Re-decentralizing the Web: How to Eat an Elephant, One Atomic Concept at a Time


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 14, 2023

4 min read


Re-decentralizing the Web: How to Eat an Elephant, One Atomic Concept at a Time

In today's digital age, the hyper-centralization of data and power has become a core issue. The control over our personal data and the decisions made about it should be in the hands of every individual. Centralization itself is not the problem, as there are valid reasons for bringing people and things together. However, when we are robbed of our choices and deceived into thinking there is only one access gate to a space we collectively own, that's when problems arise.

Social media platforms, with their algorithms that prioritize engagement over diversity, further exacerbate this issue. They create filter bubbles that isolate us into our own echo chambers, hindering the original purpose of the Web: to connect people. This is why Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has called for collaboration between various sectors to address the threats to the Web's future.

While the obstacles we face are not solely technological, computer scientists and engineers play a crucial role in developing decentralized personal data networks that can scale globally and provide a better user experience than centralized platforms. They need to prove that decentralized networks can be efficient and secure, giving individuals control over their own data.

The concept of atomic concepts, as seen in companies like Sketch and Figma, also plays a significant role in re-decentralizing the Web. These companies have recognized the importance of aligning their products with how customers think about their workflow. By focusing on specific atomic concepts that cater to the needs of digital product designers, they have revolutionized the design process and accelerated product development.

Changing customer needs are a major driver of market transitions and the emergence of new atomic concepts. Startups, in particular, thrive by identifying and catering to these changing needs. They find new angles that incumbents are unable to follow, allowing them to challenge the status quo. Understanding the core abstraction levels of a company is crucial for startups to position themselves strategically and meet the needs of different customer types.

Established companies often struggle to change their core atomic concepts, as everything they have built is based on these foundations. Blockbuster, for example, resisted digital transformation because executives, store operators, and investors were resistant to change. In contrast, companies like Amazon have successfully adapted and expanded their atomic concepts, making them both impressive and daunting competitors.

For startups, finding the right atomic concepts and building strong products around them is essential. These concepts should align with customer workflows and enable collaboration. Figma, for instance, expanded its focus from being a Photoshop competitor to specifically targeting designers working on complex digital products. They recognized the need for collaboration and built atomic concepts that catered to the collaborative process.

Companies like Canva have leveraged platform network effects to extend their ecosystems and defend their market position. By building platforms that empower their customers through add-ons and communities, they create strong sources of defensibility. These companies introduce better atomic concepts that push their customers forward and help them adapt to changing needs.

Transitioning from a single product company to a platform or multi-product company is a common milestone for successful companies. This expansion allows them to compound their value and cater to a wider range of customer needs. Notion, Airtable, and Flexport are examples of companies currently exploring this transition.

To navigate this journey successfully, companies must have clarity in their product and distribution strategies. Employees should also have a deep understanding of the company's core atomic concepts to avoid misunderstandings and deviations. Regularly refining and refactoring these concepts is crucial for companies to stay true to their identity and achieve their goals.

In conclusion, re-decentralizing the Web requires a multi-faceted approach. Technological advancements, collaboration between various sectors, and the development of strong atomic concepts are all essential. To contribute to this movement, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Embrace decentralization: As a user, choose decentralized platforms that prioritize privacy and give you control over your data. Support initiatives and projects that aim to re-decentralize the Web.
  • 2. Foster collaboration: Encourage collaboration between different sectors, including business, technology, government, civil society, the arts, and academia. By working together, we can tackle the threats to the Web's future and create a more decentralized and inclusive digital landscape.
  • 3. Prioritize user-centric design: If you're building a product or platform, focus on understanding your customers' workflows and needs. Identify the atomic concepts that align with their requirements and create a user experience that empowers them.

By implementing these actions, we can contribute to the re-decentralization of the Web and ensure that power is distributed among individuals, rather than concentrated in the hands of a few centralized entities.

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