apps may run their backends on a decentralized blockchain, but their frontends (i.e. their user interfaces) are actually hosted on centralized cloud servers, such as Amazon Web Services and Cloudflare. Likewise, as many as 60% of Ethereum nodes are run on a cloud service (and 25% are run on AWS), rather than being self-sovereign. Needless to say, this puts Ethereum and other chains at the mercy of centralized cloud servers, which would reduce their security and robustness if they were to go offline.

By contrast, the Internet Computer incorporates “proprietary cloud services, server machines, databases, middleware, web servers, backup systems, load balancers, CDNs and other accelerators.” Basically, it will create its own internet, rather than building a blockchain protocol that will then connect to the existing internet so that users can use it.

By becoming self-sufficient like this, DFINITY’’s Internet Computer will obviously reduce its dependency on centralized servers, and by extension its vulnerability to outages. If one server comprising its network goes down, apps can run off other servers, and so on. Sure, if the Internet Computer Protocol is updated with a bug this may cause problems, but its overall architecture will at least reduce the scope for issues. And given that it harnesses an open community of developers, it retains the resilience that’s arguably the hallmark of many other blockchain ecosystems.

Indeed, DFINITY is well aware of the Internet Computer’s potential for decentralized social media, having launched its own TikTok clone, CanCan, in November and made it open source in May. And it was also quick to pounce on the Facebook outage as a chance to champion its own advantages.

Source: Twitter

The market also seems to think that the Internet Computer has the potential to make social media and digital infrastructure more robust against potential outages. Its native token, ICP, rallied to just over $57 on October 5, rising by 20% compared to its low on the day of the Facebook outage.

Of course, whether it delivers on its aim to reach the scale of the current internet remains to be seen. But for now, it does seem like one of crypto’s best shots at producing a truly decentralized alternative to Facebook.

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CryptoVantage Author Simon Chandler

About the Author

Simon Chandler

Simon Chandler is a journalist based in London. He writes about technology, markets and politics, and has bylines for Forbes, Digital Trends, CCN, Wired, TechCrunch, the Verge, the Sun, the New Internationalist, and TruthOut, among many others. His Twitter handle is @_simonchandler_

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